‘Colts’ Football Is Back, and Ghana Would Be Poorer For It
It was with some pride that Kurt Okraku, president of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), announced the return of juvenile football to the country last Wednesday.
And why not?
“This project has been long coming, it has been on the cards for over a year and everyone involved is happy to see it start this time,” he said, after overseeing a long-awaited launch that marked the fulfilment of one of the flagship promises in his 2019 election-winning manifesto.
“Juvenile football is an essential component of football development which is why we decided to bring this league to help build and shape dreams of children in Ghana.”
Okraku is right: juvenile football — or ‘colts’, as it is popularly known and would be referred to throughout the rest of this article — has helped change the lives of many Ghanaians for the better.
He was right about something else, too.
“Our inability to compete at the junior level was as a result of the lack of commitment to juvenile football and now we have done that so hopefully things will get better for us as a country.”
When the new colts season gets underway — coming to a pitch near you, from May 7 — and picks up some momentum, Ghana’s underwhelming displays at international youth competitions over the last decade or so could actually improve.
But that’s probably all there is to it: that — and misty-eyed nostalgia — aside, colts football is good for little else.
It is, in fact, a system that has outlived its usefulness, and which, even at its most efficient, was quite deficient in addressing the biggest challenge of the Ghanaian game: insufficient technical quality.
That isn’t entirely surprising, as many coaches of colts clubs are armed with little more than passion for the game, and are, thus, often inadequately equipped to impart the sort of knowledge required to guide these kids beyond the basics.
Oh, the club owners?
Well, most are only in the business to make a healthy profit off player sales, even if that isn’t so healthy for the development of these youngsters.
Raw talent and a win-right-now-and-at-all-costs mentality can only get you so far, and the consequences of taking shortcuts (age-cheating, etc.) to the top usually come back to bite the players — and the country — much later.
So little time and effort, if any, is committed to instructing these would-be professionals in football’s modern ways — technique and game intelligence, character development, and a generally well-rounded football education — at ages when nothing could be more important.
Football, today, is as much science as it is art, and the popular belief held by many this side of the Atlantic that the streets breed footballers no longer holds true.
Put simply, street football — which is what, at its very core, the colts model thrives on — doesn’t raise world-beaters; it did before, maybe, but no more. These days, they are cultured on the petri dishes of academies — and quite successfully, too.
It’s hard imagining even natural gems like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Kylian Mbappe turning out as the valuable jewels they now are if solely reliant on their gifts and without nurturing from the elite academies from which they emerged.
Yet here we are, celebrating the revival of the same colts system that has produced tons of half-baked footballers and also failed to elevate our game to the heights it is capable of reaching.
A strategy which either replaces that with the academy model, or which combines the best of both, is Ghana’s surest path to catching up and rolling with the rest of the world.