Ghana Won Afcon Four Times, but the Last Time Was 40 Years Ago. What Went Wrong With Its Football Team?

_The Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) is the most important football tournament in Africa. It has been contested by the male national teams of countries on the continent since 1957. Egypt is the most successful country in the tournament’s history, with seven wins, the most recent in 2010. Previously, Ghana was the dominant force with four wins. In spite of producing world class players, the country has not won the tournament in four decades.

As the 2023 edition plays out in Côte d’Ivoire, The Conversation Africa’s Godfred Akoto Boafo speaks to sports scientist Ernest Yeboah Acheampong on what has gone wrong for Ghana.

Ghana produces players who feature in top leagues. What’s its record at Afcon?

Ghana has a strong attachment to football. Its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, used the sport as part of his strategy to promote national unity. He pushed the sport as a preferred option for Ghanaian youths and even set up a team that competed in the local league. This laid the platform for a country that has consistently produced footballers of continental renown who have contributed to the success of their club teams. They include Abedi Pele (UEFA Champions League winner with Olympic Marseille), Samuel Kuffour (Bayern Munich), Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan), Michael Essien (Chelsea FC) and Asamoah Gyan.

The conveyor belt of quality players produced by Ghana led to the country dominating the Afcon tournament. It won titles in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982. But despite having several high quality players in its national team, Ghana’s best performance in recent tournaments has been a finals appearance in 2015.

What is the problem?

The issues include poor preparation, poor commitment levels of players, unhealthy team politics and disputes over remuneration. There has also been a decline in the quality of the local league as Ghanaian clubs have struggled to attract fans to their games and to compete among their continental peers. Then there is interference by the political elite as the government often seeks to use the sport to achieve and enhance its public standing.

Ghana’s youth football system used to prioritise the progress of talent through different age categories. This no longer exists. Competitor countries like Senegal, Morocco and Algeria have built their recent success on sound practice like this. There is also difficulty in getting qualified and experienced coaches or trainers who understand growth and development in talent identification and advancement. The inability of the country’s football federation to maintain an efficient database of talented players means some of the most talented players do not get noticed.

Finally, there is the long held perception that some players are selected based on their ability to remit money or their personal relationships to influential members of the football association and sometimes the technical team.

What must change?

Ghana can improve its chances of winning Afcon when key stakeholders are able to remove obstacles, wastefulness and undesirable practices that hamper the progress of the national team. There should be an appropriate grassroots structure for all the national teams which guarantees the smooth progress of talent. This supports the development of football talent through the ranks as recommended by Fifa’s pyramid (grassroots for the foundation, youth before elite level).

The authorities must not appoint leaders who do not have the requisite knowledge in football and management practices. Investment in football infrastructure and capacity building of coaches is crucial for development and to improve the chances of winning. Senegal, Morocco and Algeria have all used this path. This investment should cut across the domestic leagues and grassroots structure and systems.

The selection of players must follow specific criteria that prioritise talent who feature regularly at their clubs. These approaches, inspired by the practices in countries where sport scientists and managers play pivotal roles, can improve Ghana’s chances of ending its 40 year drought. Also, it is time to give technocrats the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the activities of the football association in various capacities based on their scientific knowledge and experience.

There is a need to develop a robust database of Ghanaian players both abroad and domestically to ensure effective supervision and monitoring of their performance in their leagues. Importantly, coaches and trainers should be more concerned about modern methods of training and management of talents since the sport has become more scientific.

Ernest Yeboah Acheampong, Senior Lecturer, Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (HPERS), University of Education, Winneba

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