The news that former Ghana Football Association chairman Ben Koufie had passed on hit me like a Mohammed Ali-sized punch that lands on the target. It was on Sunday that I got to know that he had been rushed to the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, but I was hoping he would be fine. Sadly it wasn’t to be. I was fortunate to get to know him personally and talk to him, and so I am writing a tribute to one man that Ghana can never repay for his work in Ghana football.
After a good playing career in the late fifties, Ben Koufie was one of a select few sent abroad for various coaching courses. He returned and was part of the Black Stars coaching staff for the 1965 and 1968 African Nations Cup tournaments.
Thanks to his experience, he was made head coach for the Black Stars ahead of the 1970 African Nations Cup. Ghana lost 0-1 to Sudan in the final and Ben Koufie told me that the players were literally deported to Accra after the match. “They were very hostile towards us and arranged a plane to take us to Accra after the game. We even scored a perfect goal that was disallowed by the referee.”
He went one better with Asante Kotoko; orchestrating the Porcupine Warriors’ victory in the 1971 African Champions Cup final. The manner of the victory was brilliant, because TP Englebert held Asante Kotoko to a 1-1 draw in Kumasi, but a combination of heroics by goalkeeper Robert Mensah in the second leg, coupled with goals from Abubakari Gariba and Malik Jabir secured a 2-1 win in Kinshasa to clinch it.
He had stints in East Africa, with positions held in Botswana and Zimbabwe and his work resulted in a first ever African Nations Cup qualification for Zimbabwe in 2006 and the same for Botswana 6 years later.
Clearly this was a man who had a knack for achieving results with medium to long term planning. The funny thing is that the results are arrived at long after he has left the scene.
For instance, many individuals are credited for Ghana’s first ever World Cup appearance in 2006, but if you ask me, Ben Koufie deserves a lion’s share of the credit. I will explain why.
When Ben Koufie became the GFA Chairman in 2001, one of his goals was to reduce the incidence of age cheating. Again, he believed that if a player was good enough to play for the Black Satellites, the player was good enough for the Black Stars. In short, Koufie believed that the Black Stars needed younger players.
After Emmanuel Afranie pulled off a shock by guiding the Black Satellites to silver at the 2001 FIFA Under 20 World Cup, quite a number of these players made their way into the Fred Osam Duodu-led Black Stars squad for the 2002 African Nations Cup. Michael Essien, John Paintsil, John Mensah, Derek Boateng and Ibrahim Abdul Razak all played in Argentina and they were selected for the 2002 AFCON. Goalkeeper Sammy Adjei was selected for the AFCON as well, as was Matthew Amoah.
Ghana lost the quarterfinal 0-1 to Nigeria and this was the line up fielded by Osam Duodu that day: Sammy Adjei –Kofi Amponsah, John Mensah, Princeton Owusu Ansah – John Paintsil, Abdul Razak Ibrahim, Derek Boateng, Emmanuel Osei Kuffuor – Prince Amoako, Isaac Boakye.
Matthew Amoah came off the bench in that game, whilst Michael Essien was injured and couldn’t play, but the point I am making is that there was a core of young players that would go on to represent Ghana at the highest level.
Eventually, two other heroes from Argentina, Sulley Muntari and Emmanuel Pappoe joined the Black Stars, with the team buoyed by the return of Stephen Appiah and the introduction of Laryea Kingston. Against all odds, the Black Stars qualified for the 2006 World Cup and the likes of Samuel Osei Kuffuor, Michael Essien, John Mensah, John Paintsil, Matthew Amoah, Derek Boateng, Sammy Adjei and Alex Techie Mensah, who all represented Ghana at the 2002 AFCON, made it into Ghana’s first ever World Cup squad.
It was a five year development plan by Ben Koufie that went a long way to achieving this dream and so he deserves commendation.
He was asked by current GFA President Kwesi Nyantakyi to work on the Technical Committee and that is a position he held until his death.
Ghana has indeed lost a great football treasure and I guess Ghana owes Koufie a debt that can never be paid.
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