Feature: Wishful thinking is not enough!

Author: Ebo Kwaitoo
Elizabeth Addo - Black Queens skipper

Football is a scientific game which requires effective planning to achieve the desired results. Ironically, Ghana, as a football nation that we pride ourselves to be, seems to believe that raw talents are enough to get us the needed results at all costs any day.

That is the unfortunate summary of the Black Queens'  Women's African Nations Cup fiasco. Sad to relate, we simply wanted to reap where we have not sown, contrary to the natural law which states that you reap what you sow.

In other words, we thought a good-sounding host and win slogan could compensate for poor preparations for a tournament of this magnitude. Without sounding like a prophet of doom, it would have been a travesty of justice if the Queens had qualified from their group ahead of better-composed teams like Cameroun and Mali.

Comparatively, the Queens were just not good enough to make any meaningful impact on the competition as Ghanaians had been made to believe by the team's handlers. The soul was willing, but the flesh was simply weak. That was why when it mattered most, our ladies played their hearts out against the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroun in their last Group A match, but still failed to book the much-needed semi-final ticket, following a disappointing 1-1 draw.

Come to think of it, had the Queens qualified, they would have clashed with their ageless rivals, Nigeria, or emerging force, South Africa, either of which would have been another tall order. Everything attested to the fact that the host and win dream was a daunting task as the team did not prepare enough to ensure that. Regrettably, the Queens ended up with their worst record in the tournament since its inception in 1998.

Having been ranked among the powerhouses of women's football on the continent, with three runner-up feats in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and three World Cup appearances in 1999, 2003 and 2007, it was only fair for Ghanaians to expect a much better performance from the Queens on this occasion, especially as hosts. But wishes are not horses, as the sages say.

Fact is, Ghana's performance in the competition over the past decade has been nothing but shambolic. For the first time in 2012, the Queens did not even qualify for the event. Interestingly, that was the year the then minnows, Equatorial Guinea, hosted and won their second African title after their surprise breakthrough as hosts in 2008.

Though the Equatorial Guineans are now the whipping girls in Group B obviously due to their last minute inclusion at the expense of Kenya, they remain the only country to have won the Women’s AFCON trophy twice as against eight by the Super Falcons of Nigeria. Meanwhile, when Ghana and Nigeria began representing Africa at the World Cup, countries like Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Mali and South Africa had not even started or were mere also-rans.

Having followed women's football right from its early days (I was a member of the Black Queens Management Committee when the team made their World Cup debut in the US in 1999 under the late Coach E.K. Afranie and Coach  Jones Ofosuhene), I can only say that the Queens are sinking very fast. I vividly recall that golden era where the likes of skipper Alberta Sackey, gifted Vivian Mensah, Adjoa Bayor, Elizabeth Baidoo, Juliana Kakraba, Mercy Tagoe, Genevieve Clottey, Patience Sackey, bulky striker, Nana Ama Gyamfua, Barikisu Tettey Quao, Kuulu Yahaya, Memunatu Sulemana and the rest made women's football worth watching.

However, I realised the women's game was dwindling from 2007 and started shouting from the rooftop via this same column purposely to alert officialdom to arrest the situation before things got out of hand. Unfortunately, all those calls fell on deaf ears, with some people perceiving it as a hate campaign against some particular FA officials. My major concern then was that the FA officials, who were assigned to manage the female game, did not seem to know anything about it but were like square pegs in round holes. I was misunderstood and fought vehemently. Today, the chicken has come home to roost.

Much as I sympathise with Ghanaians for the Queens' painful exit, I perceive that Coach Bashir Hayford, who stands accused as the main cause of the disastrous campaign, is merely a victim of circumstance. Perhaps, he is being made a scapegoat because he didn't paint the true picture but created the erroneous impression from day one that all was well with the Queens.

What was worse, veteran Coach Hayford, instead of managing the team's poor showing in the competition in a matured way, rather opted to 'trade punches' with the media which did not help matters. I agree with those asking for a change in the technical direction for the team, though that is not an end in itself.

I think Mercy Tagoe-Quarcoo made a smart move by extending a hand to an experienced coach like Bashir Hayford to come help prepare the team for the championship. Though she had won the WAFU tournament with the Queens earlier in the year, Mercy believed the Women’s AFCON was a much more demanding competition which required more expertise than she could muster.

Now that the dream is over, I expect the former Black Queens defender to step out of the shadows and use the experience gained from the Women’s AFCON to help the course of the team in future.

Motivation-wise, I think officialdom left it too late, especially where the Queens were said to have been owed about $400,000 in bonuses as far back as 2014.

That was a clear disincentive as it created the impression that we didn’t seem to care about the women as much as the men. Much as I don't believe the women deserve the same bonus as the men, it is only fair for them to receive what is due them as and when necessary just like their male counterparts.

As a nation, what we need to do now is to take a critical look at the development structure for women's football. We see to be doing well at the youth level but the transition into the senior team is where the problem is.  A typical example is Jane Ayieyam who showed so much promise at the U-17 level but is now a pale shadow of herself in the Queens set-up.

Perhaps, US-based Ghanaian coach, Robert Sackey, who is an expert in women's football, can be consulted by the Normalisation Committee to help put in place the right structures that can restore the Queens' fortunes over time and also guarantee the nation some laurels in the sweet by and by.