By: Yaw Ampofo Ankrah
Not for the first time, the battle of club versus country is making headlines.
It is no secret that Michael Essien and Jose Mourinho share a special relationship. Even before the Black Stars strong man left Chelsea for Real Madrid last summer on loan, the football family could predict that if the special one had his own way, he would return to Stamford Bridge with Essien to revive both their careers. And so it has come to pass.
What most people are not aware of is the constant behind the scenes diplomacy that has been going on over the past few months to get Ghana’s disgruntled footballers back home. It has also come to light in the wake of his comeback, that Essien was issued a simple ultimatum by Ghana coach James Akwasi Appiah. ”It is now or never Mike and you have to decide once and for all” Essien has indeed decided but how does this decision fit in with Chelsea who want to wrap him in wool?
Last season’s loan deal in Spain which was orchestrated by his mentor was just the first step in Essien taking the firm decision to return and help Ghana qualify for a third consecutive World Cup appearance. At the time, Jose Mourinho told the Ghanaian to focus on getting full fitness and securing a starting role in the defensive midfield slot at Madrid before a dream reunion at Chelsea.
Essien’s fierce reputation as a powerhouse player when he arrived for £25million from Lyon in 2005, was no exaggeration as the English Premier League was to discover and bestow the phrase ”…the EPL’s best box to box player”. Sadly, recurrent injuries meant that the player’s physical and combative attributes began to wane at Stamford Bridge but if Chelsea were beginning to entertain doubts about the Ghanaian, Mourinho never did.
How Essien’s decision to return to international duty would play on his special relationship with the special one is unclear at this stage.
For now, he has announced his comeback and the question is simple: Is the Black Stars a stronger squad with the inclusion of Kevin Prince Boateng, Dede Ayew and Essien? The answer is an emphatic 100% YES!
Typically, Essien will not speak on the matter beyond the announcement of his return but some credit must go to Black Stars coach Akwasi Appiah.
His diplomacy and patience with the former Liberty Professionals player appears to be paying off just at the right time but ironically, those players who may have taken the coach for granted could end up paying the ultimate price for crossing the red line too many times. If such a law exists, then nobody is above the Black Stars law.
There is the argument however, that special treatment must not be given to some players and therefore Essien should be made to sit on the sidelines as punishment. Punishment for what I ask? Getting consecutive career threatening injuries on national assignment?
For those who view the big name returnees as a problem rather than a massive opportunity, are perhaps not aware of the history of Essien and his horrific injuries suffered whilst on duty for the Black Stars. That notwithstanding, coach Appiah DID issue an ultimatum to the player.
The gamble and lure of big names
”It is now or never for Ghana” and the player knows time is not on his side. It is not just the name Essien that would send shivers down the spines of Zambian players but the team spirit which the Sports Minister, GFA, the coach and entire playing body must now work towards as one solid unit.
If names alone could win trophies and titles then Ghana football would be right up there with Brazil, Germany, Spain, Italy and the other big world football giants. That is not to say that names do not matter in modern football. It is how the big names are managed and ”used” that makes the difference.
From World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, Gerald Asamoah, Anthony Baffoe, Kim Grant, Danny Welbeck, Mario Ballotelli, Kevin Prince Boateng, Adam Kwarasey, Jerome Boateng, Phil Nana Ayeh, Freddy Adu, Hans Adu Sarpei, Quincy Owusu Abeyie, Emmanuel Frimpong and Otto Addo.
Some players such as Anthony Baffoe, Otto Addo and Adam Kwarasey opted for their parents country of birth on purely emotional grounds of roots and loyalty and not necessarily financial gain. Others like Marcel Desailly and Gerald Asamoah who chose their adopted countries equally defended their decision by insisting that they wanted to show loyalty and return the favour in kind.
The above list is not inclusive of the growing list of young players who are yet to hit the limelight and who would weigh carefully the pros and cons of choosing Ghana over any other country in future. All these players have one thing in common; one or both parents hail from GHANA and they had or still have a choice of which country to play for.
Some chose Ghana, (Kevin Prince Boateng), others chose Italy(Mario Ballotelli), England (Danny Welbeck), Germany (Gerald Asamoah) and USA (Freddy Adu). Essien’s decision to return and play for his national team would be viewed as a sign that there is hope for Ghana football after all. For once, let us lay off the coach and the players and instead focus on the task ahead with total support. Failure is not an option.