We Need Ten More Sulley Muntaris, Ketchup on Chiellini’s Back and Fenerbache Again
You have to feel sorry for Moses Armah – the poor Ghanaian Football Association official that Sulley Muntari attacked last week. There must have been a moment as Muntari went for him that Armah’s life passed before his eyes. Muntari is one tough pit bull. He is exactly the person you do not want to meet in a dark alley.
However, to start at the beginning: Sulley Muntari does not fix matches; Sulley Muntari wins matches.
He is the Roy Keane of African football. I have respected him since we met in Accra a number of years ago. He impressed with a deep, thoughtful intelligence for the sport and a passion for his country.
Almost alone of the Ghanaian players, at that time, he expressed a desire for the country to stop using foreign coaches. His argument, in essence, was that it was racist nonsense to believe that while Ghana produced so many excellent players, it did not have the coaches that could produce international success.
He is also – surprisingly – a gentleman on the pitch: something that Roy Keane’s best friends could never accuse him of being. On another visit to Accra, I watched him play in a Ghana vs. Nigeria African Nations Cup quarterfinal game.
There are minor rivalries in sport - Glasgow Celtic vs. Rangers, Liverpool vs. Everton or Red Sox vs. Yankees - then there is Ghana vs. Nigeria. The enmity between the countries has all kinds of cultural motivations, but the one enduring memory for Ghana is that during their famine in the early 1980s Nigeria expelled over one million Ghanaians back into their hunger-struck country.
The atmosphere in the stadium was boiling. There was about twenty minutes to go in the match. One of the Nigerian players collapsed with cramp. Muntari walked over to him. Not to boot him the head or tell him to get up. Rather he helped him massage his leg (I am not making this up) then gave him some water.
A few moments later, Muntari set up the wining goal. At the end of the game, he jogged off the field. Job well done.
However, job not well done at the 2014 World Cup by African football officials.
First, in the excellent articles by the Sunday Times, a great number of African football officials were revealed to have accepted money from Mohammed bin Hammam. Ostensibly, they did so in return for their support of the Qatar World Cup bid.
Second, a Nigerian football official (albeit, a minor one) was seemingly caught by the Sun agreeing to fix an international match.
Third, the Cameroonian officials would not pay their team properly, so the players went on strike.
Fourth, a Ghanaian football official (albeit, a minor one) was seemingly caught by the Daily Telegraph agreeing to fix an international friendly match.
Finally, the Ghanaian officials would not pay the Ghanaian team in cash.
With the track record above: is it any wonder the Ghana players distrusted their officials so much that they insist on cash payments?
This is what holds African football back – not the players, nor the coaches, but stupid, disorganized and - occasionally - deeply corrupt officials.
I do not think Moses Armah is stupid, disorganized or corrupt, but at that moment it may have seemed to Muntari that he was a symbol for all that is holding back the sport on that continent.
As for the Suarez ban - what else could FIFA do? Suarez did everything but put ketchup on Giorgio Chiellini’s back before biting into him. Then he flopped over to fake it. Then he continues to deny he is wrong. Then his whiny teammates (and most of his country people) come up with some conspiracy theory that everyone hates them, blah, blah. Please Suarez and Uruguay do grow up.
The Fenerbahçe match-fixing saga.
It just keeps going.
First, they ruined Turkish sport. Then they ruined Turkish politics. Now they are ruining the Turkish judiciary.
Here is the - largely - unspoken truth about Fenerbahçe: they should be the Barcelona of the East. They have an amazing fan base. They have massive amounts of resources. They play attractive football.
However, most of the time they come up short when they play the big boys of European football. In my opinion, this is because they play in such a deeply unbalanced and corrupted league. Most of their matches are like Manchester United playing Darlington. Sure they get three points, but there is no competition.
Fenerbahçe and all of Turkish football needs to be deeply reformed. It needs a Kemal Atatürk to clean it up. It may even need a new regional league where the top four Turkish teams play the top four Greek, Bulgarian and Balkan teams. Boy! I would like to meet the player or referee who has the courage to fix a game featuring the Greeks vs. the Turks. It just would not happen.
PS. Not to canonize Muntari - but you get a measure of the man from this video:
I look forward to seeing a video of African football officials handing out money to poor people.