Tuesday, May 12, 2009

AGORO v. 2.0 - Retooling Ghana Soccer from the Grassroots

My recent post on the Top 10 greatest Ghana soccer players of all time got me thinking about how we manage sports and soccer in Ghana and West Africa as a whole. It is a fact that the West African sub-region has produced some of the greatest to ever play the game period. From former greats like George Oppong Weah, Abedi Pele, Tony Yeboah, JJ Okocha, to present day stars like Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, and Emmanuel Adebayor to name a few.

I have colleagues and friends at work who were born and raised in Germany, France, England, etc who would relate their experiences growing up and learning to play soccer in various leagues and school programs with constant oversight from a trained coach from kindergarten until it was clear that they had talents in other endeavors other than soccer.

I compare that to my experience growing up in the “mean streets” of Dzorwulu in the 80’s and I find the one thing missing from my football experience was structure! By that I mean there was no structure to the way football was organized below the professional level. I will bet not much has changed in that regard. Not that I was any good or would have gotten any better with a little coaching. Far from it! Like my colleageues who grew up in Europe I found my talents in other endeavors. Growing up, we used to walk unaccompanied (much to the dismay of our parents) from Dzorwulu to Abelenkpe, “Last Chance”, and “Pig Farm” to play against other 5-10 year olds in those neighborhoods. We didn’t have a coach to direct us on when and how to pass the ball, team defense, diagonal passes etc. Indulge me for a moment as I establish my case:

  1. How come West Africans account for a significant percentage of the top players in the professional leagues in Europe but we still haven’t won the World Cup?
  2. How come Egypt is the current and two-time African Champion (Egypt has won the Africa Cup 5 times in all - more than any other country on the continent) when you can’t name a single Egyptian player who is having a significant impact on the game at the professional level in Europe.

  3. How come none of the West African football power houses have a native coach for their senior national team? Name one! Go ahead! I’m waiting. Ghana? Nigeria? Ivory Coast? Togo? Cameroun? Senegal?

Ghana’s style of play has been famously called “Agoro” which literally means “having fun” or “playing”. What exactly is the “Agoro” style of play? Can we define it? Can we write books about it and teach 5-10 year olds? Isn’t it strange that we need a European coach to teach and manage “Agoro” on the senior national team level when he never played or studied “Agoro” in his life?

In America ,we hear about “Phenoms” like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams, etc. It is no secret that NBA scouts were attending LeBron James’ games in middle school. I believe the only way you know a “Phenom” when you see one is that you have a structure in place. That way, you have a process and a “unit of measure” to compare against. Whereas a “Phenom” is naturally very talented you cannot guarantee their success without a process and a structure that teaches the games. It is often said there are a lot of basketball players as talented as Michael Jordan in the ghetto. The reason they didn’t play on Michael’s level is simple – they never submitted themselves to the structure that produced Michael. So the 5 foot 5 inch guy who masters the structure by playing college basketball organized by the NCAA is better able to contribute more to the game and is paid millions to play professionally whereas the ghetto version of Michael Jordan is still….well, in the ghetto.

Enough said! It’s time to reboot “Agoro” as we know it today. Not change the style, because God knows our style of playing soccer reflects our culture and DNA like nothing else. Just organize it better! Can you imagine how many Michael Essien’s we could produce if we had a structure to football in Ghana?

Here’s my suggestion:

  1. Document “Agoro” and teach it so a 5year old or better yet a Makola woman can understand it. What is it? What is the best way to play in the “Agoro” system? What are the essential pieces you need to effectively play “Agoro” (just like Phil Jackson's triangle offense needed a small forward who could play the point like Scottie Pippen)? Do you need a right full back who doubles as a midfield winger?

  2. Organize football leagues for age groups 5-10 years, 10-15 years (if a player is any good, we will know by 16 (change his official age to 10...shhhhh...) and quickly sign him to a local premier league team coming off the bench).

  3. Let every kid have a choice of playing organized football in school or in their neighborhoods under a trained coach. (if only we had this structure we will quickly realize that we need 4 or 5 soccer field in every neighborhood and we just can’t build homes on every piece of land available….sorry I had to throw that in there!)

  4. Organize yearly regional and national championships to showcase the best amateurs.

There are larger economic and cultural benefits to having more structure to our sports that I hope to address in future blogs.

Long Live Agoro! Long live Ghana!


  1. Hi Kodjo just came across your blog and I liked it. Just a few pointers. Egypt has won the Africa cup 6 times. 2 more than Ghana.
    Our African way of playing and in doing most things is innate.This is why we are very creative in the arts and sports. We do not succeed or achieve the highest standards because of factors such as ignorance.

  2. Once you "document" or "organize" agoro, it becomes WORK.
    I think when more people come to realize that work is something you can enjoy and be passionate about, we will make progress.