Ah, kids — they grow up too quickly, don’t they?
But sometimes you just wish they wouldn’t; that they stay as adorable as they are, never getting all grown and bruised by the harsh realities of life.
As far as ‘kids’ go, none have been as adorable as the bunch of Ghanaian U-20s who won Africa’s first Fifa World Cup at that level 12 years to this day, leaving us with a scrapbook of everlasting memories: of Sellas Tetteh’s one-shirt wonder, of Bright Addae’s ascending praise after Dominic Adiyiah converted his penalty to spare the former’s blushes, of goalkeeper Daniel Agyei’s big saves, of Adiyiah’s rich goal-scoring form, of Andre Ayew’s drive, of Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu’s winner, and of a dark Cairo sky illuminated by Ghana’s Satellites.
Those young men buzzed with class all through, but also with desire and fortitude, oozing these traits against each opponent they faced at the tournament: Uzbekistan, England, Uruguay, South Africa, South Korea, Hungary, and Brazil. That they played teams from four continents en route to glory — without defeat — made Ghana’s youth world-beaters in the truest sense of the word.
Okay, let’s admit it: in the end, we were left wondering just how — after playing over 80 minutes with 10 men and on the ropes for much of that time, aside missing two penalties in the ensuing shootout — Ghana won it against the bright Brazilians. Still, losing would have been hard on Ghana — not that it looked any better on poor Brazil, of course — and it’s perhaps only fair that the Black Satellites secured the title to complete the beautiful mosaic they had put together in those three weeks.
And then – here comes the part that’d get you wincing — they grew up, so fast and not so good. To be honest, a fair number from that batch of graduates served Ghana well at the following year’s Africa Cup of Nations and FIFA World Cup, with the likes of Andre Ayew and Jonathan Mensah still relevant in the national conversation. Agyemang-Badu maintained a presence for a good while, too, but, even for some of those who made the honor roll on graduation day, there just haven’t been enough success stories to go around.
Adiyiah, top-scorer and overall best player at the championship, made a giant leap to Italian club AC Milan soon afterwards but followed it with a plunge that would sink him to Thailand’s second tier before long. Strike partner Ransford Osei, arguably a better forward all-round than Adiyiah, failed to overcome a succession of injuries that blocked his own path to greatness.
Mohammed Rabiu, for a while, looked like the sort of midfield gem who would ease the challenge of replacing a fading Michael Essien, but he got lost somewhere along the line. Daniel Opare might have had a real chance at Real Madrid, but then life happened. Then there is Samuel Inkoom: effaced, too. For these and others like Agyei (who never really made the Black Stars’ No.1 spot his, regrettably), there is a truth learnt the hard way: growing up is overrated.
Even Tetteh — the head coach and mastermind — himself has seen his career underwhelm somewhat. Any lingering hopes of ever being handed the reins of the Black Stars appear extinguished, although an improved résumé — bettered by another medal, this time bronze, at the competition’s 2013 edition — has helped him land jobs with the Rwandan and Sierra Leonean national sides.
All of this hurts, yes, but perhaps there is some consolation in knowing that not many from that international ‘Class of 2009’ now compete at elite level for club and/or country: Cesar Azpilicueta, Ander Herrera, Jordi Alba (all of Spain), Kieran Trippier (England), Peter Gulacsi (Hungary), and Douglas Costa (Brazil) are names that readily spring to mind but, behind them, the queue of distinguished alumni doesn’t get much longer.
Alas, the sun set far too fast!
Many in Ghana’s winning squad have indeed drowned in football’s ever-widening, ever-deepening pool of lost boys but, hey, why brood over what could have been when what was remains very much what is, at least in our collective memory?
These ‘kids’, in a weirdly Peter Pan-esque sense, never really grew up — and that might not be a bad thing after all.
Yaw Frimpong — Ink &Kicks