Public perception of professional footballers remains one of individuals enjoying the benefits of their secure jobs, and living comfortable lives.
Unfortunately, not every player is in a position to embrace this fervor fully.
For those professional footballers here in Ghana whose expired contracts are not renewed, those who have been released by various club sides, and those adjudged by their employers not to have met the grade, the feeling of uncertainty and unfulfillment tends to pose serious concern.
The stark reality facing such footballers is that of an unpredictable future in the game.
Thankfully, the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana has come to the fore to provide a lifeline to such footballers. In living up to its mantra of seeking the best interests of all Ghanaian professional footballers, the PFAG has introduced the “Out of Contract Training Programme”.
The programme is under the tutelage of renowned ex-Ghana international, Abubakr Damba, who is the technical instructor of the PFAG. Coach Damba, a former Black Stars goaltender, has played locally for Real Tamale United FC and Great Olympics FC in the country’s top flight league. He has also played in Malaysia for Perak FC. He ventured into coaching at the end of his career in Malaysia, and has continued at intermediary and CAF advanced levels in Ghana. He has also participated in a number of certified coaching courses, and aspires to continually be a better coach, who is able to better influence his players positively.
The PFAG’s Victor Hagan (VH) took a trip to the Nania FC Park in Legon, to observe a training session at close quarters, and also give Coach Abubakr Damba (AD) the chance to shed more light on the PFAG’s “Out of Contract Training” programme.
VH: Good morning Coach, that looked to be a pretty detailed session you’ve just put your boys through.
AD: Yes, indeed. Our training sessions always have that competitive edge. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction and inner joy to see that my players respond so well to my technical direction, as you can see. They really apply themselves and give off their best during all our sessions.
I also use these sessions as an opportunity to develop myself to become a better coach. The different scenarios I put them through, with their different characteristics, all come together to set higher objectives for myself.
VH: As one of the founding pillars of the Association, tell us what your role as technical instructor of the PFAG entails?
AD: The concept of the PFAG, as introduced by Tony Baffoe, has served as a real eye-opener to us all in terms of how best to restructure football, and put it into real perspective. The strong bond that exists between the retired players, especially the members of the Black Stars ’92 squad, gave birth to the idea of a professional union which would champion the needs of all the country’s professional footballers.
In my capacity as technical instructor of the PFAG, I am in charge of the programme tailored for our registered members who are currently active, but are out of contract with their club sides.
On the pitch, as their coach, my role involves keeping these players physically and technically fit. I also seek to improve on their football proficiency and competitive maturity on the biggest stages.
VH: As a former international footballer yourself, how challenging has it been for you to transition into this new role helping the current generation of Ghanaian football hopefuls?
AD: My background in the game has really helped in my efforts at bringing this new crop of players to the realization that the PFAG is here for them. Indeed the message of the PFAG has sunk deep, because the players now know that there is a union which has their best interests at heart.
They have been enlightened on the numerous benefits the union provides them, such as a voice seeking fair minimum salary wage to ensure a more comfortable standard of living, the ‘Life after Football’ fund which safeguards their future after they call it a day, and the numerous opportunities that exist after their football careers come to an end.
VH: Tell us about the “Out of Contract” training programme, and what the requirements are for a player to become eligible to partake in the programme?
AD: We know how tough it can be for non-contracted players hunting for new clubs, so we have offered a platform to our members in the hope that they will ultimately gain a professional contract. The programme is a commendable initiative which offers non-contracted players the opportunity to keep active and showcase their talents on a stage which is sure to attract the sort of interest they crave for from clubs. The programme also enables various scouts and coaches the chance to cast an eye over potential signings who are not presently engaged by other clubs.
To be eligible to partake in the Out of Contract training programme, one must be a registered member of the PFAG, haven played in either the Premier League or First Division here in Ghana.
We deal with players whose contracts have run out yet seek to keep in shape in a bid to relaunch their careers.
We also have expert physical trainers to take the players through rehabilitation to recover fully from injuries, for competitive games.
We organize friendly matches with teams so as to expose our “Out of Contract” players to those teams for future considerations and possible engagement.
All our member players are welcome to come over to train with us when the league is on recess, to keep in shape for the upcoming season.
Such seasoned players as Owusu Bempah, Nathanaiel Asamoah, and Philemon MacCarthy have all benefitted from our programme since its inception in 2010.
VH: Can you outline for us how a typical Out of Contract training session plays out?
AD: We train on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. A training session lasts for two and a half hours, starting at 9.00 am prompt.
I set an objective per session for both individual and team development. For example, technical skills like passing, controlling and shooting help individual development.
With the team development, I train my teams to play in their lines functionally, and to respond to specific tasks.
Our training sessions take place on the University of Ghana, Legon pitches, that is, the Ajax, Nania and Mensah-Sarbah pitches.
We also regularly engage in competitive fixtures with top Premiership and lower division teams, to pitch our strengths against theirs.
VH: What are some of the success stories the programme has chalked so far?
AD: I must say the “Out of Contract” programme has already proved to be a massive success, and has impacted positively on the careers of many players.
Readily off the top of my head, I can recount the story of Philemon MacCarthy, a former national goalkeeper, who was tipped for greatness until he sustained an injury and dropped off the radar. He came through the programme here, and we have indeed helped to resurrect his career. He moved on from the “Out of Contract” training programme, earned a contract at Accra Great Olympics FC, from where he moved on to former Premiership campaigners, Dreams FC, and is now successfully plying his trade in the Israeli top flight for Hapoel Afula.
Other players such as Nafiu Iddrisu, who was spotted by scouts while training with us, and has moved on to the Serbian Premier Division, as well as Frank Tieku, now of APOEL Nicosia, are but a few of the numerous success stories we have witnessed from the “Out of Contract” training initiative.
Some of the current crop of players training with us, earmarked to make a positive impact soon, and successfully secure professional contracts for themselves in the near future include the likes of Saeed Adnan, Michael Annan, George Ofori and Daniel Awuni.
VH: By way of conclusion coach, what would you say is your personal goal for the programme?
AD: I wish to take pleasure from seeing those who train under me, successfully relaunch their careers, and to realize their individual dreams, knowing that their success story has been made possible thanks to the key role played by the PFAG.
For the up and coming professional footballers, my wish will be for them to fully mature here, before venturing into greener pastures abroad. The PFAG is here to help. Always remember, we have been there before, and just as our slogan goes, we are now here with you, and for you!
VH: I am most grateful for your time Coach. It is clear that the “Out of Contract” training programme is a very welcome platform provided by the PFAG to Out of Contract footballers, to enable them showcase their talents and to be part of a comprehensive training programme to enhance their physical, tactical and technical skills in front of professional coaches and club administrators in the hope of gaining a much sought after professional contract.
We wish you more grease to your elbow as you continue to execute these duties.