“On April 11, 2022,” Kurt Okraku, president of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), wrote on social media this week, “I arrived in Madrid without any contact but with a singular ambition to find a talent who can contribute to our common destiny.”
Heroic Okraku may have had no prior contact with that “talent” he went in pursuit of, Athletic Bilbao star Inaki Williams, but he was definitely armed with more than just “a singular ambition”. He also had, poking out of his pocket, a pitch: a ticket to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Only last October, Williams – born 28 years ago to Ghanaian parents in Bilbao, Spain – made known that he didn’t “feel Ghana 100%”, urging that the chance to play for the west African nation be offered to those who actually had the desire and the will. Some seven years of trying to get Williams to choose Ghana over Spain had come to naught, rather conclusively, but the situation would turn around in a matter of months – days, in fact.
All it took, seemingly, was Ghana qualifying for Qatar 2022 in March this year; now that was a charm even Williams, self-confessed Basque at heart, couldn’t resist. A reaction on Twitter to a tweet about the composition of Ghana’s group at the upcoming Mundial, on April 1, was a not-so-subtle hint at a possible change of mind.
That may have been Okraku’s cue; ten days later, he was in the Spanish capital to follow up on that perceived interest and seal the deal. Williams, along with four others – including Brighton & Hove Albion’s Tariq Lamptey – have completed nationality switches and are now available to play for Ghana.
There is, of course, no shame in going to considerable lengths to persuade and ‘recruit’ foreign-born/bred players with the noble intention of boosting the national team’s ranks, as recently successful African sides have found out; Algeria and Senegal, the last two winners of the Nations Cup, for instance, couldn’t have done without those converts.
But the aforementioned countries – and others like them – didn’t exactly need a World Cup berth to make their case. That suggests they had a project, a proper proposal, to sell to these players, some of them sufficiently high-profile.
Ghana, though, appear to have none of that allure on offer.
The last ‘big name’ to have nodded in the Black Stars’ direction, before Williams and Lamptey, was Kevin-Prince Boateng… and that was back in 2010 when – surprise, surprise – Ghana were, again, warming up for an edition of the Mundial. Chances are we wouldn’t be seeing another major switch until 2026, when the next World Cup comes along – if Ghana do qualify.
But, oh, what if they don’t?
Flip the calendar to 2030, then?
Clearly, such a hit-and-miss approach to this whole recruitment thing is unfeasible, unreliable, and unsustainable. There must be a comprehensive plan to make playing for the Black Stars a more appealing prospect, one that works even in a non-World Cup year.
That would afford the team’s technical handlers enough time to meld the pieces into a solid unit long before the World Cup is due, rather than hurriedly throw them all together with mere months to go in the hope that something worthwhile emerges out of it – as head coach Otto Addo and his staff now have the unenviable task of doing.