Ghana’s history with the CHAN — a competition that’s just a little over 15 years old, and open only to African players plying their trade in their homeland — is a rather interesting one.
The Black Galaxies (known then as the ‘Local Black Stars’) appeared at the inaugural edition in 2009 and advanced to the final, where they missed out on the chance to become maiden champions courtesy of a 2-0 defeat to DR Congo.
Milovan Rajevac’s team was quite solid, even featuring players who’d go on to shine for the Black Stars proper, the senior national team, in years to come. Yet, against a Congolese side that had almost half of its members playing for TP Mazembe, African club football’s dominant power by the end of that decade, the ambitions of Rajevac — a year before his remarkable debut at the Fifa World Cup made the Serbian famous — and his charges were extinguished, cruelly crushed by the elfin Tresor Mputu and Co.
That disappointment, though, was nothing compared to what transpired at the next CHAN tournament. The Galaxies, steered by veteran coach Herbert Addo (now deceased), finished bottom of their group, behind even Niger and Zimbabwe, winless and pointless.
The inquest after that humiliation, suffered by a much-changed squad from the previous campaign but still a collection of what was supposed to be the cream of local talent, was brutal.
In response, at the following tournament, Ghana produced another run to the final — only to lose again, this time on penalties to Libya. The silver lining, though, was that the team had bounced back almost immediately, promptly banishing memories of the misery inflicted two years prior.
The good times were back… or so we thought.
Nobody knew it then, but that was as good as it would get for Ghana, for at least the next nine years, as far as the CHAN was concerned. The Galaxies would miss the three subsequent editions, reducing Ghanaians to spectators each time; a development that, for many, represented an all-too-accurate reflection of the progressively dire state of the domestic game.
Curiously, the Galaxies acquitted themselves rather well at the sub-regional championships in that period, consistently securing podium finishes and even winning a couple of trophies, under the technical leadership of Maxwell Konadu. Qualifying for the CHAN, though, somehow stayed elusive.
But all that changed after Annor Walker was handed the reins, in April 2021.
On picking up his appointment, Walker, never short on confidence, made a bold claim when asked if he was up to the demands of his new job.
“I believe in myself and I know what I can do,” he said on Kumasi FM.
“I’m one of the best, if not the best, in the country.”
His immense self-belief wasn’t without basis.
The 62-year-old had transformed Accra-based Great Olympics, a club hopelessly accustomed to mediocrity in recent years, into one of the more resilient and formidable forces in the Ghana Premier League (GPL). With the Galaxies, too, there was every reason to believe he could excel.
And Walker has, thus far, walked the talk.
Ably assisted by some of the brightest minds in the land, one of them being Dr. Prosper Narteh Ogum, the man who coached last season’s GPL-winning team, Walker overcame West African neighbours Benin and Nigeria to successfully navigate that long and winding path back to the CHAN finals.
The mission is, as always, to prove that the Ghanaian top-flight, a formerly glamorous product that now woefully fails to generate enthusiasm and command any serious attention — low attendance at games has been a concern of considerable gravity — is still worth our hearts and minds and eyeballs and, well, money.
The feel-good factor about our league that the relative successes of 2009 and 2014 brought would be sought once more, generating some momentum to build on.
Getting out of Group C, though, is almost as daunting a task as the prospect of winning the damn thing itself, considering the strength of opposition Ghana expect to be up against. Morocco are favourites to emerge tops, having won the last two editions and being home to the current champions of Africa’s two major inter-club competitions.
It has to be mentioned, though, that the threat they pose would be blunted somewhat by the fact that the Moroccan FA has opted to field U-23s for the tournament; that threat could even be eliminated altogether if, as is rumoured at the time of publication, they do intend to stage a boycott.
Sudan, who have finished third twice at the CHAN in the past and have the advantage of drawing the bulk of their squad from two domestic clubs that rank among the continent’s elite — Omdurman giants Al-Hilal and Al-Merrikh — are most people’s bet to nick the runner-up spot.
That leaves Ghana, two-time finalists, as outsiders, with a hurdle to scale.
It helps that Walker’s preparation has been largely incident-free, except for the couple of key players he’s missing (due, mainly, to the timing of transfers overseas that disqualifies them) and the shock of Ghana’s final warm-up game, against Mozambique on Tuesday, ending some 18 minutes early due to circumstances beyond his control.
Sunday’s opener against Madagascar, the other team in the group, offers the easiest three points Ghana could pick up, and the Galaxies would do well not to miss that chance.
Beyond that lies the real test, not just of an admittedly well-knit team’s strengths, but of whether the product it represents — this seemingly expired league of ours, from which no club has made any significant strides in Africa for many years — is still fit for consumption.
The division, ironically, would be poorer for the absence of its brightest stars for up to three weeks, while the CHAN itself doubles as a market to attract scouts seeking to lure some of the top performers abroad, potentially worsening a predicament — namely, a troubling exodus of quality players — that has been identified as just one of the myriad reasons the GPL is drained of all that once made it exciting.
Still, success — whatever that ultimately proves to be, in Algeria, for Ghana — may ensure that the CHAN is worth all that trouble and, indeed, the long wait.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks