Has Ghana's Midfielder Michael Essien "Gone Nuts"?

Has Ghana and Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien "gone nuts"? That is the view being forcibly expressed by fans in Ghana radio phone-ins as well as across the globe on the internet in the wake of Essien’s decision to launch a foundation. The midfielder’s long-overdue decision to start the Michael Essien Foundation to help provide basic amenities in his native Ewutu is laudable but the timing of the launch has raised serious concerns for his country. The real motives of the charity has also attracted negative publicity for Essien as his quest to directly collect money from football fans, mostly poor people, has also not gone down well. According to the BBC, ‘Essien and some of his Ghana team mates will also be there, a day before they meet Mali in the last game of Africa's marathon road to South Africa 2010.’ This development is worrisome for the continuous progress of the Black Stars as the act to launch the foundation in Accra, few hours before a World Cup qualifier in Kumasi, smacks of a total disrespect for the Ghana colours and insolence towards their opponents Mali. In short, the personal desire of Essien is now superseding the national interest. The fact that players of the Black Stars will abandon camp in Kumasi to travel to Accra till the early hours of Sunday before driving back just before the Mali game, means the players are not taking the game seriously. This also means the Ghana Football Association and Black Stars coach Milovan Rajevac have lost control over their players who now dictate to them to the detriment of the nation. I will find it hard to believe the efficient Black Stars management committee boss Fred Pappoe and well-organized Rajevac would accede to the precarious request of Essien, unless the Chelsea ace and his advisors want to push their weight about by threatening to withdraw him from the game. This has the potential of returning us to the early 1990 era when certain players dictated to the authorities which ultimately destroyed the star-studded squad – with other players feeling inconsequential in the squad. If the GFA accedes to Essien’s request what would it do if players like Stephen Appiah, John Mensah, John Pantsil, Sulley Muntari, Eric Addo, Richard Kingson and Laryea Kingston as well as Mattew Amoah come up with similar wacky demands? The answer is simple – the destruction of the Black Stars begins! While Ghanaians are complaining, it has also become the predominant query in the minds of Fifa and Caf officials from Zurich to Cairo. For the football governing bodies, the message is that Ghana is not taking World Cup qualifiers seriously as they have already qualified for the tournament but the history of football is littered with instances of countries being reprimanded for not taking their games seriously. There are also consequences for Ghana’s Fifa ranking if the Black Stars lose the Mali game. They will subsequently be placed in difficult groups at the 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations because of the low Fifa ranking. Essien has also come in for the flak for the way he intends to raise money for the Michael Essien Foundation. Is this the best way for the wealthy Essien to raise funds by appealing to fans to buy tickets to his dinner dance for up to US$2,000, when the vast majority of supporters in Ghana are poor? Other football stars like Craig Bellamy, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs have donated their own monies for similar projects in Africa, so why can’t Essien donate some of £120,000 per week he earns or even appeal to his rich friends to donate towards such a noble cause? Essien’s critics are beginning to sniff an opportunity - it may suddenly have dawned that offering an expensive dinner dance to the poorest, might not go down well in the middle of the economic crisis in Ghana, where his PR fate will be decided. While this concern is peripheral, the fact that the Chelsea star and his advisors are attempting to take the national team for granted is likely to earn him a fresh detested figure among Ghana football fans. Essien’s image was nothing from squeaky clean three years ago when he was a public hate figure for Ghanaians and African football fans because of his absence at the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt. And now some feel the circumstances now are no less distressing than the one that first propelled him to the negative attention of the local and continental media. Since the 2006 fiasco, carefully crafted articles in the Ghanaian media have warmed him to his home fans in recent times. The Ghanaian media and fans are looking on with utter dejection as what was meant to be a reasoned cause, descending into a familiar scene of embarrassment. As such, they say the PR disaster over the mistimed dinner dance is the likely handiwork of a "more loyal than the king brigade" that perpetually surrounds the Chelsea ace. There is no way, they argue, that Essien will allow this "coterie of sycophants" to fritter away the goodwill that he has won over the last three years.