Saturday, 21 July 2012

Gustav Sebes and The Magical Magyars

European, World, and European Champions, again: Greatest National Team of all time?
After that sensational performance that night in Kiev; after all those brilliant scenes of joy; of a team that had conquered all, Spain had not only won their third consecutive trophy and completely buried any lingering remnants of the ''perennial underachievers'' and ''Nine day wonder'' tags, but had stirred up  another controversial debate. The pundits wasted no time in trying to establish the fact that Spain might just be the greatest National football team ever. This assertion is probably not only based on their mersmerising form in qualifiers and tournaments alike, but also by how they've stuck to a defined tactical system and still managed to outwit every team they've faced, convincingly outplaying even the ''big boys."

People making this argument have had very little to do in terms of convincing, as their (Spain's) dominance speaks for itself. Vincente Del Bosque's team, oozes so much flair and intelligence, with a group of immensly talented dimunitive men. It's a team whose play evinces a beautiful orchestra effect. A class act, to sum it up. Coupled with being trophy laden, the argument for Spain seems to have gone beyond all reasonable doubt...

The team almost everyone seems to have accepted to be compared to this revolutionary La Furia Rojas side is Mario Zagalo's great Brazilian team of the 1970 World Cup. That team at the time played some of the most beautiful attacking football there had probably ever been, with some of the best players there were. I use 'probably' because, before then, the world had seen some teams very similar, if not different...

Hungary. Yes you read right, Hungary!

The Magical Magyars: The Great Hungarian Team of the 1950s
Nicknamed the Mighty/Magical/Magnificent Magyars, the team heralded as ''The Golden Team'' were the world's unrivaled football super power in the 1950s. I know many people wouldn't believe it as the tales of this wonderful side have hardly been sufficiently told to this day. It's almost as if they never existed ; but they did, and they were very dominant and influential. Maybe even more dominant than this current Spanish side...

It all began with the appointment of Gustav Sebes, their legendary coach, in 1936. Sebes, who later on became the trainer at Honved, (one of the two top Hungarian clubs) was a philosophical tactician who believed in tactical innovation as opposed to adopting already laid out systems. Along with his highly intellectual colleagues Marton Bukovi(who managed MTK, the other top side), and the quite infamous Bela Gutmann(who managed Hoved before Sebes), they were credited as the triumvirate that radically laid down a systematic blueprint, known as the 4-2-4 formation, that was to change the dynamics formations in world football.

The aim was to create a team that would dominate world football like Hugo Meisl's great Austrian and Vittorio Pozzo's Italy had done in the 1930s. To do this, they had to prepare thoroughly, which they did. Sebes then began a massive restructuring of the grass root systems to stream line all efforts in Hungarian football towards the success of the National team. According Goldblatt, ''He established a national scouting network, co-opted the entire coaching fraternity of the Hungarian league in his plans, arranged special midweek friendlies and training sessions for the national squad and, above all, experimented with players, tactics and ideas.'' He subjected his squad to regular club-like  training sessions which were unusual, but allowed the team to gel and consolidate their chemistry. He also emphasized rigorous fitness sessions, so as to equip his charges with the required physical demands to play according to his system. Keeper Gryula Grosics recalls '' Every so often we did some military training''.

Gustav Sebes

He carefully assembled a squad with core of key players: Ferenc Deak(early member,expert goal scorer), Péter Palotás and Nándor Hidegkuti (both successive deep lying fowards), Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsis and Ferenc Puskás(the potent attacking trio who got the goals) József Bozsik(Play maker) and Gyula Grosics(the goal keeper). These players had played frequently with each other at club level, which helped to facilitate some sort of continuity. The purpose was to tap into the chemistry from club level into the National side. This was vital.

He began implementing his pioneering methods in earnest, emphasizing collective team effort.They attacked together and defended together. The whole team, despite being under a defined formation, exchanged positions during play, as Sebes wanted to cultivate the system of players being able to ''play anywhere''. The secret lay in the dynamism and flexibility, which allowed them to stretch the 4-2-4 into adjusted variations.

An example of the Hungarian Line-up in a variation of the 4-2-4

With the team being moulded in a system that allowed positional versatility and formational variations, it allowed them the freedom to accentuate their attacking potential. And they had the players of technical quality to execute their plans. Striker Puskas said this of their playing style "When we attacked, everyone attacked, and in defence it was the same. We were the prototype for Total Football."

Unbeaten Run, Olympics and The Central European International Cup
Hungary's groundbreaking innovations began bearing fruit by 1950. Prior to 1950, they won the Balkan Cup in 1947, and were leading when the following year's edition got cancelled. It took them a while to get accustomed to and perfect their system, and when they finally did, they became an unstoppable force. Between June 4, 1950 to July 3 1954, the team went 31 games unbeaten.

Their brilliance came into the spot light especially at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. After years of experimenting players, tactics and ideas, it was their moment to showcase their work to the world in a major tournament. And they did, and in quite spectacular fashion I must say. After brushing brushing Italy, Turkey and Sweden 3-0, 7-1 and 6-0 aside respectively, they met Yugoslavia in the final. They beat them 2-0 win the gold medal. They had arrived.

The following year, Sebes led his men as they arrived in Rome to play the deciding game of The Central European International Cup tournament. This was an international football competition held by certain national teams from Central Europe, which was the predecessor of the UEFA Euro Championship. This edition of the tournament, had started in 1948 with a 6-1 thrashing of Poland (it was held in a league-home/away format over some years). It had reached it's climax in 1953, against Italy.

They went, they saw, and they conquered, leaving Rome with the ultimate prize, after two goals from Puskas and one from Hidegkuti helped them to a 3-nil win over the Italians. They finished the tournament with 11 points, 3 points clear of second placed Czechoslovakia. They had won the Olympics and conquered Europe, all unbeaten. A legendary era had began.

''Match of the Century''

Captain Ferenc Puskas leads out his team at Wembley

When we walked out at Wembley that afternoon, side by side with the visiting team, I looked down and noticed that the Hungarians had on these strange, lightweight boots, cut away like slippers under the ankle bone. I turned to big Stan Mortensen and said, 'We should be alright here, Stan, they haven't got the proper kit'." English player Billy Wright.

By this time, the Hungarians were on cloud nine. They were the number one ranked team in the world by both FIFA and Elo and had not lost a single game since May 1950.(24 games unbeaten). They had gone around the world, battering almost every National Team into submission. They induced fear and inferiority in every team they faced, and made sure they left them confessing their superiority. They thrashed, Poland 8-2, Bulgaria,Sweden and Czechoslovakia 5-0 , Albania 12-0, Poland 6-0, Finland 8-0 amongst others in exhibition games. Kocsis, Puskas, Hidegkuti, Czibor and Palotas fired in goals from every angle. Not only did they outplay every team else with attacking football, they did so scoring plenty of goals. ''On fire'' was an understatement. They became the team to beat, they became the masters.

Naturally, not all nations wanted to accept the indubitable fact that they were the best, and sought to challenge them in high profile exhibition games. At the forefront of such nations was the Queen's very own England, who pride themselves as being the inventors/originators of football. The English had just lost only once on home soil against foreign opposition, which had been in 1949 against neighbours the Republic of Ireland. As always(trust the English to hype themselves), the English believed their tactical system(of the traditional WM formation) was far superior to the beautiful 4-2-4 of the Hungarians. They proudly thought they would be no match for them.
The legendary 4-2-4 Hungarian Formation
The traditional WM formation that the English operated.

And so the FA invited Sebes and his team to Wembley on the 25th of November 1953 for an exhibition game.The ever sensationalistic British press labelled it as the "Match of the Century" - pitching the inventors of the game, against arguably the finest team in the world at that time. The stage was set, and infront of 105,000 fans, the Hungarians gave the English a footballing lesson.

6-2 it ended, with the English left to mope over the huge flaws of their WM formation and entire playing philosophy for that matter. That day, Nandor Hidegkuti(who scored a hatrick), made famous the deep lying center forward role ( quasi ''false 9''). The English had thought he would be conventionally positioned deep upfront, but he withdrew (quite in Lionel Messi fashion), into the midfield and displaced all the defenders marking him, which opened the English defense ajar for  Puskas(scored a brace) and co to run riot

"We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before''
"That one game alone changed our thinking. We thought we would demolish this team - England at Wembley, we are the masters, they are the pupils. It was absolutely the other way." the late Sir Bobby Robson.

In what was considered one of the finest performances of all time, Sebes and his men practically brought England to it's knees, in the full glare of the world.The story was legendary, the message was clear and simple ''WE ARE THE BEST''. Interestingly, the embarassment was so intense that six members of the England team - Alf Ramsey,  Harry Johnston, Stan Mortensen, George Robb, Bill Eckersley, and Ernie Taylor - were never called up to play for the three lions again. That game was their last.

The English stubbornly demanded a rematch back in Budapest in the hope of avenging that humiliating debacle at Wembley: a mistake they should have never made. Why? At the Nepstadion in Budapest, infront of 92,000 fans, the Hungarians utterly pulverized the English beyond repairs.

7-1 it finished. A goal feast. The English raised the white flag from beneath the rubble of their own destruction.It was England's heaviest ever defeat, and the reality dawned on them;they were no longer a super power in football. Both games against the Magyars was a defining moment in football in every respect, as it no doubt made the English consider a major restructuring of the their systems. They finally had to admit their's was inferior, and to learn from the masters.

The day was 23rd May 1954, the day the English became totally convinced they were ''wack."

1954 World Cup

The 1954 FIFA World Cup was supposed to be that moment, the defining moment for the Magical Magyars. After all their hardwork, innovation and domination, it was only befitting to seal it with a World Cup win to further deepen the mark they made in the annals of world football history. They entered the tournament in Switzerland as red hot favorites(which does not even capture the intensity of expectations).  I mean , winning two tournaments, thrashing the noisy English and being unbeaten since 1950 was more than enough a track record to be tagged as favorites. Infact, it was almost as if they had won the tournament months before competing. Most football fans, who had been won over by their brilliance and charisma , rooted for Hungary to win. They were set on the brink of history, and nothing was going to stand in their way.

They found themselves in group 2, as the seeded side, alongside West Germany, Turkey and South Korea. Being seeded meant they had to play only two matches in the group against the unseeded sides. The teams they met, wished they had never played them. They were mercilessly humiliated and  annihilated to say the least. The Magyars beat South Korea 9-0...9-0!! and West Germany 8-3...8-3!! Winning both games with a 100% percent record and 17 goals sure did send lethal shivers down the spine of the other ''competitors'' in the tournament. The Hungarians had their eyes on the prize, and were in no mood to entertain any form of an obstacle course.

They went on to face Brazil in the Quarters. In a match heralded ''the battle of Berne'' , the Hungarians faced a Brazilian side that had almost won the world cup 4 years earlier and had also been highly praised for their attacking style. The game was won 4-2 by the magyars, amidst a game that featured uncharacteristic physical battles and multiple fouls. Legend has it that the players fought in the tunnels and dressing rooms after the game, in a game that was worryingly ugly. But the Hungarians couldn't care less, as it qualified them to face world champions Uruguay in the semis. Uruguay had never lost a World Cup match in their history, winning both previous tournaments they had entered. They were however going to lose that record, as the devastating Hungarians triumphed 4-2  after extra time. It was a game that in stark contrast to the one against Brazil, as both teams ''opened up'' and attacked each other, in one of the finest attacking displays in World Cup history.

They were closer now more than ever. Just a game, ONE game, and they would become champions...they could feel it. Standing in their way.....West Germany. Again. The Swiss capital Berne was to hold the final. The Hungarians couldn't wait.

I reckon they thought ''Ah well, lets just beat them and get it over with.'' Complacency, yes, it was complacency, and it was justified complacency, sweet complacency. Could you blame them? They had brushed them aside 8-3 in the group stages, although German Boss Sepp Herberger claimed to have fielded a reserve side. The Germans would be no match, and only a miracle would save them from the utter destruction that was to ensue in Berne...yes...a miracle...only a miracle...

Interestingly, the worst fear of the Hungarians happened right before their eyes. A miracle, which was least expected, did happen. In fact, the final became known as ''"Das Wunder von Bern" ("The Miracle of Bern"). It was a literal miracle, because, on paper, the Germans stood no chance, heck, at the end of the first ten minutes, the Germans  stood no chance, as they were already two goals down! The Hungarians meant business.

 But football as it is, a vast valley of emotions  and the unexpected...

"Aus dem Hintergrund müsste Rahn schießen, Rahn schießt - TOR, TOR, TOR!" meaning...''Rahn has to shoot from the background, Rahn shoots - goal, goal, goal! -German radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann during that miraculous game in Berne, Switzerland.

The Germans came back from two goals down to win 3-2. An 84th minute Helmut Rahn strike dashed the hopes of the Hungarians. It was harsh...too harsh...after all they'd done...they were crestfallen...

"AUS! AUS! AUS! Das Spiel ist aus. Deutschland ist Weltmeister, schlägt Ungarn 3 zu 2!" meaning- "Over! Over! Over! The game is over! Germany are World Champions, beat Hungary 3–2!)-Zimmermann continued.

This is probably the most famous audio clip in German football history, And in sharp contrast, the most disheartening for Hungarians, symbolic of a dream that never was.

And so it was not to be. Sebes and his men, Kocsis(who top scored in the tournament with 11 goals), Puskas, Czibor, Hidegkuti, Grosics, et al, were left dejected. It was their first loss in 4 years. Losing was a feeling they had almost forgotten even ever existed. It was a reality check, and it was hard on them. Way too hard...

The Dutch team of the 70s were not the only great team never to win a World Cup.The Hungarians shared in their misfortune. The unfairness of football epitomized.


The disappointment in Berne proved a heavy blow to their momentum. Nonetheless they stayed at the top for a while, even engaging in another historic match at Hampden park infront of 113,000 fans on the 8th of  December 1954. Scotland were the opponents, who were more or less trying to ''teach England how it's done''. The Scottish had seen England lose their very footballing dignity at Wembley two years earlier and were determined to beat the Hungarian and get one over their neighbours...WRONG!

The Hungarians beat them 4-2. I guess it's fair to say that the Scottish at least put up a credible fight, as at some point in the game they actually had a chance of winning, which not many teams can boast of against the Magyars . Puskas even personally congratulated the Scottish after the game.

After the 54' World Cup heart break, between July 1954 and February 1956, Hungary played a 19 games, winning 16, drawing 3 and losing none. Despite this, Sebes was sacked in June 1956, which just went to show just how high their standards had reached. He was replaced by Márton Bukovi, a colleague. Sebes however stayed on in a different capacity, as President of the Hungarian Olympic Committee from 1948 to 1960.

The eruption of the Hungarian revolution in October of that same year broke up the team, very much like the Anschluss(the taking over of Austria by Hitler's Nazi Germany) broke up Hugo Meisl's Austrian Wunderteam in the 1930s. Most of the players left Honved and MTK respectively, to Spain especially. Puskas as most people quite know joined Santiago Bernabeu's great Real Madrid side whilst Kocsis and Czibor joined Helenio Herrera at Barcelona.

It was dusk time on one of the greatest eras in football...

This wonderful team shaped the game in many respects. Their doctrine of players being versatile and playing every position, as I mentioned earlier, was the module upon which Rinus Michels refered to in the creation of the Total Football philosophy in the 70s. Total football as we all know evolved through the years into Barca/Spain's current tiki taka. Although Hugo Meisl's Austrian side of the 30s have been credited for playing the earliest form of total football, it was the Hungarians that clearly enunciated the idea for the world to see.

I noticed from my research that the Hungarians actually pioneered the core elements of the tactical system the Spanish operate today. In fact, from jux apposing these two great sides, I observed that the Hungarians were very much like the Spanish on so many levels, some of which are that:

  • They(Hungarians) also had a defined tactical philosophy(of attacking total football) that was their signature system.
  • Their team was made up of a unique core of players that played together frequently at two dinstinct clubs(MTK and Honved) which made that connective fluidity flourish within their ranks. According to historian David Goldblatt, it also ''ensured that the national team benefited from their familiarity(from club level)''. You may have noticed how the current Spanish side also have a similar core of players that play together at club level(ie Real Madrid and Barcelona)
  • They utilized that unorthodox role of the deep lying center forward ,something that inspired today's ''false nine''.
  • They also considered the Goal keeper as very much a vital part of ball play, as he was considered a sweeper, who was also nurtured to be comfortable with the ball at his feet.
The coincidental similarities between the systems of both iconic sides are striking. There is not a shadow of doubt that Barca and Spain's current philosophy is based fundamentally on the Hungarian blueprint. Of course, it has morphed significantly and might not be exactly the same, but it's only fair that the Hungarians be given the due credit.

Many teams and managers became inspired by their impressive attacking game. There was a massive  change in formations in world football in the 50s as many teams migrated from using the orthodox WM formation unto the new 4-2-4 formation pioneered by the Hungarians. Brazil utilized the 4-2-4 system and won the 1958 World Cup.

With regards to player recruitment for the National team, the Hungarians again were pace setters using a distinct method. Here's a paragraph I found on Wikipedia, which I decided to copy verbatim for the purposes of harnessing it's very essence. Here goes...

''Sebes's idea of using a core set of players, drawn from just a handful of clubs, was a new idea that was critical to the success of the team. Most national teams were selected on the concept of picking the best players, not the best team; England famously had a selection committee that selected the team for each game. By using players who were familiar with each others strengths at a club level, Sebes introduced a sense of continuity at a national level - something no other nation had at the time'' Wikipedia

At the peak of their powers, the Hungarians beat all of the football super powers then; England, The Soviet Union, Uruguay etc. At a time when the world was firmly divided along ideological lines amidst tension, the magyars were seen as a symbolic embodiment of the communist ideals of the Eastern bloc. The Hungarian dominance of the world football landscape was an expression of power for the iron curtain-ers over the westerners during the cold war.

The Hungarians set a tall list of World records, some of which to date, remain unbroken. I selected some of their most impressive records via Wikipedia. The Hungarians....
  • feature in three of the top 10 highest rated matches all-time, a list of the 10 matches between teams with the highest combined Elo ratings (the nation's points before the matches are given) as of July 16, 2010). 
  • hold the world record run: of  42 victories, 7 draws, 1 defeat(the West Germany loss)  between June 4, 1950 to Feb 19 1956, chalking a jaw dropping- 91.0% winning percentage ratio.
  • hold the World Record: strongest power rating ever attained in the sport's history using the Elo rating system for national teams, 2166 points (set June 30, 1954)
  • hold the World Record: most consecutive games scoring at least one goal: 73 games (April 10, 1949 to June 16, 1957).
  • hold the World Record: longest time undefeated in 20th and 21st centuries: 4 years 1 month (June 4, 1950 to July 4, 1954)
  •  hold the World Record: most collaborative goals scored between two starting players (Ferenc Puskás & Sándor Kocsis) on same national side (159 goals)
  •  hold the 20th Century Record for a manager: (Gusztáv Sebes) highest ratio of victories per game past 30 matches with 82.58% (49 wins, 11, draws, 6 defeats).
  •  hold the 20th Century Record for Most International Goals: Ferenc Puskás (84 goals)
  • hold the  World Cup Record: 27 goals scored in a single World Cup finals tournament(1954 WC)
  • hold a Precedent: first national side from outside the British Isles to defeat England at home since the codification of association football in 1863, a span of 90 years (Hungary 6-3 England see "Match of the Century" )
  • hold the World Cup Record: highest margin of victory ever recorded in a World Cup finals tournament match ( Hungary 9, South Korea 0 - July 17, 1954)..... etc etc etc..
I can predict just how surprised, impressed and informed most people'll probably feel after reading this piece, just as much as I was during my research. It is especially hard to believe this 'tale' since the current Hungarian side look nothing like it's predecessors, currently ranked 34th and 47th on the FIFA and Elo Rankings respectively. It is sad that there's such a disconnection, as normally, such quality is usually sustained over the years. It however  should come as no surprise should Hungary wake up from their deep slumber to reclaim their place in the higher most echelons of world football. Form they say is temporary, but class is most definitely permanent.

At this juncture, I feel it's now appropriate to ask: after all you've learnt about the Magyars, do you think it's fair for the Greatest National team ever debate to be narrowed down to just Spain(2008-2012) and Brazil (1970)?

Well, YOU be the judge.

*Credit to Wikipedia and ESPN Soccernet for the facts and records and Google images for all the photos*

Fiifi Anaman.  ( @fiifianaman )
Sunday July 22, 2012.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Who occupies the national dugout? - The passionate divide

Ghana's C.K Gyamfi : Three-time African Cup winning coach
People have really strong opinions on which side of the Local/International divide our National Team trainer should be recruited from. And I'm no exception, as you'll find out later on in this article. For almost a decade, Ghana had been under the reins of foreign managers, many of whom delivered, some of whom failed,some of whom, well--run away. Among the ones that chalked successes were  Ratomir Dujković (Qualified team for the 2006 FIFA World Cup) and the very recent Milovan Rajevac (Second place at Afcon 2010 and Quarter Final at the 2010 FIFA World Cup). A foreign coach qualifying Ghana for it's first ever World Cup in 2006 made an indelible influencial mark on the thinking of many football fans on this issue. After many decades of toil, Ghana had finally made it into ''thee promise land''. And our Moses, was a white man..

Then came a reincarnation of the classic proto-Nationalistic (colonial period reference) mentality. The white man/ foreigner (I'll be using them interchangeably) had struck gold, and so had effortlessly won the deep admiration and loyalty of the people(football fans). It was that easy. And it was not a trophy, but a qualification. It had many Ghanaians turning their back on even the slightest faith in the potential of a local trainer. Not to say that before then, there was no 'taste for foreign managers' .No. It existed. But it became practically entrenched after our qualification for the Mundial in 2006. We had won the African Cup multiple times,yes, but the World Cup had been a long held thirst, a chronic obsession. And so the stage was set for the endless debate, the majority anti-Local Coach side against the minority pro-local coach activists. At this juncture, I would like to say, proudly, that I'm of the latter school of thought. And you're about to find out why..

Fundamental Argument

Let me state, that National team football is totally a different ball game from Club football. Club football is commercially driven. Clubs basically survive on funds, which are generated from a variety of sources, the ultimate of which is success. Thus teams with success are able to survive the pressure since they have access to finance. This drives teams to prioritize success, meaning hiring the best coaches and buying the best players possible to make that success dream/plan a reality. National Team Football on the other hand, is about National Pride.

A Nation's National team is not only a representation of it's best players but also an expression of a nation's sense of pride and honour in football. Every Nation parades their best players, who are Nationals, even if they are good enough or not. Thus transfer of players is forbidden in that respect, as unlike club football it's not commercially driven per se (per se because it's also about chalking successes, but not necessarily for the money,but the pride).

With this observation made, it seems illogical to have a nation, looking past it's own and employing a foreigner as the trainer. If the players are to be from the nation, regardless of their quality, why should the manager be recruited from elsewhere based on this very same 'quality'? One would say ''Because it is allowed''. Well it being ''allowed' is not to be confused with it being appropriate.

The point of it being a National team, is to have National players and National coaches regardless of any factor. It is about empowerment, showcasing a nation's products to the world. About pride and nationalism. Patriotism. That is the entire point. With the acceptance of employing foreign coaches and naturalization, the definitive line between National team football and club football is being gradually erased. It's becoming fainter each day, which is unhealthy for football.

Let me put it this way, employing a foreign manager means telling the world you have nothing to offer human resource -wise in the technical and tactical aspect of football. An indictment on your human resource, and it's training system. An act of demeaning one's own country: of saying the man coming in is better than all other managers in the country. Logical? I say No. Judge for yourself.

Why Serbia? Competence? Seriously?

Ghana especially has made it a habit of employing not only foreign coaches, but foreign coaches from Serbia. Yes. Serbia. Why? I don't know! Anytime there is a vacancy, the option of actually employing a National man for the National Job(see how much sense it makes) is overlooked in the name of ''competence''. How would you explain the appointment of Goran Stevanovic, a Serbian with no International experience at any level, NO trophies in his C.V , and no significant achievement over many other local coaches who have all these and still say you recruited on a competency criterion?

You are basically trying to say ''Anyone but a local coach'' which is totally absurd and unprofessional. This also gives rise to conspiracy theories about influential people having ''something to gain'' which is not only justified, but treacherous to the National course as well. Imagine having a Serbian as the president of the Ghana FA, of even worse as the President of Ghana, because they are ''competent''(again the ''it is allowed/not allowed'' argument clearly does not apply here).
The Pan-Africanist Perspective

Besides, Ghana, as a Nation gained independence for this very reason: that is that (in Kwame Nkrumah's own words) ''the black man is capable of managing his own afairs''. Infact it's based on this principle, as well as the pride in autonomy, that many countries strived for independence. Now wouldn't it be grossly shallow and one dimensional to think that this ''independence'' was only limited to Government control? Are we saying that it does not transcend politics/governance into our economic and social lives?

How can we believe in freedom, independence and emancipation (yes I know how far I've gone) when we still practice ''traditions''(how ironic) that are blatantly contradictory? That is clearly unacceptable? For a whole nation to basically be brought to it's knees in begging a foreigner to come coach us, offering ridiculous extravagant salaries and working conditions,which we  inferentially consider our very own ''not worthy'' of enjoying is just sad. Pathetic! Name it! How far have we come as a nation? Still depending on white people for expertise? Because we don't have it due to our lack of putting training systems in place? May I ask: Do we even lack coaches? Do you have to be a foreigner to actually know how to coach? And the pathetic point of experience and inability to handle egos of foreign based players....Seriously? That's our excuse? Or the know-how....once you're local you're automatically incompetent? If the foreigner is that good, why not send your native there to learn from him, come back, and take charge? Wouldn't that make much more sense?

Are these the reasons, excuses and explanations we are giving?

Abandoning the Nationalistic/Pan-Africanist course?

Level Playing field....

Even to alarming heights, we hire foreigners (most of whom are grossly unqualified compared to some of our coaches on so many levels) and pay them huge sums in salaries, luxurious accommodation, and all the help ( logistically etc in cars, workers etc ) which we all know we wouldn't give to our own compatriot.

Besides, did I mention the huge gulf that existed between  Kwasi Appiah's salary (then as assistant coach) and his boss's (Goran Stevanovic, an expatriate)? Yes, Kwasi Appiah's in the helm now, supposedly enjoying all these. But don't we all know the alleged conspiracy theory of trying to ''prove a point'' by going like ''yes, you said you needed a local coach, there you go, lets see!''(Not saying it is true though, just trying to make a point.)

In that case, it is like a trap : to hope he fails, so the pro-foreign coach activists, most of whom I dare say are influential in the recruitment, would have the triumphant ''I told you so'' call. And trust me, such calls are normally positive, but this would conspicuously be malicious..

And then the highly obnoxious attitude some of these foreign gaffers give us.... Some come in, travel out as and when they feel like it, never monitoring our local league to fish out material for the team amongst others(the discrimination against local coaches can fully be compared to this topic I'm addressing) Some can't even speak English! I mean how clearly inappropriate is that? We have to pay their translator too?! Isn't the picture painted incongrous? It's almost as if we want to aggressively suppress and undermine ourselves. Excuse after excuse, we kill ourselves steadily,claiming pursuit of  success(which we've not even achieved) at our own expense.

We defend the foreigner when he makes a huge mistake, but mercilessly villify our own for committing a slight error. Isn't ''err to human''?? So why do we want to insinuate that mistakes are best destructive when made by our own? I'd say, when the Black Man messes up, get rid of him if you want, and bring in another black man. That is how it should be! We shouldn't look for the slightest reason to ''justify'' our crude belief in the supremacy of the whites in football tactics and strategy. We can do it. We just have to know that we can, put measures in place to ensure that we can. That is all.That simple.

Ghana's very own Jones Attuquayefio and his all conquering African Champions League Winning Side(inset)

Sepp Blatter is actually making sense!

It's high time we quit churning out such disgracefully spurious excuses and admit that our mentality in the recruitment of coaches is flawed. Infact, current FIFA President Josep ''Sepp' Blatter might sound absurd in his comments and decisions sometimes, but there is one pronouncement he once made that made a lot of sense. Here goes..

 "I would say it is a little surprising that the motherland of football(England) has ignored a sacrosanct law or belief that the national team manager should be from the same country as the players. I have never seen Italy, Germany, Brazil or Argentina with a coach from another country." 2008 -- after the appointment of Fabio Capello as England boss.

Spot on Blatter! Spot on! (And that is a really rare thing to hear being said about this man).

Here's an analogy(which might sound weird,I know):

If the UAE cannot buy Foreign Nationals from elsewhere (because obviously, they have the monetary means) to form National teams, why should a Nation(with the means) go in for(''buy'' so to speak) a foreign manager? I guess the best way to put it is that there is a reason why it's called ''A NATIONAL TEAM''(emphasis on NATIONAL)

Infact, if this ''culture''(irony again) continues, National Team football will eventually lose it's essence. Is that what we want as a nation? As a globe? Are we so desperate to kill National team football? To kill the beautiful FIFA World Cup, The Euros, Afcon, Copa America et al?

We do love football don't we? That is why it is best to look out for it's interests. To state factually, there has never been a World Cup winner without a local coach, right from the beginning in 1930. To narrow it down to Ghana(for whose reason I'm doing this piece), we have never won the African Cup with a foreigner, and I'm sure we ought to know this, if facts and history matter at all. If we're willing to betray and degrade ourselves by ''worshiping'' foreigners and their so-called impeccable knowledge of the game, then way to go Ghana! Way to go!(Please pardon my sarcasm)

Fiifi Anaman. ( @fiifianaman )
July 16, 2012.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Back In, For Good?

Ghana's own prodigal son : Asamoah ''baby jet'' Gyan
He made the decision. The people protested. Expressing misgivings, not only based on his decision per se, but based on the 'tangibility' of the reason for that decision. Asamoah Gyan, in his career,has more often than not been under the torturing spotlight as a target for a wide range of psychologically damaging insults(Most especially at CAN 2008). But the intensity of the very recent insults 'bombardment' penetrated what he thought was thick skin. It was too much to shake off, too grave to sneeze at.

His penalty miss against Zambia had basically cost Ghana a place in the final, and a possible chance to win it and fulfill a whole nation's dream of winning the tournament for the first time in over three decades. The coincidental occurence of a chronological chain which started with a disappointing 3rd place finish in Ghana during CAN 2008,to a second place in Angola during CAN 2010, made winning CAN 2012 an almost natural progression. The people of Ghana couldn't care less about it being merely a dream, they were almost sure it was what was supposed to happen.

That is why most Ghanaians just couldn't deal with /accept the fact that we did not win, and that it was all down to our very own 'baby jet'(which is debatable). And so Ghanaians, out of conspicuous frustration which grossly blinded our objectivity, rained insults on the poor man. At that moment, it almost seemed as if Gyan had never even done anything commendable for Ghana(which obviously is not the case). It got to the man. And especially at a time when he had settled in on loan at a club (Al Ain, UAE) who were embellishing his pay check with oodles of dollars, it made the decision to 'take an indefinite break' from his National duties a little easy. He needed to refresh, relax, regroup etc etc. To stay away from all the heat Ghanaians had subjected him to.

Of course Ghanaians saw this as 'adding salt to injury'. They felt he was being 'cheecky' 'childish' 'ungrateful' 'unmanly' etc etc. And so it became a case of leaping from the frying pan into the fire. But Asamoah Gyan remained resolute. He stuck to his decision : which opened the floodgates to more and more abuse. But he was gone.

And so the endless Baby Jet debate began in earnest. The football community in Ghana, from administrators to media men, right down to the fans became heavily polarized. There was the school of thought that firmly believed(still believe perhaps) that Gyan, by his decision, had drawn a battle line : had turned his back on his nation, and so they 'hated' him and refused to entertain not even the slightest thought of a possible return. And of course there were(is) the Asamoah Gyan loyalists who felt that it was just unfortunate and 'unlucky' that he had messed up the Nation's hopes yet again, and so he did not deserve to undergo that degree of abuse. They battled their opponents, arguing that it was rather ungrateful on our part as fans to not welcome him 'with open arms' should he decide to return. It became a really sensitive debate, brewing with passion.

 Unlike the KP Boateng saga, it was definitively two sided, which created an avenue for verbal conflict eruptions. You were(are) either for or against Asamoah Gyan. Ghanaians mean business with their football. And especially with the emergence to prominence of some fine goal poachers in Emmanuel Baffoe and Emmanuel Clottey, both local players, the anti-Gyan movement's voice heightened. ''We don't need him anymore. After all we have quality local strikers who can do the job if called upon'' ''He can stay away for all we care'' ''Bye bye Asamoah Gyan''.

It finally erupted, seriously, when in the full glare of the nation, Berekum Chelsea's Emmanuel Clottey bagged a memorable hat trick vs Zamalek in an African Champions League Group Game in Accra. That was his 9th goal in the competition, which is jaw dropping by all standards. It was almost certain that the majority of Ghanaians had defected and joined the anti-Gyan movement, echoing emphatically that in Clottey, Ghana had found gold(which basically meant ''to hell with Gyan,if he won't,someone will''). It was almost as if the anti-Gyan activists had obtained a commanding majority.We had beaten Lesotho 7-0 without him, and lost to Zambia without him, and so this third phenomenom so to speak seemed to have basically settled things. But there was to be a sting in the tale.

The Baby Jet decided to return.

And so now, it's basically back to square one. The pro-Gyan movement has re-emerged to match their fellows on the other side. Asamoah returns, hopefully more relaxed and rejuvenated : which will do him a lot of good in facing the media circus that'll greet his arrival. The abuse will rear up it's head again, surely, as many will try to resist his re-incorporation into the squad. But it will all be basically up to him to slot back in and shut up his critics up and neutralize the debate; Up to him to prove he's resolute, grounded, focused and tough. At this rate, it's a two way affair: Either Gyan rises up to the challenge and 'murder' the debate, or get swallowed by it's raging pressure.

I hope he's up for it. I really do.

Fiifi Anaman.( @fiifianaman )
July 12, 2012.