Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Africa Magic: Adel Taarabt (Morocco) v Swansea

Few people remember he made one first team appearance for Lens during the 2006–07 season, but Adel Taarabt has truly found a home in the Queens Park Rangers setup these days.

Here's a great way to tell the big boys to come for you. And mind you, it's not his first great goal for QPR. He's making it a habit.

He's very talented, but somehow he's not found that spark to earn him a big club move. That should change soon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Africa Magic: Djibril Sidibe (Mali) v Hapoel Be'er Sheva

Here is a spectacular strike by Djibril Sidibe (Mali) who plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli League. It took a slight defelction its way, but it takes nothing away from the golazo that it is.

Sidibe has played in France for several years after moving from the Centre Salif Keita in Mali in 1999. He's a strong player but has been unable to make a big impact in the Ligue 1. Sidibe had played in the AS Monaco B setup before having a brief stint in the senior team in 2001. He has also played on loan for Châteauroux and SC Bastia, after Michael Essien had left.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Drogba, Essien tamed by rampant Song's Arsenal

Something had to give in this most crucial of fixtures in the English Premier League.

Arsenal came into this fixture knowing that the mental advantage stood overwhelmingly in the Blues corner. Everyone kept trumpeting the Drogba stat: 13 goals in 11 games vs Arsenal in all competitions. And when the game started, the Ivorian looked decidedly intent on inflicting more damage.

Alex Song started imposing himself onto the game early on, and his efforts were rewarded just before halftime, after Fabregas looked to have been fouled by Ferreira in the build up.

The second half saw Marouane Chamakh (Morocco) thrown into the fray but not before Arsenal had gone 3-0 up. Drogba had to have his way though, as Chelsea scored a consolation through Branislav Ivanovic's header from the Ivorian's freekick.


Simão | Myspace Video

Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and Mikel Obi did not do much, as per their standards, and the result leaves Ancelloti wondering what his fate would be.

Update #1:

Here's proof of how Song was instrumental fared in the game. Thanks to Guardian Chalkboards.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Update #2:

Thanks to @Orbinho for this: the pass completion rate for Chamakh was 100%, Drogba - 63%, Mikel - 87% and Essien - 87%.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Does Michael Eneramo's "Hand of Grace" make Diego Maradona look amateurish?

Another day, another handball.

This time in African Champions' League semi.

In the first minute of the game, Esperance striker Michael Eneramo scored the only goal against Al Ahly on Sunday with his arm.

Diego Maradona, move over.

Friday, September 24, 2010

'EXCLUSIVE': Majid Bougherra presents: An Algerian lesson

I've just done a piece for, one of the more popular Indie footy websites around.

Imagine that we’ve had an exclusive one-on-one with Rangers and Algeria international Majid Bougherra. Here, he speaks* – exclusively – of how his country want to lead the way in the production of African coaches by sticking to their own. You are encouraged to try to read this (exclusive, of course) piece with an Arabic accent. The words – and sometimes grammar – have been chosen to suit the common English usage of North African countries………

Since i wrote it for another site I cannot reproduce it here. Copyright and all that.

See it here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The reaction. And a time to form your own judgement.

Following the publication of this piece on the Ghana page of WorldCupBlog, its subsequent pulling down and the issues arising as previously discussed, Ghanasoccernet published its own statement Monday morning.

The tone and language used is quite...well, you judge for yourself. But I expected nothing less. The original press release from Ghanasoccernet can be found on their site here.

However, this is the full piece, reproduced, with my post-script below it.

I have highlighted and underlined the section that refers to me.

Please take a dictionary before reading the write-up. You will need it. Promise.




Press Release: Ghanasoccernet to take legal action against Opoku

Over the past few days, has been subjected to virulent defamation, outright lies and hostility from Christopher Opoku on various media platforms without any provocation.

The management of Ghanasoccernet has decided to take legal action against Opoku and the conga-line of me-too careerists who helped to spread his lies, jealousy and hatred.

This action is meant to set the records straight and for him to pay the damages he wreaked on the brand and image.

Our attention was drawn to an article in last Friday’s edition of the ‘Graphic Sports’ titled : “Milovan Rajevac: inside story of how Ghana coach quit Black Stars” which has also been published elsewhere on the worldwide web.

Our respected friends at Graphic Sports have offered to retract the story with our rejoinder on Tuesday.

We will take a similar action against a me-too careerist who repeated the article verbatim for a UK blog. The blog have since pulled it down and issued a groveling apology over the false and damaging article.  [emphasis mine. Please note: no groveling apology was issued by anyone from WCB, the UK blog]

We are alarmed by the false and defamatory references made in the article about our website, its ownership, its leadership and even how we source our news!

It is absolutely shocking and disgraceful for Opoku to emphatically state that because we break all the big news on Ghana football because we are funded by Virtus International!

As if that was not bad enough, he went on to lie that we own

We want to state the following facts:

1. We were not set up by Virtus International, we have not received any funding or any support in any form from Virtus International.
2. Virtus International has NEVER been involved in the setting up of our website and or its running.
3. We also don’t own
4. We have been breaking all the big news on Ghana football since 2006 when we started when Virtus never even dreamt of coming to Ghana.
We started running this website late 2006 and Emmanuel Adebayor of Manchester City performed our official launch on 24th December 2007.

We work extremely hard both night and day to bring all the news on Ghana football and all of its players both at home and abroad to our cherished readers and friends.

That is why we are able to bring all the breaking news on Ghana football and God willing we will continue to be THE news source on Ghana football for the world’s media, the newspapers, websites, TV and radio stations in Ghana.

Opoku’s warped thinking doesn’t even bring him to the understanding that when we brought all the breaking news and exclusives on Michael Essien, John Mensah, Asamoah Gyan Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah, Richard Kingson and many others we were not funded by their agent Fabian Pivateau.

In his world, bringing breaking all the news on Dede Ayew, Rahim Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Abedi Pele himself surely means we are funded by the ‘Maestro’.

For Christopher Opoku, bringing news on Milovan Rajevac and the likes of Prince Tagoe and Dominic Adiyiah means we are funded by their agents Virtus International.

What about when we broke the news on Stephen Appiah signing for Bologna and Cesena even before the clubs and his personal website reported? Does it mean we are funded by his agent Frank Trimbolli?

While we continued to nurture our news sources by bringing balanced breaking football news on Ghana, Opoku tore himself down with his lopsided ‘investigations’ which have on numerous occasions brought him ridicule and trouble. Now he struts the Ghana sports media stage like a peacock on heat, convincing himself he is a major player.

Unsurprisingly some strange failed coaches masquerading as journalists tucked to the wind of traducing our name.

They wanted to rock the boat not to scuttle it. But on this occasion Opoku and cohorts have bitten more than they can chew. They will pay.

If Opoku has taken total leave of his senses and he will be brought back to reality by the truth at the law courts.

For those who have tucked to the wind, it is a mess of their own making. They have handcuffed themselves to Opoku’s coat-tails are now about to throw away the key.

The mills of Ghanaian justice grind slowly but they grind exceeding small.

This is not a threat, it is a promise.



As democracy demands, facts are presented for you to pass your own judgement. I still maintain that as far as I am concerned, there was nothing malicious about the piece in question.

It's shocking how this issue has gained such prominence. The insistence on not being rational is to blame, really. 

The 'Inside Story' article in question states facts as a journalist has dug up. Perhaps I'm being blinded by my own sense of judgement but if you feel strongly about the article's inappropriateness, please feel free to let me know in the comments section.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Milovan Rajevac: inside story of how Ghana coach quit Black Stars.

This piece was first published online on Thursday, September 9, 2010 on the following page ( ).

As you can see it has been pulled down from that page because a party mentioned in this piece felt hard done by and issued legal threats against me and the owners of the page where it was first published.

However, this is my personal page. And I doubt if I will pull it down, or receive any legalese...

As far as I am concerned there is nothing malicious about this piece. It states facts as a journalist has dug up. Perhaps I'm being blinded by my own sense of judgement but if you feel strongly about the article's inappropriateness, please feel free to let me know in the comments section.

The following is a re-publication of the article.


Gary Al-Smith


Christopher Opoku sews together a colourful tapestry of the story of Ghana’s relationship with Milovan Rajevac, who has now left the team after guiding it to the last eight in South Africa.

So another era is gone with the exit of Ghana’s head coach, Milovan Rajevac. Contractual disagreements, procrastination plus a break down in trust were factors that ultimately led to his exit and now, for the first time in over two years, another battle royale for the position has already begun.

This piece will attempt to give a clear picture into the events that resulted in the Serbian coach’s decision to leave Ghana for a lucrative job with one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest clubs, Al-Ahli Jeddah.

As you will no doubt be aware, Milovan Rajevac was one of the coaches managed by football management agency, Virtus International, who brokered the deal to get him the Ghana job in August 2008. I use the word ‘was’ because what you are about to read will probably explain why he might no longer be on their books.

The football agency is managed by football agent Goran Milovanovic, who clearly saw the potential in Ghanaian talents and had indeed signed a number of them on the books of Virtus before the Rajevac deal was sealed.

As you may well know, a football agent’s role is to manage either players or managers/coaches, see to their welfare as per employment and obviously take a cut out of the client’s earnings and that is why these days, it is the agents who broker deals on behalf of their clients. Milo’s deal with the Ghana Football Association [GFA] clearly was a boost to Virtus because, through the national team, the Black Stars, some of the players signed up could get opportunities at national level and by so doing, increase their sell-on value.

Also Milo would have been given a brief: to study some national players and recommend them for recruitment by the agency. That is why, after the likes of Samuel Inkoom and Emmanuel Agyeman-Badu signed on for the agency, the widely held perception was that Virtus was influencing Milo’s squad selections, a perception strongly denied by the agency on the grounds that famed French football agent, Fabien Piveteau [profile is in French] had more players in the Black Stars squad than Virtus, including the likes of Michael Essien and John Mensah.

It was clear however that the marriage between Virtus International and Milo Rajevac was a happy one over the two year period. His achievements with the Black Stars over this period served to, at certain points, make the arguments about the football agency’s influence on the team irrelevant because, getting the Black Stars to two continental finals and a World Cup quarterfinal clearly showed that he was doing a good job.

His preference for younger players ultimately proved inspired and if there is one thing Milo did for Ghana, he shattered the aura of untouchability surrounding certain Ghana players and in so doing, brought a lot of competition for places in the team. Gradually, in spite of the fact that Daniel Agyei, Lee Addy, Stephen Ahorlu, Prince Tagoe, Yaw Antwi and recently John Boye and Jonathan Mensah are all on the books of Virtus International, results showed that it did not matter too much.

Also, Virtus International invested in the creation of one of Ghana’s most popular and creible football sites, which delighted fans and pundits from far and wide with up-to-the minute details about national players, some of which were players on the books of Virtus. The Chief Executive of and, another website for African football news, is Benedict Papa Yaw Sarpong, who is the Ghana representative for Virtus International.

Soon, as I have already mentioned, the website became hugely popular and was almost always ahead of the rest, giving exclusive news about Ghana football, with specific reference to the Black Stars. So after the World Cup in South Africa, when there was news about the possibility of Milo Rajevac signing a contract renewal with the GFA, became the place to go to for any news on the deal. Eventually, on 30th August, 2010, the website published a story headlined, ‘Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac finally signs new deal’.

To tell you the truth, I was delighted because I think Milo has been good for the team and his staying on, would only have benefitted the team. The story went on to reveal that in spite of some other offers, including one from Al –Ahli Jeddah, the Serbian coach had decided to stay with Ghana and had indeed signed the contract. My joy was eventually smashed when the Ghana Football Association came out to deny the story. So, the first question you might be asking yourself, is, what actually happened?

Well, after some investigations were conducted, the findings are as follows:

■ A 4-year contract was discussed, negotiated and agreed by the GFA, Milo and crucially Goran Milovanovic
■ A memorandum of understanding was either signed, or close to being signed by Milovan Rajevac.
■ The contract was sent to the Ministry of Youth and Sports for ratification, but because certain government elements objected to Milo staying on, the ratification dragged.
■ In that time frame, Al –Ahli Jeddah doubled their offer for Milovan Rajevac and when his contract expired on 17th August, he decided to examine his options
■ Apparently, Milo began to feel that Goran, and by extension, Virtus International were going to get a a huge financial slice of the new contract since they were his managers.
■ Milo apparently told top GFA Officials that he felt that ‘he was being fleeced’ by Virtus International in the deal

Add all the above-mentioned issues up, and as ex-international Mohammed Polo put it, Ghana was sitting on a time bomb, which eventually began to detonate when news broke that Milo had been to Saudi Arabia to sign a deal. What we know now was that communication lines were open between Milo and Al Ahli Jeddah before the Ghana game against Swaziland and indeed, some form of agreement was arrived at.

That explains why the Serbian coach was able to describe the rumours of his trip to Saudi Arabia as nonsense, but he clearly stunned the GFA officials later that night, after Ghana’s 3-0 win over Swaziland, by telling them that due to problems with Goran, he needed a week to take a decision. So to some extent, the news that the GFA had given him a week’s ultimatum to decide was not a clear representation of events, because that was when Milo told them that ‘he was being fleeced’.

Milo thus went behind the back of Virtus and left for Saudi Arabia to finish negotiations over the deal. A clearly frustrated and angry Goran began to speak to the Ghana media, blasting Milo for taking a decision that did not have his say-so, and also accusing him of betraying Ghanaians. But in business terms, because Virtus are not entitled to anything substantial from the Al–Ahli Jeddah deal, financially, Goran had lost out because apart from the healthy financial slice he would have enjoyed had Milo signed the Ghana deal, it was a major blow to the master plan of recruiting more Ghanaian players on the books of Virtus because the influence on the national team, if any, is now totally out of the window.

As I said earlier, I am unhappy at the turn of events and I believe the GFA are in a tight corner now. They now have to meet to decide whether Kwasi Appiah [assistant under Rajevac] will handle the team in a caretaker capacity and when I enquired, I was reliably informed that that decision had not been taken. For now, Milo has signed a deal worth a minimum of $110,000 a month with other perks and we have to say well done to him, but it is now time to move on.

The future

Already, an Arab football agent called Mohammed Habashy is talking to one of my colleagues in a bid to get one of his clients, Heron Ricardo Ferreira, to coach the Black Stars and indeed I have had the privilege of sighting Perreira’s CV. Unfortunately, despite being offered a cut in the deal to bring Ferreira to Ghana, my colleague is not interested because he supports the principle of a local coach.

Milo’s departure will no doubt sadden the players but this could mean a return to the national team for Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari, as well as Eric Bekoe [plays for Petrojet in Egypt] when he recovers fully from his injury.

One thing that I am wondering is that if you recall I was told by Virtus a few months back that when Bekoe broke his deal with them, he was liable to pay 1 million Euros for breach of contract, but they decided to let him off, so the question is whether the same courtesies will be extended to Milo, whose relationship with Goran at this stage looks irretrievably damaged.

Of course, others might speculate that perhaps Goran’s public show of frustration in the Ghana media could end up being a cover up for being fully aware of the Saudi deal but for now, I am dealing with the facts available.

Already, Ratomir Djukovic [who handled Ghana at Germany 2006] has thrown his hat into the ring to succeed Milo, but as to whether he is now prepared to deal with the media, which was one of the reasons he cited for not renewing his contract after the 2006 World Cup remains to be seen. Also others seem to think that this is the right time for former France captain, Marcel Desailly to take over the team.

Personally, I think we can do no worse than a coaching duo of David Duncan and Maxwell Konadu to take over the team and crucially given all the support given to Milo Rajevac, but my biggest fear is that it could turn out to be nothing but a pipe dream because of preconceived notions about local coaches.

About the author
Christopher Opoku – get him on Facebook – is the Head of Sports at Metro TV in Ghana. This piece was published in yesterday’s edition [September 10, 2010] of the 'Graphic Sports' newspaper - the country's biggest selling sports paper.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ghana 1 –1 Australia: Player ratings + video match highlights + POLL

Ghana 1-1 Australia
Stadium: Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, South Africa
Attendance: 34,812
Match Time: 14:00 GMT, June 19, 2010

South Africa Soccer WCup Ghana Australia
Panstil sustained a horrible injury at the end. Getty Images

22 shots on goal
6 corners
50% possession

Two points dropped, one point gained. That's what it was.

Ghana lost a chance to potentially get out of Group D. No matter what anyone says, we should have won. Ten men in the first half for your opponent means that you go for the kill, not sit and be composed. That said, a draw is better than a loss and we go into the Germany tie with another draw or win on our minds...

Now that you've seen Ghana's two games, let's ask again:

See full match report here. Ratings and video highlights below:

Ghana 1-1 Australia - Highlights

Simão | MySpace Video


Richard Kingson – 6 - Started the game by making some errors and capping it with being ‘Jabulanied’. Made some crucial saves in the final parts of the second half, though. Admittedly, Ghana’d have gone down had Kingson not covered for poor defense.

John Pantsil – 6 – Like in the first game with Serbia, this is not the right-full back we know. Doesn’t surge forward with dangerous plays these days and allowed the Aussies to use his side in the second half. Maybe Inkoom will be used against Germany, with the unfortunate injury he sustained at the end.

Jonathan Mensah – 6 – Being thrown at the lions in the middle of the World Cup is no joke and for all his obvious inexpererience, handled himself well. Don’t forget this is his third cap for the senior side but Ghana clearly need Mensah and/or Vorsah back quickly. Did well to give Ghana the penalty, though.

Hans Adu-Sarpei – 6 – When Ghana had the man advantage, Sarpei was expected to use his side as an attacking option, but didn’t. Defensively made few, if any, mistakes but was tactically out of touch with the rest of the game.
Anthony Annan – 6.5 – Holding the midfield seems to come natuarllay, but he takes the blame for the foul and subsequent goal scored by the Aussies. Apart from that and the (harsh) yellow, he was solid.

Lee Addy – 5 – Disappointing, for someone who went the whole nine yards with Ghana at the Nations Cup, his touch at centre-back wasn’t assured. Needs to be calm and his yellow card was totally unnecessary.

Kevin-Prince Boateng – 6 – was not impressive on the whole. Yes, had some deft touches but couldn’t keep the pressure on the Aussies as he was expected to be the driving force once they went a man down. Substitution in second half was spot on.

Prince Tagoe – 5 – Woeful. His replacement did not come soon enough. Shooting instead of passing, unable to run at the ’Roos, could not play his role on the right well. Where is the old Prince Tagoe?

Kwadwo Asamoah – 7 – The creative hub of Ghana’s play, he was not allowed to do much damage. Also started trying long shots even when he had to pass. However, he set the pace of the game till he went off, although by his standards, did not sparkle. Wasted a fair few freekicks, too.

Andre Ayew – 7 – Hard to find a player better than him in the last two games. Tireless, was the main architect of Ghana’s penalty. Interplay with Asamoah was good but got tired in the middle of the second half. Definitely Ghana’s brightest spot so far.

Asamoah Gyan – 7 – converting only penalties may not be enough for strikers, but he’s getting Ghana precious points. Harassing the Aussies from start till finish but Gyan needs to improve his final touch and scoring. Ghana needs goals from open play, not just gifted penalties.


Quincy Owusu Abeyie – 5 – Stepovers were nice - and useful - this time! Did not have a lot of time to impose himself but definitely played better than Tagoe. Still, his output does not equal his efforts.

Sulley Muntari – n/a – Was on for just 12 minutes. Provided two good passes that could have caused damage. That aside, time was too short to make an impact.

Mathew Amoah – n/a – Even shorter time to do any damage, makes you wonder why he was brought on at the time.

Coach Milovan Rajevac – 7 – He’s got Ghana 4 points, but you feel he could have done better with tactics especially when Kewell was shown the red. Should have piled on the pressure, not sit back and hope. Changes were a bit too late, just like in the Serbia game. That said, he may yet get the Stars into the second round.

Your own ratings are, as always, welcome.

Or follow me personally @garyalsmith

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

International reaction Ghana win vs Serbia

I've been looking to see if the Serbian media would hound Ghana's coach Milovan Rajevac for, perhaps, being unpatriotic.

It's happened before

Although it is an issue largely ignored by other media outlets, Milovan's situation does recall the ugliness that followed the heavy defeat suffered by then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) at the hands of Yugoslavia when the two countries met in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany.

The 9-0 thumping in Gelsenkirchen remains a low point for African football and had life-changing ramifications for the players, who went from hero to zero, unpaid for their exploits and denied cars and properties promised them by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko as a reward for World Cup qualification.

Many of the surviving members of that side today live in poverty.

Serbia seething

Serbia’s national newspapers, thankfully, left their 56-year old son alone. But they declared a period of mourning after the national team’s 1-0 defeat to Ghana.

They must now win twice to guarantee qualification for the last 16. That seems unlikely if the mood of the Belgrade press pack is anything to go by.

Sportske’s Boris Jovanovic declared the defeat a missed opportunity and appeared to blame the players’ desire.

“I now feel empty, somehow denied. We are accustomed to experiencing it as a matter of life or death and in this we are not alone but looking to happier folk will not help.

“You cannot go to the supermarket shelves and buy some new DNA.

“Our footballers are no different. But listening to their comments I realized that I do not understand in football. Because I think our fight was desperate and it has nothing to do with luck.”

Interesting. I wonder if Ghana's Daily Graphic would have been so harsh. Maybe 90 Minutes.

The national daily, Blic, labelled the defeat self-destruction, blaming manager Radomir Antic’s failure to impose an attacking philosophy on his team’s play in the country’s first World Cup finals match as a fully independent nation.

“Antic was not even close to imposing a rhythm, [the team] mostly missed out the midfield and the main weapons did not function,” declared a Blic sport editorial.

Jovanovic and especially Krasić were harmless, and the most prominent players were no better.”

Injured Serbian striker Bosko Jankovic moaned in the same paper, saying:

“The Germans are a terrible team [to play next].

“They clearly demonstrated that they are the big favourites to win the group. They play excellent and effective football. Ozil is a great player, and Germany do not feel the absence of Ballack.

“It would be better to play against Germany at the end. This match with them comes at the worst time.”

National daily of record Politika got in on the act, disagreeing with Antic’s analysis that Serbia did not play poorly in the match at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

“Our national team coach Radomir Antic was unable to hide his expression of dissatisfaction after the loss in [Serbia's] début game at the World Championships,” said Politika’s sports editor Đ. Smiljanic.

“With the name and emblem of Serbia, however, he did not agree with opinions that team played poorly or that his selection was wrong.

“In France ['98] the national team ended with a 2-1 defeat to Holland, and four years ago SCG [Serbia and Montenegro] suffered a debacle, as it again lost to the Netherlands 1-0, Argentina 6-0 and Ivory Coast 3-2 and finished last in the World Cup.

“Unfortunately, this World Cup has started 1-0 defeat to Ghana, so it is the fifth defeat in a row with a 3-13 goal-difference.”

Ghana's glee

Ghana saw a different wave of nationalism get round the nation. Many here also felt the Serbian would be caught in some weird complicity and the relief after the win was something like this.

Meantime if you don't wanna forget the scores and keep track of stuff, you can download a free ESPN Wall Chart here

Till then.

Or follow me personally @garyalsmith

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Michael Essien's injury: is he irreplaceable?

Ghana’s radio and TV waves are on fire with the news that Michael Essien will not play in South Africa.

That the news is a telling blow is a given. The question is this: how would it affect our play?

Saw it coming
Many comments in the info-sphere in the past few hours show that a great many people were mentally prepared of this, given Michael’s own recent comments. In April, he told the Chelsea website that:

“If I make it for the World Cup then great – if not I have my whole career ahead of me. The last thing I want is to rush back and cause more problems down the line.”

A sound argument, but when he said that, many started feeling that the guy knew he wasn’t in good shape. Essien, as we know him, is a combative guy who does not go down unless he really is hurt. This is such a case.

The debate has been mostly about how unfortunate the whole thing is and crucially, how this would affect Ghana. Would we look back and say Essien’s absence cost us dearly?

Before we go on, take this quick poll:

So who replaces him?
Who in the Ghanaian team can bring what Essien brings to the side? In my opinion, nobody. His box-to-box effectiveness and his careful, accurate, passing as well as his multi-positional play and penchant to move forward and be an auxiliary striker are…well….priceless. I’m sure you agree.

Now, let’s look at the options.

Kwadwo Asamoah
I think the 21-year old Udinese dynamo is Essien-lite, but that’s all he is, Essien-lite. Yes, his passing ability is arguably better than Michael’s but he remains a very attacking minded midfielder. I’m yet to see anyone play Kwadwo as a utility player. That said, I feel he is the nearest to an Essien replacement in the Ghana setup.

Derek Boateng
Talented? Yes. Versatile? Yes. Essien’s kind of versatile? Nope. Derek is a good player whose form this past season with Getafe has been blistering, but he is miles away from being Michael. Derek is a good distributor of the ball and like Essien, can hold on to play if need be. But when it comes to strength and bull-like play, you have the wrong guy.

Bernard Yao Kumordzi
Think Nwankwo Kanu of Nigeria of Patrick Vieira of France. Perfect clone. A midfielder based in Greece with Panionios. The 25-year-old has also represented Norrkoping in Sweden and Egaleo in Greece having started his career in Ghana.

His tall and languid (not tall and lazy as some say) nature endears him to some brand of coaches, but he cannot replace Essien. Simple as that. A littel more about him: Bernard made his international debut for the Black Stars against Brazil in March 2007 and scored his first goal against Iran soon afterwards.

So what do we do?
Essien’s exclusion is now known, but we do not know if he may be taken in a Beckham-esque capacity to motivate the team. That would be a waste of space, because Essien is a very shy man, in terms of telling colleagues what to do and dictating play. He is not the Appiah kinda leader, sorry.

If Essien is dropped altogether, then it means that an extra seat on the plane needs to be filled. The bottom line is this we have to move on. And the coach knows it.

“There are other young and hungry players who will be equally passionate to play.”

The next few days would be very interesting. Who would/should Milovan put in Essien’s stead and how would it affect the team? Or are we even overblowing the issue?

Let’s hear you, while you vote as well.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Sellas Tetteh - My success story

Sellas Tetteh is the coach who won the Under 20 World Cup for Ghana last year, for the unititated.

Book type: Autobiography/Memoir
Authors: Sellas Tetteh & Aristo Dotse
Readership: General/Sport
Content: 95 pages, 16 chapters
Price: GH¢10 (US$7)
Publisher: Soccernet Publications

“I was a nice, beautiful midfielder.”

While speeding through the text of Sellas Tetteh’s novelty, this quote at the beginning of memoir kept coming back to me. By the time I was done reading, I was convinced that this self-held opinion of himself sums Sellas Tetteh up more succinctly like no one other in the book.

It is common knowledge that all fathers like to tell their wards about how brilliant students they were in their day. But in Sellas Tetteh’s case, you get the feeling that he wants you to accept what he was in his day, and what he is now. This is why I’d like to warn you in advance that if you do not like Sellas Tetteh, do yourself a favour and do not read his autobiography.

Sellas has achieved a lot. And if you want none of his successes in his book, look elsewhere. Sellas Tetteh: My Success Story is exactly that, a chronicling of Sellas Tetteh’s success story. He tells you, at times by coercion, to acknowledge and give him the respect that he feels is due him. But for the hungry football fan who wants to know more about the man who has catapulted himself and his country to such heights, the memoir is also very insightful.

Don’t mind the body
Though I have a feeling that the book was put together in a rush, it does not in any way detract from the relevance of its content. Yes, the typesetting is a bit suspect and yes, the layout is a bit dodgy, but it is the substance that matters. Many parts of the Holy Bible were first written on scrolls, yet the efficacy of their teachings is unquestioned.

I have quite a few biographies of football and athletics personalities in my library and to be fair, Aristo Dotse’s collaborative effort with Sellas Tetteh is good. It may not be the masterpiece that Liberty Professionals’ Felix Ansong claims it is in the book’s foreword, yet for the fact that this is the first Ghanaian football memoir (and possibly in Africa, too) Sellas Tetteh and Aristo Dotse can be proud of what they have done.

Accompanying this compelling read is a pictorial timeline of (mostly) Sellas’ life in football. The pictures attempt to grasp the wide reach of the coach’s experience, although my animated search for photos from his Bangladeshi playing days proved futile. My Success Story aims to capture the mindset of one man’s continuing struggle for acceptance, his heady successes and crushing regrets as well.
The purpose of a memoir is to give the audience access to little known information about key moments in the author’s life, not skimmed versions of it. This is where I feel the memoir fell short on a few occasions.

Sellas describes the origins of his established nickname, Borbor and its extensions, Borborson, Borborvich and Borborski. As well as many personal details, Tetteh explains how living in Nigeria shaped and affected his playing career, and later, his coaching as well. Since he spent almost all his playing days in Nigeria, one can understand why he makes countless references to our eastern cousins.

In the whole book the most touching, and in many ways, the most apparent call for attention for a man who has done so much for himself and his country comes, once again, at the beginning. It is a known fact that Sellas sees himself as an heir to the Black Stars’ coaching job. However, I am sure that many have not really thought about why it has taken Ghana so long to offer him what Rwanda has now given him.

For Sellas, not playing for the Black Stars is not only the biggest regret of his life (as he said in a BBC interview with Michael Oti Adjei last Friday), but crucially, it “took something away” from him. That is a powerful statement. He goes on to soliloquy that perhaps if he had ever donned the national colours, he “could have been more favoured or considered for the Black Stars coaching job when it became vacant in 2006 following Dujkovic’s exit…..”

Several hints in other parts of the book gives me the impression that Sellas is waiting for his time to be coach of the Stars, in contrast to the earlier feeling he had that he owns a divine right to it.

Seeing this quickly took me back eight months, to October last year. In an interview I had with him in the immediate aftermath of the Under 20 World Cup win, Sellas told me he “would be the next Black Stars coach after Milovan [Rajevac].”Obviously, after winning the next most important trophy in world football after the World Cup, and with adrenaline coursing through him, it was understandable that he should say that.

With this in mind, I started looking for the part of the book where that statement would be reiterated. I did not find it. What I did find, though, was the current mindset of Sellas on the Black Stars coaching job. This mindset is apparent throughout his book, including in its final chapter, where he urges coaches to have “hard work, determination, discipline and MORE IMPORTANTLY patience” (emphasis mine) as they strive to reach the top.

This, together with several hints in other parts of the book gives me the impression that Sellas is waiting for his time to be coach of the Stars, in contrast to the earlier feeling he had that he owns a divine right to it. He confirmed this himself in the BBC interview I spoke of earlier.

Liberty links
Tetteh has always been synonymous with Liberty Professionals and he pulls no punches in drawing strong parallels between the Dansoman club and his success. Everywhere in the book there is a tone of gratitude to his former club employers. Sellas’ pride at being nurtured there and nurturing others there is obvious. His uses of flowing adjectives to describe some of the more illustrious Liberty products attest to this, as are his defenses of the club’s way of doing things.

The fourteen years Tetteh spent at Liberty were littered with many memories, his best of all being the beating of Hearts of Oak 3-2 in Accra ten years ago, in addition to developing many talented players. Among other things I’ll mention later, however, the book fails to address the widely held conspiracy that there is a ‘Liberty-GFA’ wicket gate that pushes these talented products of the club into the various national teams.

Sellas’ segues to his affair with the national teams and their associated ebbs and flows. He gained promotion to the Black Stars team in 2003 as assistant to then coach, Ralf Zumdick. Sellas describes working with the German as “just great,” but immediately reveals a little known nugget thereafter.

Although he does not go into specifics, Sellas blames his inability to make it to the Athens 2004 Olympics on a “misconstrued development in camp” by then coach Mariano Barreto. This, he says, was the biggest regret in his career.

In the few biographies that I have read, the explanation of this ‘misconstrued development’ would have been a good selling point for the book, for the purpose of a memoir is to give the audience access to little known information about key moments in the author’s life, not skimmed versions of it. This is where I feel the memoir fell short on a few occasions.

Who would not want to know the real deal about ‘the T.B. Joshua affair,’ or about the behind- the-scenes stories behind Ghana’s adventures to both the Korea 2007 and Egypt 2009 World Cups? Sadly, readers are only treated to recaps of the matches that were played and not the detail of how they were won tactically, psychologically, why he took certain telling decisions and so on.

As an example of what I mean, consider how Sellas makes us understand how he feels in relation to the whole Ishmael Yartey mess. After he led Ghana to win the African under 20 tournament in Rwanda, Sellas dropped Ishmael Yartey from the side just before the start of the World Cup. This was a decision that Sellas says was taken “purely on merit than any other reason.” Ishmael, according to Sellas, did not hold that opinion and sought to destroy his image out of frustration and disappointment.

He also tells how this affected the team and how they were able to rebound and funnel Ishmael’s words into positive aggression, which explains how the team recorded several sensational comebacks at Egypt 2009. This kind of chronicling is what makes football memoirs (and sporting ones in general) so special. Readers could have been given more of these nuggets.

The man within
Anybody who knows Sellas Tetteh would immediately recognize his voice leaping from the pages of the book. Many co-authored football memoirs have been criticized for not having ‘the man within.’ In a bid to be politically and grammatically correct, authors usually take the personality of the subject out of the book.

My Success Story, I’m glad to say, has Sellas Tetteh stamped all over it. His well-known wit, candour and (sometimes) over-expressive nature are all served copiously. Just like you would expect Sellas to, his diplomacy and tact are also present. Every success he recounts is soon followed by a shared credit with fellow Ghanaians, fellow coaches, players or administrators he has worked with, building tons of goodwill along the way.

Who would not want to know the real deal about ‘the T.B. Joshua affair,’ or about the behind- the-scenes stories behind Ghana’s adventures to both the Korea 2007 and Egypt 2009 World Cups?

Anybody who knows Sellas Tetteh would immediately recognize his voice leaping from the pages of the book. Many co-authored football memoirs have been criticized for not having ‘the man within.’ In a bid to be politically and grammatically correct, authors usually take the personality of the subject out of the book.
Every football fan who cares about Ghana’s real Special One (I wonder what Isaac Opeele Boateng would say about that!), the mystery of Sellas Tetteh’s ‘one in a million portrait’ and what has become known as ‘The Famous Shirt’ would find this book to be a good reference guide. As for journalists, it is an absolute must-read and must-have.

The writing of My Success Story means that for the many thousands of tertiary students who need information for their Long Essays or Project Works, there is light at the end of the dark reference tunnel. So often we have students who need basic information on football and yet do not get it. This book may be a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to understand the workings of Ghanaian, African and world football.

Double diligence
The book was co-authored by Aristo Dotse who, with about two decades of professional sporting writing experience, knows his stuff. Liverpool FC fans would also be familiar with some of his work on the club’s website, as well as the many literary works he’s put together in countless international publications over the years.

Having worked with him before, I’m deeply thrilled that Aristo has finally been given space to write ‘a very long article’. I’ve always maintained that if you gave Aristo the whole of this page to write a short piece, he would usually give you so much that you would have to edit. But like Sellas Tetteh says in the book, patience is key in everything.

Aristo has been patient. Now he has had 95 pages in which to write ‘a few words’ about Sellas Tetteh. I think he has not disappointed, as usual. And guess what, so long as Sellas continues to ‘do it again and again’ (as he likes to say), I can see a sequel to this memoir in the offing.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shakira's official SA 2010 song not catching on?

Here is the official 2010 FIFA World Cup song. It's called Waka Waka (This time for Africa) by Shakira and Freshly Ground. It's not a bad song, I feel. But still, K'naan's is better!

See the lyrics after the video.


You're a good soldier
Choosing your battles
Pick yourself up
And dust yourself off
And back in the saddle

You're on the frontline
Everyone's watching
You know it's serious
We're getting closer
This isnt over

The pressure is on
You feel it
But you've got it all
Believe it

When you fall get up
Oh oh...
And if you fall get up
Oh oh...

Tsamina mina
Cuz this is Africa

Tsamina mina eh eh
Waka Waka eh eh

Tsamina mina zangalewa
Anawa aa
This time for Africa

Listen to your god
This is our motto
Your time to shine
Dont wait in line
Y vamos por Todo

People are raising
Their Expectations
Go on and feed them
This is your moment
No hesitations

Today's your day
I feel it
You paved the way
Believe it

If you get down
Get up Oh oh...
When you get down
Get up eh eh...

Tsamina mina zangalewa
Anawa aa
This time for Africa

Tsamina mina eh eh
Waka Waka eh eh

Tsamina mina zangalewa
Anawa aa

Tsamina mina eh eh
Waka Waka eh eh
Tsamina mina zangalewa
This time for Africa

Should "Wavin' Flag" have been the official World Cup song or what?

The song below was done by K'naan and taken by Coca Cola as its promotional song for the upcoming Mundial. And I think it's better than Shakira's song that's the official one.

The lyrics of Wavin' Flag  is after this video. Enjoy!


Ooooooh Wooooooho

Give me freedom, give me fire, give me reason, take me higher
See the champions, take the field now, unify us, make us feel proud
In the streets our head are liftin’, as we lose our inhibition,
Celebration it surrounds us, every nation, all around us

Singin forever young, singin songs underneath that sun
Lets rejoice in the beautifull game.
And together at the end of the day.


When I get older I will be stronger

They’ll call me freedom Just like a wavin’ flag

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back

When I get older I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom
Just like a wavin’ flag

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes

Oooooooooooooh woooooooooohh hohoho

Give you freedom, give you fire, give you reason, take you higher
See the champions, take the field now, unify us, make us feel proud
In the streets our head are liftin’, as we lose our inhibition,
Celebration, it surrounds us, every nations, all around us

Singin forever young, singin songs underneath that sun
Lets rejoice in the beautifull game.
And toghetter at the end of the day.


When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom
Just like a wavin’ flag

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back

When I get older I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom
Just like a wavin’ flag

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes

Wooooooooo Ohohohoooooooo ! OOOoooooh Wooooooooo


When I get older I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom
Just like a wavin’ flag

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back

When I get older I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom
Just like a wavin’ flag

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes

Wooo hooooo hohohohoooooo

And everybody will be singing it

Wooooooooo ohohohooooo

And we are all singing it

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

SA2010: Brutal branding battles

Ghana’s branding experts should sit back, relax and enjoy the inevitable branding battles that would be displayed before, during and after the World Cup.

Let me first say that the many days taken to research the following article has been really eye-opening. For one thing, I have now come to have (even more) respect for the amount of effort and attention to detail that ad executives in Ghana (and elsewhere) put into their campaigns. Respect!

The World Cup is the world’s biggest sporting event, and I can hardly wait. There is something special about this tournament. It attracts a wide audience of people from different cultures and very few other sporting events can evoke such emotion and passion from across the globe.

This emotion and passion is the perfect ingredient needed to feed the games of hungry multinational companies that are focusing on the World Cup. The game is ambush marketing. The players are any number of multinational companies who did not fork out the prescribed sponsorship money. The field of play remains to be seen.

As in the past, whether at any soccer, rugby or cricket World Cups or any of the Olympic Games, the world will once again be intrigued and fascinated by the marketing games played behind the scenes and often also in public.

FIFA’s headache
FIFA, football's governing body, is aware of the ingenuity of the official "unofficial" commercial partners and sponsors of their showpiece. When I think of the various ways in which rival unofficial companies are cashing in on the coming World Cup, I laugh at the ignorance of Ghanaian companies (and their ad agencies) who just allowed the word ‘official’ to scare them off during the African Nations Cup in 2008 and African Cup for Nations hockey tournament last year.

Let the games begin. These four words, used as a phrase, is probably the most over-used phrase when launching sporting spectaculars ranging from the Olympic Games to any number of other competitions. However, apart from introducing the pinnacle of the beautiful game for the first time on the African continent, it also exposes the international past-time of brand holders beating FIFA at its own game.

One would have to look at who did not make the list of FIFA partners, 2010 sponsors and 2010 national supporters, to realize that FIFA is probably up against the cream of the crop of international brands and their creative and ingenious marketing teams. These brand holders probably cannot wait to get their slice of the proverbial pie and put one past the goalie!

The very nature of ambush marketing is for a party not to pay any sponsorship fee but to nevertheless associate itself with an event.

The receiving end of ambush marketing
Adidas, Coca Cola, Emirates, Kia/Hyundai, Sony and Visa, FIFA partners for the 2010 World Cup, have all been on the receiving end of ambush marketing by their traditional rivals. Nike, Pepsi and American Express have been very prominent in the past as a result of their creative ambushing tactics.

As a result of these often widely publicized exploits, one has to ask whether the enormous sponsorships payable by the official partners have given them any better exposure than the ambush marketers. Everyone in the sports business industry knows that Nike does not want to become "official", probably because of the aggressive and very successful ambush marketing campaigns it has had in the past.

As with Nike ambushing Converse in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, American Express ambushing Visa in Barcelona in 1992, Nike ambushing Umbro in UEFA Euro in 1996, Bavaria Brewery ambushing Budweiser in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany or PepsiCo ambushing Coca-Cola in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa will be no different.

However, the time has long gone for blatant and unimaginative latching onto such mega-events by ambush marketers.

One only has to consider what FIFA has put into place from a legislative point of view to protect its partners, sponsors and supporters, to realize that the casual, unsophisticated ambush marketer is in for a rough ride.

The protection granted to FIFA finds its legislative support in many very specific laws by the South African government. As part of its public awareness campaign, FIFA published guidelines on its website to illustrate instances of unauthorized commercial association with the 2010 event.

I downloaded it and I must tell you I stopped reading after a quarter of the document. They were very very strict.

Unlike during Ghana 2008 when many local businesses profited on the fringes of the official sponsors, several indigenes in South Africa have felt the brunt of the FIFA brand police.

FIFA considers its trademarks to be "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa", "2010 FIFA World Cup", "FIFA World Cup", "World Cup", "World Cup 2010", "Football World Cup", "SA 2010", "ZA 2010", "South Africa 2010", "Ke Nako -- Celebrate Africa's Humanity", "Soccer World Cup" and "Zakumi".

FIFA took a Pretoria pub owner to court to make him remove banners and flags that said: "World Cup 2010" and "2010 South Africa”. The manufacturer of a key-ring holder was taken to court because it bore the year "2010", a vuvuzela and the South African flag. Low-cost airline Kulula was asked to withdraw an advert declaring that it was the "Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What".

Public outcry against the strict measures meant that officials had to respond.

There was a roundtable meeting last week to discuss the issues and there, FIFA’s marketing director, Thierry Weil said: “When you buy a car, you buy it completely... you don't let everybody drive the car and it is the same for our partners -- they bought the car, they want the key and they want to be ensured they are the only ones driving the car."

Need I say more?

The time has long gone for blatant and unimaginative latching onto such mega-events by ambush marketers. It has been replaced by far more subtle and ingenious methods

Legitimate ambush marketing?
The very nature of ambush marketing is for a party not to pay any sponsorship fee but to nevertheless associate itself with an event.

The question that must be asked is whether this does not in fact provide actual guidelines to would-be ambushers as to precisely where the boundaries are.

Let me explain with this example. FIFA says the following marks may not be used in advertising, marketing or point of sale displays, which imply an association with the 2010 FIFA World Cup: “2010” or "Twenty Ten" used with the words “soccer, football, South Africa, RSA, SA, World Cup” or with soccer or FIFA World Cup imagery. In addition, "World Cup" cannot be used with the words "soccer", "football", South Africa, RSA, SA or soccer imagery.

I could go on and on and on. My point is that, once FIFA has said all these words cannot be used, are they not opening the door for rivals to use other words loosely associated with the event?

The use of any of the legitimate trademarks of any of the "official unofficial" sponsors would not be a defense to ambush marketing if it is used in any manner or form implying an association with the event. This clearly cannot be the case where any ambush marketer uses its trademark without any reference to FIFA or to the event.

In 1984, Nike created murals near the Olympic Games sites featuring Nike-sponsored track athletes. These murals were all visible from the sites. Later, FIFA countered this kind of marketing by implementing exclusion zones in which commercial activity by any person other than the accredited FIFA partners and sponsors is prohibited.

In 1996, during the UEFA Cup, Nike purchased all poster space and advertising sites in the tube stations leading to Wembley stadium. This has since lead to the organizers of UEFA renting all advertising space within a 1-3 km radius from the venues.

In both these instances, the organizers were unable to prevent the ambush marketing from taking place at the time. Measures were subsequently implemented to avoid this happening again.

The impact of these well orchestrated campaigns on the official sponsors and partners is far greater than the occasional infringement of the FIFA trademarks, prohibited marks of imagery.

The latter is normally easily dealt with by sending strongly worded “cease-and-desist letters.” However, a campaign where internationally well known trademarks are used would be notoriously difficult to stop.

At the very best, the organizers of such mega events can only hope to close loopholes as and when they are encountered. Examples are the efforts of UEFA who bought and controlled all broadcast advertising during matches and made it available only to sponsors.

The scene is set for the likes of Nike, MasterCard, Pepsi, Puma and a host of other international and local brand holders to showcase their marketing genius. Expect to see campaigns devoid of any soccer or soccer related images or themes.

Ambush marketers have come of age
If one considers the development of ambush marketing over the past 15 years or so, it is clear that the art (or science, if you will) has come of age.

It appears that the blatant latching on to a protected event such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup by official unofficial sponsors has been replaced by far more subtle and ingenious methods.

No company in its right mind will design an ad campaign in which any of the prohibited marks, registered FIFA trademarks or imagery is used. It is clear from the examples above that FIFA would successfully act against such unsophisticated ambush marketers.

The scene is set for the likes of Nike, MasterCard, Pepsi, Puma and a host of other international and local brand holders to showcase their marketing genius. Expect to see campaigns devoid of any soccer or soccer related images or themes.

Expect American Express to embark on a campaign that has as a central theme the fact that you do not require a visa to visit South Africa. They have after all done it before, quite successfully.

Expect Nike to embark on a large-scale campaign to advertise their sponsorship of an unrelated international event in the local press. As in the case of American Express, they have done so successfully in the past.

In all this, I hope the MTNs, Vodafones, Guinnesses and other big shot outfits of Ghana are watching with keen interest. The lessons to be learned are many and can be the difference between profit and loss. So, let the games begin!

Monday, May 10, 2010

They say Zlatan is gay. And he responds. If this were Africa!

In Ghana, and Africa, homosexuality is not only taboo, it could get you castrated, jailed, ostracised or all of the above. And more.

The biggest football story (apart from the title race) of the weekend in Spain has centred around a picture of Barcelona teammates Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gerard Pique which caught the twosome in a close embrace and sparked wild rumours that the pair are homosexual.

Looking to get to the bottom of the story, one annoying Spanish reporter tracked down the Swedish striker and cornered the forward on confirming his sexual preference.

Initially ignoring the female reporter’s question of “Ibra, what do you think of the photo?,” a few minutes later the Barcelona hitman called the woman over to his car and offered a very telling response to her question.

Zlatan: “Come to my house and you’ll see if I’m gay… And bring your sister!”

Have a look. It leaves me wondering what an African player would do if he were asked such a question because of a photo like that.

Video courtesy 101gg.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Poll: Can Rajevac's squad take Ghana to the second round?

Ghana's World Cup team - the provisional 30 man list - has been named.

Here it is>

Goalkeepers: Richard Kingson, Daniel Agyei, Stephen Aholu, Stephen Adams

Defenders: John Paintsil, John Mensah, Samuel Inkoom, Hans Adu Sarpei, Rahim Ayew, Lee Addy, Isaac Vorsah, Jonathan Mensah, Eric Addo

Midfielders: Michael Essien, Kwadwo Asamoah, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Anthony Annan, Sulley Muntari, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Stephen Appiah, Andre Ayew, Laryea Kingston, Derek Boateng, Bernard Kumordzi, Haminu Draman

Attackers: Asamoah Gyan, Prince Tagoe, Dominic Adiyiah, Mathew Amoah

Now, let's know what you think!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Va-va-vroom: Vodafone’s vision for velocity

Gary knows Go Karting is an insanely pleasurable experience, but also knows that Vodafone’s efforts at revving the sport in Ghana may meet some pit stops

Two pedals are all you need: an accelerator and a brake. The rest is common sense. Those are the basics of having the drive of your life in the many available Go Karts (or simply, karting) at the Formula One Isllant Raceway, behind the Trade Fair Centre here in Accra. Yet the push needed, in many respects, to create this simple pleasure is anything but basic.

Let me take you back to one pleasant Sunday afternoon in 1999. My dad informs me that he is taking me for a drive at the Raceway. I look at him once. Then I blink, and look at him again. He is not joking. To put it mildly, I nearly go mad due to overexcitement.

At the time the most dominant person in the sport worldwide was Michael Schumacher. Yes, I wanted to be a journalist. Yes, I wanted to be pilot. Yes, I wanted to be a lawyer, a doctor and half a dozen things in between. And I wanted to be ‘Schumi’ too.

Even though I had just five or ten minutes on the track at the Raceway, it is up there with a few other things as one of the very best memories of my childhood.

So when I got the media invitation from Vodafone to go for test drive last week, the smile on my face could have lit up the Ohene Djan Stadium better than the floodlights ever could. I was not aware that the place had been revamped, as it had fallen a bit into disrepair for some time. And, like eleven years ago, I was not disappointed.

A bit about the sport
Karting, and motor sport in general, is not what you would call the typical Ghanaian pastime, not by a very long stretch. Yet it has always captured the imagination of people in this country, especially the males. The mad rush of adrenaline at speeding and overtaking has few comparisons.

When the former World Racing Champion Lewis Hamilton was asked to describe motorsport, he rightly described it thus: “This is the best feeling I've ever had. You cannot compare it to sex. But you know? I would say it is better than sex. It is!”

These are very true words from a soon-to-be legend. Although I came a distant seventh in the Vodafone Log-On Go Kart Media contest, it opened my eyes to a lot of things. Kart racing is usually used as a low-cost and relatively safe way to introduce drivers to motor racing.

Many people associate it with young drivers but as we witnessed, adults are also very active in karting.

The karts are rented by sessions (10 to 15 minutes usually) and they use sturdy chassis completed with dedicated bodywork providing driver safety.

The Raceway at Labadi uses an "Arrive and Drive" format which provide customers with all the safety gear (helmets, gloves and so on) where necessary and allow them to show up any time to race at a reasonable price, without the hassle of owning one's own equipment and gear. For 10 cedis, you can have the ride of your life.

Red letter affair
Vodafone’s love affair with the Raceway makes for interesting reading. The name Sandy Anderson may ring bells if you’ve been on the higher end of business in Accra for a long time. And it should. He is a well known venture capitalist who was one of the owners of Sunrise Hotel at North Ridge in Accra (now Alisa Hotel). This same Anderson owned the Raceway.

A little while after my first visit to the track twelve years ago, Mr. Anderson decided to sell the franchise. After he decided to cut his losses due to mostly financial reasons, the unavailability of prospective buyers meant the Raceway went down for a while.

Last year, a Ghanaian businessman, Ismail Lamptey, took on the challenge of reopening the place. As a business venture, managing it has not been easy for him, but he believes that the coming of Vodafone has been timely. “They came at the right time because the plans we have for go karting in Ghana need a huge corporate push. When we got the deal, we breathed a huge sigh of relief and are happy about this relationship.”

When Ismail got the place, he promptly completed its born-again status by calling it Formula One Isllant Limited. The next step was to get corporate backing. It took a long time but when they came on board, Vodafone agreed to invest an amount believed to be in the region of GHC 350,000 (about $250,000) to become the title sponsors for the event. Sikkens, sole representatives of Akzo Nobel paints in Ghana, are also part of the racing family.

The relationship is not only financial, though. Building on the work of the GTCares community projects programme, the Vodafone Foundation has partnered the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) in a joint quest to reduce the road rage in Ghana. It seems the company also felt karting was a good conduit through which to spread their message.

As is typical of the Vodafone Foundation, the NRSC partnership has been very much on the quiet side. You do not hear a lot of noise about it, unlike MTN, whose 21 Days of Y’ello Care started on May Day and is always in the media.

Speed rumps and challenges
There is the temptation to think that the involvement of one of the biggest telecom giants in the world would make for easy pickings for Formula One in Ghana. That is not the case. When we started the media competition on Saturday, a few of the karts cars stubbornly broke down repeatedly, in protest at the lack of new parts. I asked the resident mechanics about the struggles they faced in keeping the machines going and they revealed how they had to improvise.

According to Nii, one of the mechanics, a single kart costs as much as $2500, not to mention import duty and the usual taxes. When the karts arrive, the issue of maintenance rears its persistent head. Most of the karts in Ghana are either fitted with one or two-stroke engines and are water-cooled, meaning that they need constant checking.

Though the mechanics on duty do a lot of improvisation, it was clear that some professional orientation was necessary. For Nii, the wayside ‘fitting shop tactics’ are not the best for karting, which he admits, is a specialized field. These and other factors have made things a bit challenging.

Yet, for the soft-spoken Cynthia Torto, Events and Sponsorships Manager for Vodafone, these challenges make the endeavour sweeter: “We do not only put our support behind the large and complete events, as it were. Vodafone is very much proud to be associated with ventures that have the promise of potential. Together, we will grow the sport to world class standards.”

Well said, but then she should be aware that the average Kofi and Kuukuwa do not give two tots about “ventures that have the promise of potential.” What the public wants is a smoothly run operation. So what am I telling Vodafone? Release the money for developing the sport, and be quick about it!

The guys at the Raceway can do the job and contrary to what many think, they do not need expatriates to this for them. After all, in September last year Vodafone Group Plc established the Vodafone Ghana Foundation, with an initial commitment of £200,000.

While reading for this piece, I learned that Vodafone is one of the major sponsors for Lewis Hamilton. Surely, Ms Torto and her department could weave Ghana into Hamilton’s plans for sometime in the coming years? I will not be naïve and say it’s that simple but I think getting him down here would be fantastic leverage for all concerned.

Sure, it would make for a nice bit of ‘out-of-Africa’ social responsibility media image for him. Of more concern to me, however, is the fact that Hamilton in Ghana could force the hand of the various sporting authorities to give karting and Formula One another look. Sometimes, it’s all in a day’s work for someone like Lewis.

Accelerating the sport
Now that I have dug into the company a bit, I must admit that there are shoots of progress visible for go karting in Ghana. The facility at the Raceway is the only one in West Africa. It is also one of just nine available on the continent. All the other eight can be found in….you guessed it….South Africa.

The media coordinator for the Log On event, Phillip Joni Quartey, who also headed the planning committee of the competition, mentioned that several events have been lined up in the immediate aftermath of this series to push the sport. There was talk about an inter-schools karting event very soon. That would be massive.

Kart racing is generally accepted as the most economic form of motorsport available. As a free-time activity, it can be performed by almost anybody from the age of 8 onward. This means that an inter-schools event would create a base of racing-loving kids who would be the bedrock of Ghana’s national teams in the future.

Speaking of national karting teams, the Vodafone and the Formula One Isllant management are said to be looking at a possible National Karting Competition that would start soon. And then there is a planned 4-nation tournament to cover the West African sub-region.

Exciting times are ahead for the riders and speedsters, certainly. However it does not take away the fact that there is a lot of work to be done to put Ghana on the racing map, be it in karting or Formula One. But I do have to agree with Cynthia Torto and her Vodafone crew who kept repeating the mantra: it’s our time and it’s a good start.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

‘Game gbees’ coming through!

Gary has witnessed what may possibly be the birth of a million-dollar booming video games industry in Ghana.

Scratching your head at the headline? ‘Game gbee’ is the local slang for someone who is a video games freak (gbee is pronounced ‘bay’. Or something like that).

My younger brother, Stanley, was one of the 350,888 candidates students nationwide who blissfully thought the world was theirs for the taking after writing their last BECE (Junior High School) papers last Friday. The whole weekend for him was spent feeling good and video gaming.

For him, playing his much loved game consoles is a great way to release all the pent up energy exerted during the examinations. But the grandmothers and grandfathers at home are dogged in their beliefs that gaming is for vagabonds and gamblers.

This is a familiar story in many households in this country, yet it need not be so.

Last December, a very young man in South Africa saw his life change right under his eyes. Teenager Matthew Bosch won thousands of dollars in cash prizes in the FIFA 10 road show in Johannesburg. It was sponsored by Telkom, in partnership with Electronic Arts (EA Sports).

For the uninitiated, FIFA 10 is one of the bestselling video games in the world as we speak. It is also creating limitless opportunities for young people worldwide.

Untapped resource
EA Sports is a video game maker and one of the largest in the world, too. They, among other things, specialize in signing on sports figures for their very popular video game franchises. And obviously, they pay well too. On top of his club salary, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney earned more than £200,000 from EA Sports last year.

Speaking from a Ghanaian perspective, I can tell you that this nascent industry may just have been reborn in this country.

Already in Africa, some countries are established and reaping the benefits that come with this very underestimated industry. It is estimated that $11.7 billion worth of video games were sold in 2008 worldwide. That’s almost the entire amount Ghana’s economy earned in that same year. So you wonder, why do the youth of Ghana play so many video games and yet we haven’t made any money at all from it?

All you see are young boys and girls at home, in street corner game centers and shacks playing their favorite game consoles like Xbox, PS3, Nintendo and so on. But last Saturday, a group of young entrepreneurs were part of what might just be the light at the beginning of Ghana’s video games revolution tunnel.

Alisxta Innovation put together the first ever National Qualifiers for video gaming in Ghana and the winner will play in the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) in May at the Disney-Land in Paris, France.

According to Qwecy Amissah of Alisxta, the aim of the tournament series is to “use technology to bridge the gap between the Youth and National Development by cultivating their talents and competitive spirit. Our desire is to develop a professional eSports environment which will cater for the future and well being of our players.”

eSports and the other jargon
Chances are that if you are thirty years or below and reading this article, you have a pretty good idea what video games are. Or maybe not. Whatever the case may be, eSports is electronic sport. People also like to describe eSports as a general term to describe the play of video games competitively. Others call it competitive gaming, cybersports or even V-Sports.

At the Spintex Road in Accra where the first gaming tournament took place, over a hundred enthusiastic young men and a few enterprising ladies thronged for the first Ghana qualifier. Subsequent ones have taken place at the University of Ghana and at Busy Internet last Saturday.

These young people, whose ages ranged from 16 onwards, (that’s the age limit set by the organizers) argued that gaming is not a waste of time as many think. Granted, some games have received a lot of flak for their violent nature and at times, explicit content.

But it does not take away the fact that there are thousands of kids in other parts of the continent and around the world who have chosen gaming as money-earning jobs. They combine this fun (and educational) pastime with school, so it’s a win-win situation. Doing that would be a challenge in Ghana, where video gaming is traditionally seen as a pastime and even as a ‘ruffian’s thing’. This is just a perception and nothing could be further from the truth.

Kwecy Hayford, also of Alisxta Innovations says ‘organizing the gaming conferences has been a wonderful experience. Moving from one venue to the other and seeing that each tournament was unique. I believe we are setting the stage. Awareness is being created for gamers in Ghana.”

As we speak, several high profile (pseudo-)governmental agencies have embraced the concept, acknowledging its potential as an alternative way of leisure and learning. Dorothy Gordon is the Director General of the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence – Accra Institute of Technology and Innovation (KACE-AITI) and she is fully behind this concept. I am told she knows a lot about eSports for someone well past the middle age mark. Considering the KACE-AITI is under the Ministry of Communications, this would be a serious coup if the gamers can enlist her outfit’s support.

The Ministry of Youth and Sport has also agreed in principle to put its weight behind the scheme and several reputable companies like Busy Internet, Vibe FM, GoCreate, Lantouch, Solution Oasis, Metro TV and TV3 have also helped spread the word.

All this means that when the concept of commercial gaming catches on and takes off, there’ll be a massive change in orientation that can change people’s lives. This, certainly, cannot be bad.

Diversifying the future
The gaming industry will grow to frightening levels in Ghana. That is, if a few things are put in place. The infrastructural foundation needs a little tweaking. There are really not organized unions and groups like Alisxta who have specialized in putting gaming tournaments together. There is the temptation to think that any event company can do this. Wrong. It is for those who understand, love and above all, respect the principle of gaming. That is why it seems to be a sector that appeals to the youth, because most of our elders simply don’t get it.

But maybe when the much anticipated GamePlay magazine is launched, everyone will get the message. According to the publishers, GamePlay is the complete guide to everything gaming and eSports. Every GamePlay edition features the most current information on gaming, eSports, entertainment, gadgets, and tournament selections in Ghana. It would also have easy-to-use listings of game shops by category and dozens of fabulous coupon savings and prizes of Portable gadgets (iPods, PsP, phones and so on)

It will also cover various areas related to video games including industry sales/revenue figures, number of video game players, console penetration numbers, gamer demographic data, and other trends and data related to the video game industry in Ghana.

The magazine is yet to be launched, but like many other ventures, it needs support. It is universally accepted that once some major money-backers and stakeholders are garnered to inject more resources, commercial gaming in Ghana is a ‘go’. There’ll be raffles, promotions and all sorts of marketing programmes to push the interest, and money, back into the pockets of investors.

Am I selling the idea to you? You bet I am. If you are venture capitalist or business adventurer and reading this, do not wait for me to say ‘I told you so’ in a few years. Ghana will be the next technological hub in terms of eSports, so say the guys from Alisxta. And to borrow a slogan from EA Sports: Challenge Everything!

Just like in the old days when your parents would never have allowed you to play professional football, video gaming would soon reach that zenith in Ghana. When this happens, the grandmothers and fathers at home will start pushing for my brother to spend time behind the console because at that time, it will be very financially rewarding.