Michael Essien made a smooth transition from a youthful talent to a world-class player
Michael Essien made a smooth transition from a youthful talent to a world-class player
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Rebooting Ghana football: Youth development key to future success (1)

Once the crown jewel of African football, Ghana has seen its neighbours such as Senegal and Mali surge ahead. To reclaim our former glory, a complete overhaul of our football development structure is essential.

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 This transformation will hinge on the National Sports College at Winneba, serving as the heart of this revitalisation.

Current State

Ghana's past football successes were often sporadic and unsystematic. Legendary players such as Nii Odartey Lamptey and Michael Essien rose to fame, but many young talents faded out before reaching their potential.

Unlike countries with structured youth programmes, Ghana's approach has been ad hoc, lacking a cohesive plan. Since 2001, Ghana has struggled without a formal youth development plan, relying instead on last-minute team assemblies for competitions.

This lack of continuity has stunted player progression, with sporadic success at junior levels not translating to consistent performance at senior levels.

Some countries in Africa such as Senegal, South Africa and Mali have well-structured youth football programmes. European countries such as France, Germany and England, as well as Japan and China in Asia, have also excelled in this area.

These nations have shown that a structured approach to youth football can yield significant success. Ghana, once the star of African football, has fallen behind. The question arises: Is there something that Ghanaian football administrators and technicians have missed?

Back in 2001, there was no written or established youth football development plan for both male and female sectors in Ghana. Anytime there was a competition, particularly in the male category, teams were hastily assembled.

Despite this unsystematic approach, Ghana managed to win laurels thanks to talents such as Nii Odartey Lamptey, Samuel Osei Kuffour, Alex Opoku, Awudu Isaka, Kamara Dini, Baba Sule, Stephen Appiah, Michael Essien, Kofi Mbeah, and Kofi Nimo. Ironically, many of these players were almost at their prime for the junior competitions, leading to stalled progress at higher levels.

Vision: Building strong foundation

Our goal is clear: Develop a robust, systematic football programme starting from the grassroots and extending to the national teams. By learning from successful models in countries such as France, Germany, and even our neighbours, we can create a sustainable pathway for young talents.

The vision starts with establishing well-structured training programmes that cater to both boys and girls from a very young age. These programmes will focus not just on developing football skills but also on overall physical fitness, teamwork and sportsmanship.

Creating a seamless transition from grassroots football to elite youth levels ensures that young talents are nurtured and allowed to progress. This means systematic scouting, regular competitions and continuous monitoring to track player development.

The development programme will also emphasise the importance of education and personal development. Young players will receive academic support to ensure they grow into well-rounded individuals, prepared for life both on and off the pitch.

Implementing modern, scientific training methods and utilising data analytics to monitor and evaluate player performance will be crucial. This will help in making informed decisions about player development and identifying areas that need improvement.

Engaging local communities and encouraging grassroots participation is vital. By organising local tournaments and involving community coaches, we can ensure that football development is accessible to all, fostering a culture of football from an early age.

Establish a strong foundation with organised, age-appropriate (ages 6-12) training and competitions. Focus on both boys and girls to ensure inclusivity. Young players will be taught the basics of the game, emphasising fun and learning to foster a love for football.

Create a seamless transition from grassroots to elite levels (ages 13-20/21). Implement scientific training methods and regular evaluations to track player progress. At this stage, players will receive more specialised training, focusing on honing their skills, tactical understanding and physical conditioning.

With a strong base, our senior teams will benefit from a continuous pipeline of well-trained, experienced players. The senior team will draw from a pool of players who have been nurtured through a consistent and high-quality development system, ensuring readiness for international competitions.

The National Sports College at Winneba will be the hub of this transformation. Coaches and technical experts, including regional developmental coaches, will be crucial in executing this plan.

Notable names such as Anthony Edusei, Prof. Kwame Mintah, Abubakari Damba, Emmanuel Addotey, Dr Prince Kofi Pambo, Hajia Zelia, Kwame Osei-Ofosu, Sarpong Yaw Joseph, Ernest Acheampong, and Mas-Ud Didi Dramani will play key roles.

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Regular monitoring and evaluation will be key to adjusting our strategies and ensuring we stay on the right path. This includes scientific assessments, feedback loops and data-driven decision-making. Continuous feedback will help in fine-tuning the programme and making necessary adjustments to improve player development.

Using tools such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for age verification, we can ensure that players are competing in the correct age categories. This will help prevent issues such as age cheating that have plagued our football in the past and ensure fair competition.

Best practices, and future

England's recent success in youth football is a testament to the effectiveness of a well-structured development programme. By laying a sound foundation with under-13, under-15, and under-17 teams, they have reaped the benefits, winning the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017, the U-20 FIFA World Cup in 2018, and reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Similarly, France's victory in the 1998 FIFA World Cup and Germany's triumph in 2014 were the results of their systematic approach to youth development.

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Ghana’s West African rivals Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso, as well as South Africa, have all initiated successful developmental programmes. It is time for Ghana to follow suit and leverage our existing resources such as the National Sports College to rebuild our football legacy.

The reboot of Ghana football starts with a solid foundation at the grassroots level, supported by the National Sports College, Winneba. By adopting a structured, systematic approach, we can reclaim our position as a football powerhouse in Africa and beyond. In the next part we will delve deeper into specific action plans and the role of key stakeholders in this transformation.

By investing in our youth, embracing modern techniques and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, we can ensure that the future of Ghana football is bright and promising. Let's take the necessary steps now to build a legacy that will inspire future generations.

The writer was a former Technical Director of the Ghana Football Association, having previously handled top Ghanaian clubs and various national teams

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