With football being the number one passion of the nation, it is never surprising that issues surrounding it generate a lot of public interest and controversy. For example, the selection of a coach can turn a nation of football lovers and pundits into consultants. Between 1958 and 2014 (before firing Kwesi Appiah), we had 35 coaches.
Between the year 2000 and the sacking of Kwesi Appiah in 2014, we had not less than 13 coaches. This roughly averages to a coach for every year. Of these 13 coaches, only four were Ghanaians and mostly served as interim coaches as they awaited a substantive foreign coach. In 2014, we all beheld the saga of the Black Stars 2014 Brazil World Cup disgraceful adventure unfolds with the publicized Commission of Enquiry.
Lately has been the fallouts of the Anas Aremeyaw Anas Number 12 investigative documentary that led to the establishment of the FIFA Normalization committee led by Dr Kofi FIFA and the life ban of the former Ghana Football Association (GFA) president from FIFA-related activities.
In this write-up, I intend to suggest a framework going forward for the development of football in Ghana in a holistic manner. My focus is not so much in relation to the specific work of the normalization committee (which is more administrative) as it is in providing a broad framework for the development of the football industry. It is our collective desire as a nation to build a very competitive football industry that globally competitive and also provides a catalyst for economic development.
We can draw a few parallels from national industries and their quest for global competitiveness to help deliver us from this football industry quagmire we find ourselves. National industries (e.g. fashion in Paris, commerce and tourism in Dubai) desiring to be competitive would seek competitive advantage over competitor nations. At the organizational level, businesses seek competitive advantage with their core competencies.
These organizations then seek to improve on these competencies until it becomes a distinctive competency. The difference between the core and distinctive being the ability of the firm to develop its core competency so as to leverage on this across its business or functional activities. Depending on the organization, this could be in varied fields such as its innovation and creativity (Apple) or engineering (BMW) or marketing (Samsung).
These firms concentrate on their core activities and outsource their non-core activities. For example, Nike sports firm would concentrate on its Research and Development, and outsource most of the business of manufacturing to its partners scattered across the globe.
By extension, I believe this progression in the development of competitive advantage at the micro level (individual businesses) is largely adaptable for competitiveness at the macro level (industry level) on the national front. Michael Porter, a guru in competitive strategies, identified four (4) key factors that generally propel firms within nations to become globally competitive. They are:
(1) Factor endowments;
(2) Demand conditions;
(3) Firm strategy, structure and rivalry;
(4) Related and supporting industries.
I intend to briefly explain these with their possible adaptation to Ghana to provide a general framework for the development of the football business industry.
- Factor endowments
Every nation has a position of strength irrespective of other circumstances that may seem to put it at a disadvantage. Hence, it is a mix of more and less favorable factors. The blessing could be in its geographical size, infrastructure, location, knowledgeable people, etc. The ‘downside’ of a nation could also be the nation being landlocked, small land size, poor weather, etc.
I want to believe that just as Ghana is endowed with gold, a suitable climate for cocoa, and recent oil discovery; so are we naturally gifted with talents in the game of football. However, as stated by Porter (1998), the stock of factors a nation is blessed with is less important than the efficiency and the rate at which it creates, upgrades, and deploys these factors to its advantage.
Hence, as a nation, we ought to have the will and discipline to develop football using modern and scientific means alongside strong integrated marketing communications. England serves as a global benchmark in this regard. In Africa, South Africa has made some good strides in this direction.
- Demand conditions
Football is a global sport with global demand for good entertaining football that is well marketed. Every weekend, millions of Ghanaians feast their eyes and ears to the English Premier League football and other foreign leagues. There are die-hard Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool supporters in Ghana who have little knowledge of happenings in Kotoko or Hearts of Oak.
Indeed, this same craze was there about twenty or more years ago for our local league; unfortunately, this craze is virtually dead now. Ghanaians love good and well-marketed football irrespective of where it comes from. Hence, if managers of our domestic football dare to develop the sport to international standards, then definitely they can have a share of the local market. For example, in other industries like fashion, a local player like Nallem Clothing still enjoys growing patronage under hostile conditions.
- Firm strategy, structure and rivalry
This relates to how competition is structured in the industry. It includes the level of fair competition among clubs; how professionally clubs are run along business principles; level of managerial competency; and appropriate regulatory framework set by the regulatory body – the Ghana Football Association (GFA).
The more competitive our local league, based on competent management at the club level, the more professional the clubs become and subsequently the more competitive they are on the international stage. Ultimately there are stronger national teams fed by a reliable local league. The successes of Egypt over the past decade can be attributed to its relatively stronger local league. It is obvious that as a nation, we are deficient in this factor for competitiveness.
- Related and supporting industries
The issue has to do with how developed the football industry, in general, is to support the thriving of Ghana’s football to become globally competitive. Do we have among others enough industry standard stadia, a colts or youth system in the supply chain, insurance policies for players, attractive TV rights, and the Marketing infrastructure?
Others would include a favorable and nationalistic government policy to support all related industry players and stakeholders. The industry is a complex system of interrelated players along the entire value chain. Without this conscious policy to view football in holistic terms, it only results in piecemeal successes at best.
The way forward
Japan, after two centuries of isolation, began lifting itself up to industrialize in the final decades of the 19th century. There was catching up to do with the west, motivated by the slogan Oitsuki oikose; meaning, “Catch up (with the West) and overtake it.” Achieving this meant sending the cream of its patriotic scientists to the West at the expense of government to learn from France, Britain, USA, and Germany.
Quoting Roger Pulvers, a writer in the Japan Times, he states, “As Japan began to industrialize in the final decades of the 19th century, the Western powers jumped to characterize the Japanese, if you will excuse the mix of metaphor, as a ‘monkey see monkey do’ nation of copycats. The Japanese, too, were more than willing to laugh at themselves in self-deprecation, especially when it was pointed out that a number of foreign-made machines had been replicated in Japanese factories complete with cracks that had inadvertently been in the original prototypes”.
The world can testify to how Japan reaped dividends in this strategic national development agenda by becoming a world superpower in electronics and robotics. Indeed, the West began importing from Japan. Korea and China in recent times industrialized along similar lines. The lesson to be mirrored in our football is to be now patient with our local industry players, and give them time and space with the necessary support to learn and grow on the job.
We may initially not see instant results but just like the Japanese, let the yet-to-be-formed new GFA show leadership and stick to a viable comprehensive plan irrespective of pressure for instant results in lifting cups. Fortunately, we are well endowed with and abound in the raw talents as a nation. It is only a matter of time, and just like the Japan electronic revolution, we too can see a football industry revolution.
Secondly, there is no short cut to success. The industry players ought to work on the two deficient factors of Firm strategy, structure and rivalry and also Related and supporting industries. We are more than competitive on the two items of Factor endowments and Demand Conditions.
Revelations at the Presidential Commission of Enquiry into the Black Stars’ fiasco and the Anas’s documentary showed how unprofessionally the football industry operated. Irrespective of the individuals at the helm of affairs, I believe long-lasting success would continue to elude us with the current industry setup. The Germans were patient to rebuild their football with consolatory success as they hosted on home soil (2006) and in South Africa (2010).
Nevertheless, with vision, patience and focus, they humiliated Brazil and ultimately lifted the World cup in Brazil (2014) with Joachim Low, a German coach. With juvenile or colts’ football barely existing and women’s football receiving meager funding, one could not fathom the justifications for those huge bonuses to both playing body and officials of the erstwhile GFA.
Just as firms would build on their core competency, I see Ghana having a competency in football. This is enabled by several supportive factors. There is, however, the need to become competitive globally by developing the weaker factors, which are crucial for growth. There is no magic one in a quick fix. The public must be patient with the normalizing committee. Will we be patient enough for a comprehensive approach as a nation?
Kwesi Benyi is a Business and Organizational Development Consultant
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