Now that the chips are down, Defiant Black Stars must earn their keep

No rally, no barrage, just a meek wilt, and surrender: The Black Stars have a lot of soul-searching to do going forward.

Defiance.

It’s not the worst tool in the box, but it could be when wielded wrongly.

Three years ago, Ghana’s senior national team misused it spectacularly, defying the powers-that-be — and logic itself — in holding the nation to ransom at the Fifa World Cup in Brazil, refusing to play a minute of football till huge appearance fees owed them were paid in full.

It was a show of defiance the boys would get condemned for by their countrymen; an ill-timed, ill-advised display of guts they’ll pay for till this hurt and scarred generation is replaced by the next. The Black Stars have tried all they could in quest of redemption: they’ve been contrite, resolute, even brilliant on occasion. Heck, they even attempted winning the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations — coming desperately close, in fact — just to reclaim some love!

Black-STARS111

What they hadn’t tried, though, was the one thing which got them entangled in this mess in the first place: defiance. They had a couple of chances building up to this failure to secure a World Cup berth in Russia next year to right their wrongs and perhaps warm their way into the hearts of Ghanaians again; the first – most probably the biggest – of which came against Rwanda in their final Afcon 2017 qualifier. It wasn’t an opportunity they were expecting, however, only one afforded them unwittingly by the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ reluctance to provide the usual luxuries on offer when international assignments were due.

Armed with the excuse that Ghana’s place at the following year’s Nations Cup in Gabon had already been booked, and that the result versus the visiting Amavubi would be no threat to the hosts’ position as Group H leaders/winners, the State arbitrarily decided to withhold funds allocated to be spent on the players’ ticket fares from their respective stations overseas (reasoning that such expenses could be spared if local players were called up instead, for the game) while slashing the usual winning bonus in half.

Were the already invited foreign-based professionals going to be coughing up their own travel costs? And were they even going to bother being at their best in a game which offered so ‘little’ in any actual gain (financial or otherwise)?

Well, to their credit, they did — and an expression of bloody-minded defiance was key, though for all the right reasons this time. The boys didn’t just show up against the Rwandans. They came with intent to win — even if Grant didn’t exactly put his strongest team out there, perhaps in assessing what alternatives he had with respect to squad depth ahead of an upcoming Russia 2018 qualifying game — and only a late equaliser from the east Africans robbed Ghana of a third straight home win in the Afcon 2017 qualifying series.

Not everyone was impressed, of course; an overwhelming majority of Ghanaians probably still considered the team a bunch of spoilt brats ever so willing to have their way. Still, they’d won some over, hadn’t they?

One venue the Black Stars felt they commanded a fair bit of goodwill was the Tamale Stadium which was going to be the ground the team was hoping get their World Cup Qualifying campaign off to a brilliant start. It wasn’t to be, as the doggedness of their first group opponents – the Cranes of Uganda – coupled with the harsh afternoon sun as one would expect at any venue in Northern Ghana – temperatures topping 37˚C as some points – meant the best Ghana could get from that game was a goalless soulless draw.

Not the kind of result you’d expect from a team with any fighting chance of making a Mundial more so, when Egypt – also housed in the same group and have been absent that the world stage for nearly three decades – was breathing down their necks, hellbent on wrestling that sole ticket the group had to offer from Ghana. A subsequent, almost inevitable defeat to Egypt in Alexandria were all the signs the Nation needed to realise situation was dire and that the time had come for everybody to put their shoulder to the plough and rescue our ‘beloved’ Black Stars from the quicksand it was in however traitorous we feel the team had been in the past.

FBL-AFR-2013-BUR-GHA-MATCH30

The nonchalance and a resolve not to forgive the players by a large section of the Ghanaian media and the general populace might have overstayed their welcome and probably left a tad bit too late when the final nail was all but driven into the Stars’ coffin after yet another damning draw at home to group minnows Congo Brazzaville. Now, with nothing to play for, a new-look Black Stars’ fight and defiance in Kampala in the penultimate group game won a few more admirers and left many feeling they could have done a bit more to help the team fight. Ghana has now finished the 2018 World Cup Qualifying series in third place – behind Egypt and Uganda – drawing four, winning one and losing the other.  Now the chips are down. Time to dress the wounds and pick the best balm to soothe and bring some relief going forward.

If the team’s rebelliousness in the past implied they didn’t give a damn about national interests, they’ve now oozed the same trait to show they do care after all.

With so many more battles to be fought — versus a fandom which remains largely skeptical of the Stars’ motives, a sports ministry growing increasingly hostile towards the team, and an FA caught in-between — in going forward, they’d have to ooze some more of that.

Defiance.

Advertisements

Time Out! – John Paintsil needed this latest sack.

It’s just what the doctor prescribed for John Paintsil: a fresh start.

Days after announcing his decision to retire from active football and stating his intention to go into coaching, the veteran Ghana full-back landed his first managerial gig — and, given his next-to-no experience in management, it could hardly have been bigger. The former Berekum Arsenal man was unveiled as one of the new faces who was to grace the technical bench of South African giants Kaizer Chiefs nearly a year ago, joining the Amakhosi as assistant to head Steve Komphela. That was really no more than the merits he could legitimately claim after all he’d been through in recent years.

Paintsil, a two-edition Fifa World Cup participant and 89-game member of the Black Stars over several years, received his last Ghana call-up in 2012. His club career — the heights of which saw him represent Fulham and West Ham United in the English Premier League — dragged along to a slow, painful death not long afterwards, eventually ending unceremoniously in the same country where he launched his coaching journey.

John-Paintsil-3

Disturbed thus in his public business, there’s been precious little solace from Paintsil’s private life where a troubled marital relationship has only gone downhill since Paintsil was nabbed by the police in 2013 for allegedly assaulting his wife physically. For a man who’s had so little to celebrate over the years (albeit having himself to blame for some of it) and who has suffered a sudden demotion from being the lovable flag-waving patriot whose victory laps decorated almost every major Ghana win in his time to a deeply-loathed, woman-abusing villain, Paintsil deserved that big break he would have been the first to admit he’d barely earned.

Being at continental heavyweights Chiefs in his fresh role wasn’t necessarily going to cast his demons out, of course. Nor was it going to make him husband-of-the-year. It surely wasn’t going to rid him of the personal demons that seemed embedded in his worryingly worsening attitude… And so, it proved. After twelve months with the South African club, these same news worthy activities, that have come to typify john Paintsil as we’ve come to know him for so long came back to haunt him. The vicious cycle of getting into the headlines and featuring on the frontpages of newspapers for all the wrong reasons wasn’t something those in the helm of the Amakhosi were going to be taking lightly. This latest episode came with a prize tag he could barely afford to pay (all puns intended).

Having been relieved of his duties now, this new phase in his life, instead, represents a clean slate Paintsil would be a fool not to fill with glory. Should he make good use of this me-time, Paintsil could prove even better at coaching than he was at playing; mess this golden opportunity to regroup and restrategise up, though, and his mission of self-ruin would be complete.

Over to you, Jeonju Man.

Higher, Higher! – Kwesi Nyantakyi goes Higher!

It’s sometimes easy to forget Kwesi Nyantakyi is only 48 — too young to even have witnessed Ghana’s first two Afcon victories and the nation’s attainment of Republican status — considering all that he has achieved in his career as a football administrator.

The ambition Nyantakyi exudes is infectious, a bug impossible not to catch if you ever get to interact with him on a personal level — a privilege I had sometime in December 2014. Across a table at the plush Best Western Premier Hotel — one of the finest in the Ghanaian capital — and in the company of a mutual friend of ours, recently deceased New Patriotic Party activist Kwabena Boadu, I engaged Nyantakyi in a lengthy discussion that dragged into the late hours of the night.

DEle

That rare encounter came in the midst of perhaps the most challenging period of Nyantakyi’s tenure as head of the Ghana Football Association. It hadn’t been long since the Black Stars returned from a Fifa World Cup tournament where a series of incidents made the country an international laughing-stock. Instances of indiscipline by individual players — resulting in two of the team’s most high-profile members being dismissed before Ghana even played its final game at the event — and collective squad mutiny over unpaid fees shredded the nation’s image and left the team and its handlers hugely unpopular. The Stars’ coach at the Mundial, Kwesi Appiah, was fired after the competition — a decision that, though validated somewhat by a considerable measure of public opinion, didn’t go down well with everybody.

Nyantakyi had also [in]famously appeared before the Commission of Inquiry set up by government to investigate said mess at Brazil 2014, and some of his submissions on that platform convinced few of his integrity and the credibility of the organisation he runs. And, oh, need I include that, not long after this writer’s date with Nyantakyi, the Stars were due to participate at an edition of the Africa Cup of Nations that many feared could be the worst yet in the country’s proud footballing history?

Yet here Nyantakyi sat, talking about his personal ambitions after extensively addressing some of the controversies mentioned above. Though battling such an explosive cocktail of chaos, he didn’t possess the mien of a man overwhelmed by all that was going on around him. If anything, he looked like a leader calm and in firm control of what seemed a lost cause: picture the Titanic, half-sunk, but with its unruffled captain glued to a rare warm spot on the deck, with a glass of martini kissing his lips. Only that this ship, Nyantakyi’s, wasn’t going down — not on his watch. Much as Nyantakyi cares about Ghana football — and his passion about that subject is unrivalled, trust me — he knows he’d have a life to live long after he ceases to be the sports most powerful man this side of the Atlantic, and it’s a life he wishes to live while perched on much higher rungs of football’s political ladder.

It’s why, on this chilly December night, the one-time banker-lawyer shed light on his own goals, notably that of becoming president of the Confederation of African Football someday. Asked if he really had what it took to contest an office that had been one man’s since Nyantakyi himself was a teen, the boy from Wa simply shrugged, smiled, and said: “Why not?”

k-nyan

That expression of belief in his prospects and abilities may have been surprisingly crisp, but it oozed sheer confidence. Three years later, Issa Hayatou finally got dethroned as Caf boss, but not by Nyantakyi. Egg on the Ghanaian’s face?

Hardly. Nyantakyi may not have had his name plastered on the big door, but he had been heavily influential –perhaps the most influential figure aside Fifa chief Gianni Infantino — in plotting Hayatou’s fall and anointing the despot’s successor, Malagasy Ahmad Ahmad. And, really, isn’t a kingmaker much more powerful than the king himself?

Shortly after Ahmad’s coronation, Nyantakyi secured for himself a four-year term on the mighty Fifa Council, the elite body which calls the shots in the game. Still, Nyantakyi, Oliver Twist with a Ghanaian passport, wanted more — and more is what he has received after his confirmation on Monday as the occupant of the office next to Ahmad’s at the Caf Secretariat in Cairo: that of the establishment’s 1st Vice-President. It makes him, by some distance now, the most successful football administrator Ghana has ever produced, even overtaking the late Ohene Djan.

And all of this Nyantakyi has achieved without the solid backing Djan enjoyed from his own country’s government. Rather, Nyantakyi has really been up against it on his home turf, having to dribble his way through a maze of controversy, harsh critics and vendetta. His opponents have had various tools to their advantage in pushing their cause, but Nyantakyi has used the one weapon he wields to such devastating effect: raw determination.

Love him or not, his comprehension of strategy is remarkable, and that brilliant ability to push his pieces into just the spaces now has him on top of his game. If politics were a game of chess as they say, call Nyantakyi a grandmaster and you wouldn’t be wide of the mark. Ghana, it seems, is a bit too small for him now. Nyantakyi has already announced he wouldn’t seek to extend his reign as FA boss after his 14th year in power ends in 2019 and, although there is already talk of him relinquishing his role even earlier after his latest international appointment, he wouldn’t mind bowing out anytime he’s required to; his record as the GFA’s longest-serving, most productive president is already etched in 24-carat gold.

On a continental/global level, though, he’s only just started, and it’s hard to predict when — and, indeed, where — he might stop.

EARNED IT!: Chrissy Atsu Deserves Newcastle United Stay

When English giants Chelsea, around the beginning of the current season, sent Christian Atsu on the Ghanaian’s fourth loan spell since his move to London from Oporto, few held any hopes for a young man who had increasingly drifted towards the periphery of the picture envisaged by the men who plotted his arrival at Stamford Bridge.

Only the first of the temporary transfers Atsu had been farmed out on — to Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem, where he was voted by fans as that club’s best player for the 2013/14 season — brought real success. The experiences that followed, at English Premier League sides Everton and Bournemouth, yielded very little due to a dire lack of opportunities and fitness issues respectively. The next adventure, at Spain’s Malaga, wasn’t so bad — but it wasn’t so good either for a man who is yet to start a competitive game for his parent club.

The stint at St James’ Park thus seemed, at worst, one loan move too many; at best, it represented Atsu’s entry into last chance saloon, with respect to his prospects as a future Chelsea star. Thankfully, it’s a chance he clutched with little hesitance.

Christian-Atsu-Chelsea-News-Torino-Newcastle-715766

Opportunities for Atsu were sparse at the beginning, but his undoubted brilliance filtered through, easing him gradually into the plans of Rafael Benitez, the Magpies’ manager, as well as the hearts of the club’s faithful. Before long — especially in the latter half of the season — Atsu started to earn more minutes and greater trust, contributing enough to merit all that has come his way of late. On Monday night, when his countrymen were reliving Lionel Messi’s Clasico moment of genius and Wayne Rooney’s return to goalscoring on Sports Station and/or Highlights on Ghanaian television, Atsu played perhaps his biggest role yet in a Newcastle shirt. Against Preston North End in Newcastle’s penultimate home game of the season, Benitez’s charges let slip an early lead, only for Atsu to restore it with a fine finish shortly before recess. It was an advantage the Toon Army never relinquished, not even after Atsu left the pitch to some applause with a third of an hour to go. By the time the winger had signed off, Newcastle had wrapped up a 4-1 victory, sealing a return to the English top-flight at the first time of asking, just days after Championship leaders Brighton & Hove Albion had secured their own ticket.

Atsu may yet have a part to play in what remains of Newcastle’s campaign, with rotation-obsessed Benitez likely to grant his fringe players — a category Atsu, despite his recent rise to considerable prominence, hasn’t entirely emerged from – game-time, and the 25-year-old would seek to add to his four-goal, three-assist haul before the climax. And then?

Atsu1

Well, and then Newcastle could exercise the option they have to make permanent Atsu’s stay – at least for the player’s sake. A return to Chelsea, given the well-oiled juggernaut Antonio Conte has constructed that’s humming along just fine, won’t be in Atsu’s best interests. Remaining at Newcastle would, though, and Chelsea should be willing to part with the lad they apparently don’t regard too highly anyway for a reasonably modest fee.

Atsu has proved himself enough in 30 appearances (nearly half of them starts) to stake a claim for extended life on Tyneside beyond the current season, even if Newcastle decide to bring in reinforcements to ensure a better experience in the Premier League than their last. He’s found a home with the Geordies, fans who adore him already, and a manager whose unwavering belief in meritocracy would give him a fair crack at matching the hype that brought him to England four years ago.

Hello God, are you still there?

Why isn’t God more obvious? This question is often asked in many ways and in many contexts, by people of all levels of faith. When prayers go unanswered, why is God silent? When suffering or tragedy strikes, why would God allow this to happen? Why wouldn’t God want more people to know God’s good news? When all the “evidence” seems to counter the biblical narrative, why doesn’t God just give the world a sign? If God was revealed through many wondrous signs and miracles throughout the Bible, why doesn’t God act that way today? All of these examples get at the same issue: the seeming “hiddenness” of God.

Atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if after death he met God. Russell replied that he would say: “God, you gave us insufficient evidence.”(1) While many who have found God quite evident would balk at Russell’s audacity, a similar struggle ensued between the psalmist and his hidden God. “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Indeed, the psalmist accuses God of being asleep in these plaintive cries: “Arouse, yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, and do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?”(2)

In fact, belief in a God who can be easily found, a God who has acted in time and space, makes the hiddenness of God all the more poignant and perplexing. Theologians have offered many explanations for God’s hiddenness: because God seeks to grow our faith, because our sins and disobedience hide us from God and keep us from seeing God properly, or because God loves us and knows how much and how often we need to “find” God. If we are honest, we are just as likely to hide ourselves from God just as the first humans did in the Garden when God sought after them. Even so we cry out just like Job did and wonder why God stays hidden away in unanswered prayers and difficult circumstances: “Why do you hide your face, and consider me the enemy?”

Where-is-God.jpg

The hiddenness of God is problematic for theists and atheists alike. And Christians often take for granted the narrative of Scripture which gives witness to God’s revelation. We have the benefit of a book full of God’s speech. God speaks in the wonder and mystery of creation; God speaks through the history of the nation of Israel; God speaks through the very Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. His life reveals the exact nature of God, and places God’s glory on full display.

But still we may wonder if we must always and only look to the past to hear God’s voice, while we wonder why God isn’t more “talkative” today? Is there any other source for God’s presence and activity in the world today?

In fact, God is often found in one of the last places many might guess: the church. At its best, the church re-tells the story of God speaking across the ages and definitively in Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel. But the church can also create community where God may be encountered in the faces of others as a result of the empowering Holy Spirit. Such a community is to be the symbol of God’s presence among us and with us as “God-found,” not “God-hidden.” It is to be the arms of God around us when we are hurting, or the voice of God speaking when we feel we haven’t heard from God in years. Such a community can be God’s voice, God’s hands and feet going towards the broken places of the world to bring healing, help, and comfort. Through worship and liturgy, prayer and communion, service and sacrifice the church can reveal the God who spoke and is still speaking.

God is not often revealed in the roar of the hurricane or the loud-clap of thunder, but in a “still, small voice”—a voice that is barely audible except to the most patient and still. But when the Church, broken and human as it is, seeks through the power of the Spirit to be who it is, we see God and hear God, and find God beautifully obvious.

For those who long to see God, who long to find God in the darkest hour, we may not find God in the dramatic or the victorious, the miraculous or the stupendous. Instead, we may yet hope to find him in the pew, at the table of the Lord’s Supper, in a simple hymn, or in the gift of fellow seekers longing to find God too.

Slice of infinity

(1) Cited in Dr. Paul K. Moser’s booklet, Why Isn’t God More Obvious: Finding the God who Hides and Seeks (Norcross, GA: RZIM, 2000), 1.
(2) Psalm 10:1, Psalm 44:23-24.

Is FAITH just Wishful Thinking?

I’ve been trying to avoid using the word ‘faith’ recently. It just doesn’t get the message across. ‘Faith’ is a word that’s now misused and twisted. ‘Faith’ today is what you try to use when the reasons are stacking up against what you think you ought to believe. Greg Koukl sums up the popular view of faith, “It’s religious wishful thinking, in which one squeezes out spiritual hope by intense acts of sheer will. People of ‘faith’ believe the impossible. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to fact. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to evidence. People of ‘faith’ ignore reality.” It shouldn’t therefore come as a great surprise to us, that people raise their eyebrows when ‘faith’ in Christ is mentioned. Is it strange that they seem to prefer what seems like reason over insanity?

h-SILENT-RETREAT-628x314.jpg

It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t overemphasize the individual elements of the whole picture of faith, like we so often do. But what does the Bible say about faith? Is it what Simon Peter demonstrates when he climbs out of the boat and walks over the water towards Jesus? Or is it what Thomas has after he has put his hand in Jesus’s side? Interestingly, biblical faith isn’t believing against the evidence. Instead, faith is a kind of knowing that results in action. The clearest definition comes from Hebrews 11:1. This verse says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In fact, when the New Testament talks about faith positively it only uses words derived from the Greek root [pistis], which means ‘to be persuaded.’ In those verses from Hebrews, we find the words, “hope,” “assurance,” “conviction” that is, confidence. Now, what gives us this confidence?

Christian faith is not belief in the absence of evidence. It is the proper response to the evidence. Koukl explains that, “Christian faith cares about the evidence…the facts matter. You can’t have assurance for something you don’t know you’re going to get. You can only hope for it. This is why the resurrection of Jesus is so important. It gives assurance to the hope. Because of a Christian view of faith, Paul is able to say in 1 Corinthians 15 that when it comes to the resurrection, if we have only hope, but no assurance—if Jesus didn’t indeed rise from the dead in time/space history—then we are of most men to be pitied. This confidence Paul is talking about is not a confidence in a mere ‘faith’ resurrection, a mythical resurrection, a story-telling resurrection. Instead, it’s a belief in a real resurrection. If the real resurrection didn’t happen, then we’re in trouble. The Bible knows nothing of a bold leap-in-the-dark faith, a hope-against-hope faith, a faith with no evidence. Rather, if the evidence doesn’t correspond to the hope, then the faith is in vain, as even Paul has said.”

leap2.jpg

So in conclusion, faith is not a kind of religious hoping that one does in spite of the facts. In fact, faith is a kind of knowing that results in doing, a knowing that is so passionately and intelligently faithful to Jesus Christ that it will not submit to fideism, scientism, nor any other secularist attempt to divert and cauterize the human soul by hijacking knowledge.

 

HIDDINK’S JOKER: MIKEL OBI’S REMARKABLE RISE TO PROMINENCE

The Nigerian has always enjoyed himself when Guus Hiddink’s
spent time as Chelsea’s interim boss, with his latest ride probably
the best yet

kickerghana

The Nigerian has always enjoyed himself when Guus Hiddink’s
spent time as Chelsea’s interim boss, with his latest ride probably
the best yet

This is really happening.
The manacles are coming off.
Six months is a pretty long time in footballing terms but the words
‘amazing’, ‘awesome’ and all their synonymous cousins have proven
quite apt to describe the rise and rise of John Mikel Obi at Chelsea
FC over the last couple of weeks, spanning the period between Jose
Mourinho’s second exit from Stamford Bridge and now.
There had been several reports in the tabloids that the London-based
club were eager to get Mikel off its books, and that they might even
consider slashing his asking price in a bid to generate interest, only
for Mikel to indulge sleights of body and mind to conjure up an escape
from the fetters of being frozen out of the club he…

View original post 901 more words