Same old sport: Introducing five variations of football ‘Made in Ghana’ describes the top five variations of football in Ghana and examines just how pronounced each one of these has reflected on the composition of the typical Ghanaian player
 Nana Frimpong
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Football, to the Ghanaian, is not restricted to a game of 11 players on either side chasing a round leather ball on the surface of a lush green pitch. In these parts - as elsewhere on the continent - it is not always about 11 players, lush green turfs, or a ball made of leather. Often, in fact, it is the very opposite. Just ask Michael Essien. Or Asamoah Gyan. Or any of the others.

Innate Ghanaian ingenuity has ensured that every single football star whoever emerged out of this land has experienced more forms of the beautiful game than Fifa formally recognises. From 'counters-ball' - a form of football played with crown corks by young lads on any flat wooden or cemented surface - to eleven-a-sides on dusty football pitches, the football knowledge and skills of these players are honed to near-perfection through a variety of soccer-like games modeled on the original.'s Nana Frimpong describes the top five and examines just how pronounced each one of these has reflected on the composition of the typical Ghanaian footballer and, by extension, the country’s peculiar pattern of play. Mind, though: some of these carry the most unusual names.

Arguably the most popular of the lot, 'small poles' - aptly named after the size of goalposts considered suitable in such games - can be played on any open space that permits the involvement of a maximum of six players on either team - a minimum of two - and requires that players kick the ball as low as possible through two blocks of stone/concrete no higher than a few meters and only as wide as three or four times the length of the feet of the biggest guy on the field. This concept - per the area of the opening and the number of participants - dictates, among other things, that accurate passing is key, and that shots from range are almost certain to miss the target. Thus, there are more creative midfielders than out-and-out strikers, with the former expected to thread passes through the minutest of spaces for the latter to convert. That aside, the only means of getting the ball past an opponent is to dribble, and that is where close control counts. A good eye for goal is also required for one to go past the last man who jealously guards the pair of 'poles' and the narrow space in-between. Clear-cut chances are indeed far and few in occurrence, and thus wastefulness is frowned upon. Much value is placed on team ethic, and over-indulgence is rarely condoned, although a good solo goal is sure to be applauded. Ghana’s indigenous version of futsal - best enjoyed outdoors - is perhaps the one reason why Ghana boasts an abundance of talented midfielders and a rather dire dearth of target men. It remains an integral - albeit informal - part of the Ghanaian football tutorial system.

This is basically a derivative of the above format. It consists of four 'small poles' facing each cardinal point, each manned by a man. Each player is entitled to a touch - and not anymore, until another man has had one - that either gets the ball into the direction of another’s goal or away from his own. One ought to be wary of the opponent’s every move and hope to exploit any errors as fully as possible. Concede, and there likely is another waiting to take one’s place in the game, just so the competing quartet is retained. Otherwise, individuals are evicted till there is only one man standing: the winner. As in the above, this also increases a player’s spatial awareness and good shooting skills from all angles and techniques.

FC Barcelona midfield prince Xavi Hernandez once revealed that one of the first lessons taught to a fresh entrant at the club’s famed La Masia is that of humility, the said 'humiliation' being imparted in the course of a mini-football game in which the new recruit is placed in the middle of a circle formed by a few older team-mates who attempt stringing together as many passes as possible without interruption or interception by the lad in the middle, try as he may. This is done primarily to instill the utmost need to appreciate possession of the ball, a fundamental on which the Catalan club thrives. He might well have been referring to 'aabaten' albeit a more refined form of it. 'Aabaten' is a Ga term (Ga being one of Ghana’s many indigenous dialects, spoken chiefly by natives of Accra, the capital) that translates to wit, 'coming into the centre/middle'. Any contact made with any part of the body but the hands is considered both fair and successful. Doubtlessly, the quick thinking, passing precision, and desire to keep/regain the ball that is so characteristic of many a Ghanaian midfielder stems from participation in this game, as is the remarkable ability to second-guess and often doing so rightly.

The name for this one stems from another major Ghanaian tongue - Twi this time - and literally means 'sharing the booty'. This bears semblances to any other conventional game of football, with the usual rules being strictly - or loosely, depending very much on the level of officiating expertise of the 'designated' referee, of course- applied. At first glance the uniqueness isn't very obvious; not until you discern the extra effort being exerted by the participants. Here, they strain every sinew and nerve to get to the ball first, keep it out of their area, or get it into the other goal, simply to ensure they don't lose out on the 'booty' -a wager agreed on by all sides that prompted the fixture. Call it winner-takes-all and you wouldn't be too wrong. Ever wondered why the likes of Sulley Muntari, Samuel Osei Kuffour and Anthony Annan just wouldn't shrink out of any tackle? Well, now you know, if you didn't before.

'Kutaa' - with or without the 'shie' suffix- is another Ga word that perfectly sums up the 'punishment' meted out to he who dares flout this game’s single regulation: sitting out the rest of the action for firing a shot off-target. The original form of Kutaa demands that a player controls the ball and finds the best route to the goal - all in one shot at a time, and obliged to make the most of it. Actually, one is allowed to enjoy a reasonable amount of touches, as long as the foot in use fails to make contact with the ground, just as in 'four corners'. The importance of a good first touch is highlighted here, as is the need for optimum shooting power, technique, and accuracy. Drilled low shots are the norm as few players are willing to risk blasting the ball high and wide while attempting the spectacular. There is a variant form of Kutaa which makes room for dribbling over mere one-touch football. In effect, each player on the field is on his own and is required to dribble past each opponent to advance towards goal.Players who prefer standing in proximity to the goal and pouncing on any loose balls to score are regarded as the 'enemy', a subliminal condemnation of the art of goal-poaching that has reflected heavily and negatively at club and national level football.

Here, as well, missing the target is considered 'criminal'. Subsequent 'elimination' of offenders [in either version] narrows the competitors to just two: the sole survivor remaining, and the goalkeeper whose position is suddenly called into question and is thus required to defend it against a contender in the form of the remaining player who receives a spell in goal as his prize. The decider is usually in the form of a single spot-kick. Most budding or established Ghanaian goalkeepers have improved their ball-playing and distribution skills considerably through such practice, not least former Ghana No.1 Richard Kingson. In Kingso's case especially, his penchant for utilising his feet in making saves and excellence on the deck can certainly be traced to when he probably engaged in 'kutaashie' during his early years.