Hearts of Oak’s management has come under heavy criticism this week, not least because – as their supporters like to put it – club officials “watched on” as contracts of about five top players ran out at the end of the season, having failed to negotiate successful prior renewals.
In their ‘weak’ defence, club officials have rejected the perceived “lack of effort” on their part, claiming the players in question – sights set on pursuing careers abroad – consciously reject overtures to extend their deals.
That these players are first-team regulars explains the supporters’ frustration.
Not in any way a bad ambition, the desire of the players to seek greener pastures highlights a problem that has, more than anyone else, frustrated coaches of the Black Stars in the past couple of years.
Kwesi Appiah’s last Ghana squad included only one player from the domestic league. As expected, the team announcement drew another round of vilification, unhesitatingly served by the chagrined Ghana Premier League aficionados. The blinkered enthusiasts have even gone as far as ridiculously proposing a quota for domestic players in the Black Stars.
But how feasible is this idea under the current circumstance?
The template of the past couple of years has been concerning; make a name in the local top flight, and jump on the next plane available.
This has as much rocked the local league in consistently taking away its quality as it has disturbed handlers of the Black Stars.
With the 2016-17 Ghana Premier League awards yet to be held, the 2015-16 season becomes the most appropriate case study.
Latif Blessing, who won the Best Player and the Goal King awards – then on the books of Liberty Professionals – now plies his trade with Sporting Kansas City in the United States.
His move happened before the next season could begin.
Richard Ofori, who claimed the Goalkeeper of the Season accolade, is now on the books of South African side Maritzburg United. These are just two out of the horde of outstanding players to egress the top flight after that campaign.
The season prior, Kofi Owusu, who claimed the top scorer’s prize, jumped on the next plane to Egypt, while Augustine Okrah, who won both the Best Player and Top Scorer awards in 2013-14, moved to Sudan via Sweden.
Due to this trend, it becomes ever so difficult, if not impossible, for national coaches to build their teams around players whose availability for the next few months is far from assured.
As several of these examples demonstrate, there’s no guarantee that a player will maintain his GPL form when he goes abroad, not least during the first few months after his integration to a new division, a new country and, in several cases, a new continent.
The situation is even more depressing when the choice of destinations comes into the picture.
Admittedly, Ghana coaches could do better in their way of handing opportunities to top performers in the league during their squad selections. How Hearts of Oak linchpin Winful Cobbinah, for example, failed to get any game time in the Black Stars in 2017 is still a mystery.
However, in some cases where rare chances were handed out to players in the process of breaking out, they simply got overawed by their foreign-based counterparts in camp or by the occasion and failed to make any good impact.
It was a case of being not yet ripe for the big audition.
It’s fair to say a few more seasons in Ghana would have been good for their development and confidence.
On many occasions, references have been made to the years when the Black Stars was dominated by locally based players. In every way, that’s a flawed comparison, as during those years, Ghana had her best players – not just ‘one-season wonders’- based in the country.
Those were the days when the GPL was that attractive to blind players to opportunities abroad; when Hearts-Kotoko fixtures were complete sell-outs; when the league was as exciting as it could be.
Like Appiah, all coaches of the Black Stars in the past couple of years turned to foreign leagues to find talent. That can be no coincidence.
It sounds absurd, then, the suggestion that some cabal – led by Appiah and GFA president Kwesi Nyantakyi – is in order to deny home-based players their privilege.
The truth is, the current mass exodus has never and will never help the case of our countrymen, who justifiably, but worryingly, have every right to seek better lives anywhere under the sun like men from anywhere else.
Neither does it help the Black Stars and its coaches, who can only look on helplessly.