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March 2010

FOOTBALL VRS HEARTBALL

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I ran into Samuel Inkoom the other day at the airport in Kumasi, you know the Black Stars full back.  What a featherweight he is!  It was hard to believe how bravely this child (never mind that he’s married and has a child himself!) matched the strapping brawns of Nigerians Yakubu and Shittu who, I suspect, were assembled by God to tackle Maoris with 22-inch necks in Rugby scrums.

One of Time magazine’s January editions carries an extremely illustrative photo of Inkoom versus Didier Drogba in a mid-air scramble for the ball.  It was a mismatch in favour of the six-foot-one Ivorian.  But we know which of the two made it to the finals of the Cup of African Nations.

For me, the star of the Black Stars was Kwadwo Asamoah.  He’s clearly the next Michael Essien and more.  Which brings me to the point of this piece.

The Team B boys, clearly, weren’t playing football; they played heartball.  They gave each game their Soul.  Indeed, critics of Team A say despite their far greater experience, the likes of Essien, Muntari et al don’t always give the national team as much as they give their clubs.  They’re accused of being arrogant and having grown wings on the back of their million-dollar pay-cheques.

I have a different view though.  Look, I hold nothing against Essien and Muntari for dodging the friendly against Angola.  In fact, I fully understand why they might put a higher premium on their club games than those of the Nations Cup.  Let’s face it: the European leagues are much bigger platforms than the Cup of African Nations!  Winning the Premier League,  Serie A or the European Championships means more than winning the Cup of African Nations.

I mean, can you answer this question: which country won the South American Cup in 2009?  God bless you if you can give the correct answer without a quick visit to Google.  Not many people outside South America  know it, yet it involved the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.  However, I’ve no doubt that if you have but a passing interest in football, you know who won the English Premier and Italian Leagues, and all the dots and crosses of the dramatic finale of the 2008 European Championships in Moscow, or 2009 in Rome.  The Cup of African Nations is a big deal for Africans and expatriate scouts.  That’s it!

Therefore if I was a 100,000-dollar/week predator in a European league, and had to choose between a delicate fixture against Man U or Real Madrid, and a group F Nations game against Tanzania, me, I would choose the former.  I would hate to have my knees utterly splintered and my anterior ligaments (whatever they are!) shredded by a second-and-half division, part-time tackler from M-M-M-Mwanza, whose exposure to the game is limited to evening action on his way home from herding goats.  I mean,  p-leease! (Ok, I’m exaggerating but you get my drift!)

You see, Inkoom and others want to be where Essien and Muntari are, and they’re smart enough to recognize the Cup of African Nations, their biggest stage at this point, as the platform on which to showcase their talent to the scouts.
In six to eight years, when they’ve attained fame in Europe and are salaried in the millions of dollars and are striving to win the European Clubs Championship, and they have two games coming up, one in their club shirt against Barca and the other  a friendly in the Ghana shirt against Chad, which will they flee from?

But guess what, Ghana will have good news still:  there’ll be a new crop of youngsters ready to play heartball in the country’s shirt so that they can also take the place of Inkoom & others, never mind that their opponents are a bunch of knock-kneed no-hopers from Bangui.

This is true of all of us.  The itinerant hawker dreams to vend on her own table one day.  A year ago her greatest desire was to come to the city and hawk her heart out.  Once she’s conquered the table-top, her goal shifts to a colourful kiosk just like the one owned by the bitch who’s just had a baby with the man she had wanted.  But the bitch’s real goal in life is to own a chain of supermarkets she’ll name after the man of her true dreams… if only she could lay her long hands on him!

Trophies, whether in the form of a dream car or job, once we’ve conquered them we adjust our horizons and chase after new and higher peaks.   We all move on.  If you’re not moving on, you’re taking up space and slowing down the line.

(I beg where are the bright national colours in the Black Stars out fit? Come on, Kwasi!)

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