This has to be the most awkward build up to a Black Stars game in a mighty long while. No buzz, no energy, nothing like the pure unbridled affection that has often accompanied the team’s training sessions.
Just a lot of anger and frustration expressed in various ways by football fans.
The choice of Kumasi as venue for the 2015 Nations Cup qualifier against Uganda must have been influenced by the hope and belief that Oseikrom is where the love never dies. The city is famed for its support of the national team and so for the first time in as long a time as I can remember, the Black Stars did not train for a single day here. They simply got on a plane and headed to Kumasi keen, you have to suspect to avoid people screaming their raw emotions in their faces as was expected if they had showed up at the Accra Sports Stadium for training.
Kumasi has not been exactly different. The welcome party was unusually quiet. The players took solace in their headsets and mobile phones and said little to waiting reporters. On the first day of training there were those came to boo and let the players know the depth of displeasure about the way they played in Brazil and what that embarrassing bonus row which nearly resulted in a boycott of the world cup group game against Portugal.
If the players had no idea just how unpopular what that did to them they do now.
There is a growing sense that while supporting the national team has become an issue purely of the heart for us, for a lot of the players it is the money first. Of course football fans are not naïve not to know that but they also don’t want to be reminded in the manner the players did in Brazil. Those scenes of players kissing dollars after $3m had been flown into the team’s base has left a scar in the minds of many people. It has badly affected the relationship between fans and players.
That is why many were nodding when the Asantehene, in his infinite wisdom reminded the players about what playing for the national team should be about first and foremost.
“I admit this is your God giving talent turned into a profession and it is where your wages are paid,” Otumfour Osei Tutu II told the players. “But when it comes to Ghana, know that your are serving your country. This you must accept.
“If you are not able to sacrifice for the nation, then you are not worth being in the team.
Of course the players insist they sacrifice, that they have always put country first and no one has expressed that more eloquently than Dede Ayew. Yet it will take more than eloquent deliveries to convince ordinary Ghanaian football fans that for members of the Black Stars it’s all about the money.
It will take winning and not just winning qualifiers. It will take winning a major trophy.
It’s been 32 years without a trophy and counting. In that period, this national team has become one of the highest paying in the world, laying out a lot of cash in a bid to extract football glory. It has not worked as we saw in Brazil.
But everyone will try again on Saturday against Uganda. And especially for Kwesi Appiah it will be a bigger trial. He was the man everyone wanted to succeed. He was everyone’s ideal coach too. Former Black Stars captain, former assistant who knows the team inside out. His quiet calm nature won him a lot of friends but in Brazil it is that very nature that we are told undid him. There is a sense that he lacked authority and allowed things to get out of hand. For the first time some of his fiercest backers are criticising him openly and questioning whether he has not just the balls but the technical muscle to handle the national team.
The insistence on a technical adviser by the Ghana Football Association has been the clearest evidence that those who make the calls don’t think he is up to it again. They will deny that of course but it is as clear as daylight.
Winning and winning well against Uganda will not clear all the doubts. Appiah’s record in qualifiers is top draw. He brushed teams aside in Kumasi to reach the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. And then when the doubts begun to rise after falling out at the semi final stage against Burkina Faso, he put big guns Zambia and Egypt in their place to reach the world cup.
But like South Africa 2013, Brazil 2014 exposed shortcomings. They won’t be addressed wholly by beating Uganda but he can stand easy for a while and buy himself back some of the love that has diminished so fast. Much like his players.