Hindsight: Dear GFA, where is the DNA?

Eleven months ago, the Ghana Football Association (GFA) launched the National Football Philosophy, aka the Ghana Football DNA. GFA President Kurt Okraku described it as ''The Greatest Gift to Ghana's Football''.

Among many things, the document sets out to influence how Ghanaian teams behave when in possession of the ball, synchronized movements in varying tactical structures.

Two days before its launch, Kurt Okraku described coaching, along with refereeing, as two of the biggest problems facing Ghanaian football. This was at the GFA's annual Congress in Kumasi. Two years before that, he commissioned then Technical Director Bernhard Lieppert to author the handbook.

The DNA is supposed to be a "Spielveränderer".

GFA President Kurt Okraku

However, for the philosophy to materialize, coaches in the country need to embrace the new approach to how Ghana wants to play the game. But that will not happen automatically. You cannot wish it into existence. 

The philosophy needs to be exposed to the majority of Ghanaian coaches, they have to believe in it and adapt it to their independent coaching principles. That requires a lot of money. According to the GFA's Competitions Department, there is an average of 12 teams in each of Ghana's 261 districts. That is 3,132 coaches - not counting their assistants.

Ideally, all these coaches should receive first-hand education on the philosophy and have copies of the handbook. The GFA says it has limited resources. It has not received any financial support from the Sports Ministry to operationalize the handbook either.

But that is no excuse. One way or another, it needs to find the money to move the handbook from its dusty shelves at Ridge in Accra to every district and every basic school sports instructor. 

Yes! Basic schools.

What? You thought the work starts at club coaching? 

You see, the average Ghanaian kid, just like their peers elsewhere, gets exposed to football very early. In England, there are guidelines for coaching kids even at age eight. In 2020, the FA announced that children below the age of 11 would no longer be allowed to head footballs. It was the product of a Glasgow University research that showed that former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease.

They are deliberate about regulating the game early because that is where habits are formed, and identities forged.

So before the kid works with a district coach at 16, they must have been trained by someone who knows how.

Kids are exposed to football very early in their lives

In Ghana, that kind of education is superintended by the bloke who can afford two bags of sachet water daily to hydrate them after training. Often and more importantly, with some rather obsolete ideas.

This is where the damage is usually done. Players pick bad technical habits and worse. If they realize he has the potential to shoot, they are encouraged to shoot from every angle and distance. It does not matter if it is windy, rainy, or baking-hot sunshine, they will be asked to shoot at every opportunity. 

Elsewhere, these bad habits are spotted along the line and fixed before they reach the elite level. Not in Ghana. The Ghana Premier League, our elite competition, is filled with crazily talented players who have some of the worst fundamentals you will ever see. 

Salim Adams. One of the most gifted midfielders to emerge in recent times personifies this trend. He is every coach's dream. Standing at 6ft and change, the Hearts of Oak midfielder is press resistant, athletic, can hit a diagonal from 50 yards with minimal fuss, and has one of the most powerful rights feet I have ever seen with a short back lift to go with. 

But the very things that will endear him to you, make him remarkably frustrating to watch. He likes to shoot at every turn, is constantly over-hitting or under-hitting passes from short distances, and has been known to slumber through games.

Little wonder then, that he failed to make the grade at the youth team of FC Cincinnati, in the United States. And it is not as if he joined them as a rookie. By the time he joined them, he had at least two full seasons under his belt; 2020/21 with New Edubase United and 2021/22 with Hearts of Oak. He had a couple of CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup games too.

Salim Adams endured a difficult spell in the United States with FC Cincinnati

Salim is not alone. There are millions like him in Ghana. Remember Fatawu Issuahaku's experience at Sporting Lisbon and Ruben Amorim's rather damning verdict? Daniel Afriyie Barnieh's at Swiss side FC Zurich? Well yeah. That has been the verdict on our players even in leagues like Segunda B, the Championship, and in countries like Moldova, Cyprus etc. 

That is why in 2020, the GFA set out to influence the football component of the current curriculum in Ghana's basic schools. 

The GFA had identified that the majority of Ghanaian footballers, however talented they were, did not have the right fundamentals. This meant that they needed to be re-coached before they could be introduced to any structured football environment. They would look lost otherwise.

At an informal meeting somewhere at Number 7, 5th Circular Road Cantonments in October 2020, Prosper Harrison, the GFA's General Secretary first mentioned talks with the Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of Education. The plan was to introduce a more modern, yet, authentic method of coaching that will equip kids with the right fundamentals.

Four years later, no real progress has been made. If progress is made and this is done properly, the Physical Education instructors at the Basic level will be a little more than just that. The GFA's idea, according to Prosper Harrison Addo, was to ensure that the government only hires persons who understand modern trends of the game and can add relevant technical value to the child's talent. Rather than legitimizing bad technical habits or killing talents entirely.

Prosper Harrison Addo, General Secretary of the Ghana Football Association

For now, Kurt Okraku's administration is counting on two of its shining knights; Desmond Offei - who won gold for Ghana as head coach of the Black Satellites team at the African Games in March, and Black Starlets coach Laryea Kingston, to give meaning to the handbook. 

Offei is heavily influenced by the Bengiun technical culture, where he scouted and coached at the U-21 level. In March, he was confirmed as the Director of Coaching Education at the Technical Directorate. Laryea first gained prominence for his work as the Right to Dream Academy's U-21 coach.

That is where the GFA deserves credit. In hiring these two, they have identified coaches who believe in principles that are similar to Ghana's Germany-inspired philosophy. Both have highlighted its influence in their work at the National teams. 

''We were very careful in selecting players because of the style the GFA - ''Agoro style'' - has put up which is the major signature that is motivating us as a technical team,''

''The technical team wants to dominate play, we want to have transitions in our play but we don’t want to forget the DNA - the GFA's handbook for football development - has put up and adding the philosophy of the technical team, it is working perfectly for the team,'' Laryea said before Ghana dispatched Cote d'Ivoire 5-1 in their opening WAFU Zone B U-17 tournament last week.

Their successes will give credibility to the philosophy.

However, the GFA did not invest in the production of the philosophy only to turn around and hire coaches forged by all-ready-made principles.

They invested in it because they saw the need to start a cultural reset. That takes commitment, resources, and the right political alliances.

It has been a year already and there is no sign that the GFA can or for that matter, a plan to operationalize its document. For the sake of Ghana football, they find a way to do it. Lord knows we will be better for it.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.