In the second of a two-part series of articles, Ghana FA boss Kwesi Nyantakyi bares his thoughts on issues regarding Ghana football and more.

Kwesi Nyantakyi
Kwesi Nyantakyi

For good reasons and bad, all of Kwesi Nyantakyi?s 108 months ? particularly the last dozen ? as president of the Ghana Football Association have been quite memorable and remarkably incident- filled.

As a decade spent in Ghanaian football?s highest office dawns, Nyantakyi touched on some of the more pertinent issues that have come up during his tenure ? concerning the past, present, and future ? when Goal?s Sammie Frimpong caught up with him recently in a no-holds-barred dialogue.

He does have a lot to say, as you?d imagine.

Brazil 2014

Ghana?s World Cup adventures, which the Justice Senyo Dzamefe Commission was set up to investigate, was a disaster for many reasons, not least the overall poor on-pitch performances that saw the Black Stars fail to reach the knockout rounds for the first time in three attempts.

At the time, and ever since, Ghanaians have been divided on exactly what sabotaged the nation?s high hopes. Nyantakyi, though, is in no doubt what did, and his view, from the lofty perch of FA President, couldn?t be too wide of the mark.

?The delay of the arrival of the team?s appearance fees, as I have said publicly, was the primary problem; any other factor was secondary. That said, the players had no right to take the law into their hands and revolt as they did. There was absolutely no justification for that, as it had a spiral effect on discipline and performance.?

Nyantakyi?s remarks above, as can be easily inferred, lays the blame squarely at the door of the Ghanaian government and the Stars? playing body. Given that the ?accused? are groups with whom the FA?s work is closely tied, does expressing such strong sentiments not present the risk of backlash or at least some friction?

?No,? he asserts. ?There is no friction. If it were not true, then that would create friction but if it is true and can always be defended, why should there be friction??

Afcon glory

Seven months later, the Black Stars appear to have moved on ? even if the nation itself hasn?t fully ? and are due another assignment at a major tournament. This time, though, it is the Africa Cup of Nations ? a competition that Ghana last won in 1982, some 23 years before Nyantakyi became FA boss. His tenure, unfortunately, has only seen that barren spell extended by another decade. Does such failure, in spite of all he has achieved at the helm of Ghana football, trigger the occasional feeling of emptiness?

Well, he admits it does, but then goes on to state that, rather than linger on the negatives, he?d count the blessings. ?I believe if you assess Ghana?s Afcon fortunes from 2006 onwards,? he observes, ?there has been a lot of improvement.?

?We?ve been to every Nations Cup in that period, having hitherto missed some. Even more significantly, we have reached at least the semi-finals at four consecutive tournaments and we only narrowly missed out on the trophy in 2010 after getting to the finale.?

Still, Nyantakyi concedes things could yet be better and expresses belief that perhaps Equatorial Guinea 2015, which kicks off on January 17, could just be the edition that finally gives Ghana?s long-suffering fans a reason to smile. ?They really deserve it,? he adds rather wistfully.

The man entrusted with making that dream a reality is former Chelsea manager Avram Grant, appointed in November 2014 as Ghana?s trainer for the next two years, and Nyantakyi hails the Israeli?s credentials in glowing terms.

?He is a very professional person,? he says of Grant, ?and also boasts a lot of experience as well as the competencies and skills to man-manage players, unlike some of the coaches we have hired in recent years.?

Still on Equatorial Guinea 2015, the conversation?s focus shifts to the tournament itself. CAF?s decision to hand hosting rights to the tiny Central African nation after original hosts Morocco forfeited the privilege was met with much ridicule and skepticism, with many doubting the oil-rich state?s ability to meet the huge demands of receiving a competition of the Afcon?s magnitude at such short notice and with concerns as serious as Africa?s ongoing Ebola outbreak.

It is a viewpoint that Nyantakyi, a member of the CAF Executive Committee which took that decision, laughs off and disputes with fact.

?Equatorial Guinea hosted the 2012 edition [with Gabon] quite successfully so I really don?t see why anybody should slight the country?s ability this time.

?Malabo and Bata are two beautiful cities and they have infrastructure to host the competition as was proved three years ago. I can?t say much about Mongomo and Ebebiy?n (the other host cities) but I believe they do have the basic facilities required as well. There is little reason for such pessimism, really.?

?Fallen? standards

While the senior national team has generally sprung from strength to strength over the years, Ghana?s clubs have suffered a perceived drop in relevance, and nowhere has such degeneration been as evident as in the failure to make any significant impact in continental action. From being formerly dominant, Ghanaian sides ? bar the odd success story ? have huffed and puffed in futility, to the extent that the country now has just a slot per each of Africa?s annual club football competitions.

Nyantakyi has been faulted for supervising such poor state of affairs but, as he explains below, it is an accusation he?s just not shouldering.

?Clubs are, above all else, private companies,? he starts by reminding his critics. ?They go to play in Africa and the FA gives them financial support. Why, then, should Kwesi Nyantakyi be blamed if they fail??

For those insistent on playing the blame game, Nyantakyi subtly suggests a more culpable target.
See if you can spot who he points at in his next submission: ?The little experience I have acquired in club football management in Africa [from being, among other things, owner of Ghana Premier League outfit Wa All Stars] has made me conscious of how some governments in other countries support clubs that go to Africa. Unfortunately, in Ghana, it is often the sole responsibility of clubs to fund their campaigns and some of them simply lack the financial wherewithal to make any progress.?

To illustrate his point, Nyantakyi cites the system that exists in North Africa, along with well-bankrolled sub-Saharan clubs like Enyimba and TP Mazembe. Does he imply, then, that there is a direct cause-and-effect link between financial input and success in African football?

?Yes,? he replies, ?there is a correlation of sorts.?

?Money does not necessarily guarantee success but it does help guarantee it.? One for the clubs to ponder, surely.

Ghana football: Sick or hale?

Nyantakyi?s well-placed defenses notwithstanding, many maintain Ghana?s football is running a fever: ?Nyantakyitis?, perhaps, and these would easily draw a long list of symptoms ? namely, the weaknesses of the local league, youth football, womens? football, et al ? to buttress that claim.

Nyantakyi, needless to say, has an opinion on Ghanaian football?s general well-being which couldn?t be more contrasting. His own diagnosis clearly yields an entirely differing scenario, as he explains.

?I do not share the view that Ghana football is sick. It enjoys a clean bill of health. Indeed, were we to conduct an objective lab test on Ghana football, we would find that the results are quite excellent.?

He excuses the difference in viewpoints on the ?varying lenses through which people assess things?, and then attempts to, one after the other, strike out as many of the suggested signs of ill health as he could.
Admittedly, the zeal he demonstrates in doing so feels quite convincing and genuine ? for want of space, Goal would have detailed them all here ? yet, in responding, none of the charges bring out his ?lawyering? instincts as fully as those regarding the local league?s supposedly death-like current existence.

Read on as he argues his case ? without interruption, of course.

The league

?I do not agree with the perception that the local league has collapsed, with due respect to the proponents of that argument. In fact, I wonder why the league remains so exciting yet they claim otherwise.

?Whatever their reason, it is most assuredly not because the standard of play has gone down. I have personally been around to watch domestic league matches and I am impressed with the quality witnessed. Why else would the current national U20 team have almost all of its players drawn from Ghana?s top tier ? a league that has very recently been rated among Africa?s best five?

?Perhaps they do so just because it is only too convenient to compare the modern-day league to that which existed 20-odd years ago. Back then, you see, there wasn?t as much football on TV as there is today, and the direct consequence ? the often cited challenge of increasingly empty stadia ? isn?t peculiar to Ghana, as some would have us believe. It is a truly worldwide problem: right from South Africa, through Nigeria, to even Italy and Portugal. I have been to some of these places, and that is the reality on the ground.

?Only a handful of nations, like Germany, England, and the USA don?t have that problem, and that is mainly due to better branding and other crowd-pulling facilities at stadia such as eateries and bars where individuals and entire families can ease off and have fun before, during, and after games.?

At this point, Goal steps in briefly to inquire why can?t Ghana find itself among such elite company. Barely breaking pace, Nyantakyi responds, explaining that it isn?t the responsibility of the GFA to provide such infrastructure, as most venues in the league are owned and operated by the clubs themselves.

?Even if it were,? he avers, ?trust me when I say we don?t have the resources to do so.?
And, oh, he isn?t quite finished yet?

?If I leave the GFA today,? he insists, ?the stadia wouldn?t suddenly begin filling up. Besides, there is a lot of input being made in the background to improve the league, like the freshly introduced Data Management System, that people fail to notice.?

Next comes the gulp which inevitably follows such an intense and lengthy delivery, and then, almost as an afterthought, he lands with an air of finality: ?It isn?t all Kwesi Nyantakyi?s fault, you know.?

Personal matters

With the pressing, heat-generating issues all just about ?treated and discharged?, the hour-long interview winds to a close. On his own terms, literally.

First off, his ambitions for the CAF presidency. Nyantakyi hasn?t been shy about that dream ever since he began nursing it and, even as I pry for more on the subject, he clearly isn?t about to do so now.

Says he: ?I maintain I will support Issa Hayatou [CAF?s current chief] while he remains at post. If he decides not to run again, though, I would certainly fancy my chances and present myself for the position. I can be CAF President ? why not??

Nyantakyi?s confidence does have solid basis, as his ensuing words affirm.

?Being a member of CAF?s Executive Committee alone makes me qualified, while I believe I also enjoy enough goodwill, leverage, as well as the experience and competence to help me succeed.?

Interesting times ahead, then.

While Ghana?s troubles at the last World Cup were in full flow, Nyantakyi was required to develop thicker skin to deal with tribulation of a personal sort triggered by allegations by Britain?s Channel Four and Daily Telegraph newspaper over his role in an uncovered match-fixing scheme. You?ve probably heard all about it, as well as how Fifa initially took the issue up, handed it over to the GFA?s Ethics Committee which, in turn, investigated and exonerated the 46-year-old.

Well, you likely haven?t heard the last of it, if Nyantakyi?s planned legal action against his accusers does proceed. Actually, as he intimates, a date in court couldn?t be too faraway.
?I have spoken to lawyers and they are still looking at it. We are considering the financial costs involved. Such a move could be quite expensive but we are looking at it as an option. Officially, though, the lawsuit hasn?t yet been filed.?

To the Future?

After nine years in Ghanaian football?s toughest job, one would expect Nyantakyi to be exhausted as much physically as he should be mentally. Indeed, his detractors claim he is, only that he wouldn?t admit it. And, true to form, he doesn?t.

Hear him: ?I am actually rejuvenated for the future. I have more experience now from CAF and Fifa. I also now have an MBA in Strategic Management from the Paris Graduate School of Management which I pursued to enhance my personal appreciation of issues in management. So, really, just why would anyone think my ideas have gone stale??

Nyantakyi?s time as FA President is far superior relative to the reigns of his predecessors for some two reasons: he?s outlasted and outdone them all.

He agrees he is due an appraisal yet, when Goal request that he grant himself one, he politely declines. Ultimately, though, he does give in when we probe a little more. Consider his brief piece of self-assessment below and, as you do, make what you will of it.

?It has all been very eventful and challenging with modest successes,? he proffers. ?However one looks at it, the FA that I have led has done quite well. On a range of 10, perhaps I?d pick a score of seven. Another term, I believe, would inch us closer to a perfect 10, and then, after that has been achieved, I?d leave.?

With little else left to be said, we ask what would be our final question: ?Is Kwesi Nyantakyi the same man he was when he first assumed the FA presidency back in 2005??

A deep breath, a sigh, and then after what seems like eternity, an answer delivered in a tone way calmer than we had anticipated.

?For a fact, I have gained more experience. When I started, I couldn?t even handle the many official phone calls I began to receive. The sheer enormity of the job dazzled me, frankly. Over time, though, I have become more accustomed to it all. Back then, I couldn?t swallow much media criticism as I viewed them as largely personal attacks. These days, I just take it all in my stride. Now, I am stronger, more experienced, more receptive, more resilient and more robust.?

As it all ends and we part, that much is impressed on us. And on our recorder, too.

Source: Sammie Frimpong ,


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