The letter was short, but it’s impact and significance was big.
It was of course, per the developments in recent weeks, very expected. Kevin Prince Boateng, who quit International football in 2011 after just nine caps and a goal, had informed Ghana football association President Kwesi Nyantakyi that he had had a sudden change of heart. “Kevin-Prince Boateng had confirmed to the coach and my good self that he was coming back to play,” Nyantakyi said.
It was right after Ghana had played out a hard fought, crucial win against Sudan on match day four of the World Cup qualifiers. A win that had kept Ghana’s Brazil 2014 dreams alive. A feat that had been achieved, worth noting, without Kevin himself. Ghana would go on to capitalize on then group leaders Zambia’s slip by beating Lesotho 2-0 in Maseru to go top of the table. In pole position to qualify. All without Kevin.
Yet news of his return was given massive, massive attention. And at the expense of the team too. At the expense of the players who were in camp, working hard towards keeping the world cup dream alive. When Ghana had beaten Sudan and were preparing for the Lesotho game, very little attention was given to the match’s build up. All the talk in the local media was centered either around Kevin’s sudden decision or as had happened by then, the Ayews’s decision to return too. It was almost as if most Ghanaians would, without hesitation, choose their return over world cup qualification if they were ever asked to.
The argument has been that Ghana needs their quality. An argument that unfortunately – albeit unconsciously – undermines and possibly insults the pedigree of the players in camp, especially when they seem not to be doing anything wrong. Kwesi Appiah’s squad, often labeled as ‘average’, have per the stats, actually been anything but. Ghana has scored 40 goals in 18 games of which it has won 12 of them, and are on track for a possible third straight World Cup appearance under Kwesi Appiah’s Kevin-less tenure.
Kevin Boateng’s situation is interesting. The player categorically refused to rescind his decision after several efforts – and money – was invested in holding several high profile discussions with him. The coach talked to him, he refused. Players were asked to speak to him, he remained resolute in his decision. Ex-players and respected football people were called upon to intervene too, but it seemed to be one of those”I mean it” decisions. He never even hinted that he would even think about it, that he appreciated the efforts shown to have him back. It was always, always a no. A big no. A kind of no that causes the reality that a nation has gone to it’s knees for a single individual to dawn in a humiliating manner. There is everything wrong with a nation begging someone to do something others equally have the right to do or would even kill to do. Heck, do for free.
Ghana was willing to do anything to have him back – apparently because of his quality. A sort of quality, by inference, so huge it transcends that of any other player’s.Really? One would think this flawed conceptualization of his ‘quality’ would have a strong backing argument. One that would be indubitable. Like….like he having led Ghana to achieve something. Has he? Debatable (Anything he’s done for Ghana that any current team member hasn’t done/can’t match? Any concrete, fact laden argument for his supposed ‘importance’?)
For a nation to create the impression that a player is ‘needed’ is seriously misguided. You hear a club team talking about ‘needing’ a player and it immediately makes sense, as club football’s underlying essence is money and success. Essentially, the acquisition of materials to make this ‘success’ happen is prioritized; players pursued with insane sums of money as if they can do the work of the other 10 players if they were given the chance alone. And it’s understandable when players whose exploits has risen their market value are treated lie Kings and princes, because the concept of ‘need’ makes logical and financial sense.
But with National team football? ‘Need’?
That is utterly disregarding the very principles that make this level of football relevant; pride, honour and commitment. It’s called a national team because it not only embodies a nation’s best players, but players who are of the nation’s blood, love it and want to die for it. It should be an honour representing one’s country. Of course players get paid whilst they are at it, but that is more out of respect and appreciation of their professionalism rather than merely handing out wages for a job done.
The national team is not built to succeed – at least, success is not an imperative. It shouldn’t be. If it was, players would be traded between countries. There’s a reason why Ghana can’t just up and go, “We haven’t won an afcon for 30 years, so we need to go get Drogba and Yaya Toure to beef up our side to increase our chances.” Drogba and Toure are exceptionally good players, but they aren’t Ghanaians. Not every country has a Drogba or a Toure, and it isn’t their fault. There’s a point here. No matter how bad a country’s footballing resources are, they still compete.
Why? Because that is what national teams are about, fielding what you have – what you have being based on who deserves to play (quality) and wants to play (willingness and commitment).
There’s absolutely no need beg a player who doesn’t want to play – not even when they are Messi. It would make sense in the world of club football, as we are all aware of just how massive Messi is to Barca’s success. Barca thrives on that success to survive and remain relevant. Begging a player to represent a national team is a blatant indictment on all other football players in that country, who per their citizenship (and possible quality) deserve a chance too, and especially when they want to play, or deserve a chance to play. National team football is for those who appreciate what it means not for ‘good’ players who will ‘add quality’, especially when the status quo suggests there’s no glaring failure that warrants the need of this ‘quality’. This dilution of the sacrosanctness of national team football is unfortunate. And it will prove even more unfortunate with the inevitable negative energy this ‘joyous’ return will create in camp.
Sometimes when emotions are involved in arguments, too many assumptions are made and mistaken for reality. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve overrated his quality. He might be good, but definitely not worth breaking national team values for. The platform should be for people who want to play (in the worst case, even if they are wack!) and not people who we think have to play. And it’s interesting pro-Kevin arguments make it seem as if his return will turn Ghana into some sort of Germany or Spain, when in fact, there are no guarantees.
Is it too much to ask for appreciation of the honour of representing one’s nation? Even clubs, at times, often witness the intrusion of sensitive values such as loyalty and commitment, when in reality it’s an unfair jungle of insensitive, selfish business dealings controlled by money-hungry mercenaries. And when such pure values are brought up, though they are disconnected from the reality and sound childish, they sometimes make sense. How much more on a level where it’s supposed to be the case?
“According to Kevin, the physical demands of playing for both club and country at high levels are taking a toll on his health.” Remember this? Yes, his reason for quitting. An insult to anyone’s intelligence when we know that there’s nothing more hectic and physically demanding than playing at a World Cup, which he did, and didn’t complain. And now he wants to come back because there aren’t no physical demands or he doesn’t have a club anymore….oh wait!
And no matter the side of the divide you – yes you!- belong to, it’s impossible not to make the connection between the imminent World Cup and his return, and very hard to argue against the fact that this comeback has ‘opportunist!’ written all over it. Kevin knows he would look like a pathetic failure of a footballer watching the World Cup from his sofa in Milan when his mates are playing and making their names on football’s biggest stage.
Who needs who now?
Maybe this is all just uninformed ranting, especially given the fact that he has actually said he wants to return. But we all know, deep down – even if we agree he brings ‘quality’ to the table – that Ghana has been like the stereotypical woman who just can’t tell her manipulative, insensitive boyfriend to ‘go to hell!’
We’ve gone back, though we know, we know, he might just f*ck us over again.