The dream

Wherever you go in Ghana, it is the dream of every soccer player to play in Europe. For many Ghanaians soccer is a way to escape poverty, not just for themselves but for their extended families as well. The Ghanaian soccer infrastructure is weak and there is therefore little perspective for the future in Ghana itself.

Different times
But this has not always been the case. Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, invested heavily into soccer, which helped the Ghanaians have confidence in Ghanaian soccer. It is noteworthy that until the early 1990s few Ghanaian soccer players migrated to Europe, while in other African countries such as Cameroon, Senegal and Mali soccer migration began as early as the 1960 and 1970s. Ghanaian soccer players appeared to have believed in Nkrumah’s dream of a strong and independent Ghana, but protectionism also played a role, which caused various transfers to be prevented.
Accelerated soccer migration
When Nkrumah’s regime fell in 1966 things quickly went downhill with Ghanaian soccer. Facilities that Nkrumah had built were neglected and the fields became unusable. By the end of the 1970s the first soccer players left for Europe and at the beginning of the 1990s soccer migration was in full swing. Ghana’s victory at the Under-17 World Cup in 1991 and the subsequent interest of European clubs in Ghanaian players played an important role in this.
The flip side
In 2010 some 350 Ghanaians were playing outside of Ghana, from the major leagues to semi-professional, most of them in Europe. But there is a flip side to this migration. Trading players is big business nowadays, business in which officials from all levels of Ghanaian soccer are involved. The fact that for every Essien or Appiah there are thousands of boys who do not succeed does not matter much to agents. Often families sell off everything they own in order to pay these agents to arrange an apprenticeship. It is a common occurrence for players to be abandoned if they do not manage to secure a contract in Europe, leaving them in the country illegally, without family, a place to live or money. Furthermore, migration hinders the development of the local leagues.