DEBATE: Who’s Ghana fooling by denying latest age-cheating claims?

“The Ghanaian team is clearly an over aged one. How can a player who played for me in 2008 turn out to play in an Olympic qualifier seven years down the line and still claim to be within the limits of U-23?”

These were the comments of former Black Stars manager Claude Le Roy, currently in charge of the Congolese Olympic team. His statement was in clear reference to Enoch Ebo Andoh, who featured in the 2009 CHAN qualifiers when he, Le Roy, was manager of the Black Stars.

Ridiculous, isn’t it?
I choose ‘ridiculous’ because that Andoh was good enough to play for the Local Black Stars at 15 or 16 years is as comical as it sounds. It is a fact that in Ghana, a genuine 15 or 16 year old would be nowhere near the choices of national selectors for the Stars. Not to even talk about the Starlets (U-17) or the Black Satellites (U-20).

Wider African delusion
The issue of overage players has plagued the African continent since the introduction of the various youth tournaments in the late ’70s with the first FIFA youth tournament incidentally being held on African soil in 1977 in Tunisia. For many a football nation, this was a massive opportunity for younger players to test their mettle against some of the very best players of their ages from other nations.

Winning was only the icing on the cake. It was more about developing talent. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many African players who have graced the youthful terrain over the years.

Nigeria have dominated the FIFA U-17 tournament winning on as many as four occasions – 1985, 1993, 2007 and 2013 in addition to thrice runners up – 1987, 2001 & 2009. Let’s not even talk about the feats of other African nations like Ghana.

But the bigger question is how many of these highly rated players have graced the most iconic stadia in the world?

Home examples
The Black Starlets of Ghana were champions of the world in 1991 and 1995 and runners up in 1993 and 1997. A huge pool of talent that the nation could take advantage of was produced: Nii Odartey Lamptey, Alex Opoku, Willie Brown, Emmanuel Duah, Mohammed Gargo…

The class of ’95 was another awesome squad. Enter Emmanuel Bentil, Abu Iddrisu, Awudu Issaka, Baba Sule, Attakora Amaniampong, Christian Atta Gyan and their multi system brand of football and you were not looking too far at the new revelations to the sport.

I am not in a position to say whether these guys cheated with respect to their ages.

What I do recall though is that Gigi Buffon was in post for the Italians when Ghana thrashed them 4-0 in Japan 1993 together with Francesco Totti – two players who have since defined Italian football. And they still do.

Our players in that era retired long ago. Is that coincidental?

The South Americans have famously nurtured Bebeto, Dunga, Romario, Muller, Ronaldinho, Maradona, Redondo, Batistuta, Gallardo, Messi, Sorin, Aguero and the list goes on and on. The European roll call includes Luis Figo, the Croat duo of Roberto Prosinecki and Davor Suker, Paul Pogba, Andreas Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Antoine Griezmann, Alexander Lacazette and more.

They had their break at the youth level and consistently showed and keep showing their worth playing for clubs we all associate with these days.

Whatever happened to Daniel Addo, Kofi Nimoh, Joe Fameye, Tony Tieku, Sebastian Barnes, Essuman Dadzie, Awuley Quaye Jnr, Owusu Afriyie, Peter Ofoli Quaye, Aziz Ansah, Adu Tutu Skelley and co. I have always wondered why our players literally go missing, retire early and just vanish from the radar.

The answer is not too difficult to find.
Evidence abounds
We place so much premium on these youthful tourneys at the expense of developing the next generation of players for the senior national team.

We all live in this country and I don’t need to make a trip to Mars and back to know who an over aged player is.

Paul Pogba and Clifford Aboagye were at the Turkey 2013 U-20 World Cup; the former emerged as best player with Aboagye finishing third best.

Two years down the line, the elegant Frenchman of Guinean parentage is valued in excess of £50m. Lucas Digne was signed by PSG for €15m after the competition. Kurt Zouma is now a regular with Chelsea with Florian Thauvin of Olympique Marseille being courted by some of the biggest clubs in the world.

They were all in the French team that defeated Ghana at the semi-final stage.

Aboagye is on his way to New Zealand for a second World Cup opportunity while quite a number of that team have literally gone missing.

Do not ask of me the whereabouts of Dominic Adiyiah. I gather he is in Thailand. Yes, Thailand. He was the top scorer and golden boot winner only six years ago in Egypt.

I chanced on the registered list of the players in the First Capital Plus Premier League and their ages are as laughable as the their faces portray. Over 85% of these players who have been playing football for as long as I know claim to be 20 years or under? Who are they kidding?

Recently, I read a story online of a 20-something year old Ghanaian player who was making waves in the Middle East. This was a lad I played colts football with at the same club. While I featured for the U-12 side, he featured in the U-14 and U-17 sides. I’m in my early 30s and the official age of this same player is 26.

Your ribs are cracking now I guess.
Greedy administrators and player agents are not helping the nation’s cause when they consistently smuggle these players into the various national team setups. Who are we kidding when a player who has been around for as long as I can remember still qualifies to be a member of the FIFA U-20 World Cup squad heading to New Zealand?

His career would be on a decline before he knows it. Is he really expecting to fool the Europeans by sneaking into a club in the West at some point?

I understand Africa’s days of cheating are numbered in Denmark. To the extent that five years are added to the ages of African players who arrive to play professional football. This is because the Danes’ investigations have revealed underdeclared ages of up to ten years in some instances.

In the case of Monsieur Le Roy, he has been on the continent long enough to know the right ages of African players. His big break came after coaching Cameroon to win the Nations Cup in 1988 in Morocco. That’s a long time to have been around. And he may not be far from the truth when he accuses team Ghana of using overaged players.

Time would tell whether he was right or otherwise.
We would be following these players keenly to see how their careers shape up.

Kwame Dwomoh-Agyemang is a Joy Sports producer and has covered Ghana’s national youth teams extensively.

Story by Ghana/Joy Sports/Kwame Dwomoh-Agyemang


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