Plane laden with cash on the way, Ghana team told
A PLANE laden with cash has descended into Brazilian airspace, or so Ghana's national soccer team were told yesterday, and the question for each player shifted away from how to stop Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo or whether they had a realistic chance to advance to the second round of the World Cup.
What would they do with all the cash - as much as US$130,000 (S$162,000) worth per man - especially when any criminal with evil intent is aware they have it?
Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah buried his face in his hands at a news conference, trying to contain his laughter.
Christian Atsu, a 22-year-old midfielder, did not even try, bursting out laughing at the seemingly absurd events.
"That is a difficult question," Atsu said, pausing for a moment before laughing again. "I think we will keep it in our bags. We will keep the money in our bags and we love that. And then we will transfer all the money into our accounts."
The Ghanaian players' discontent over the lack of payment had been simmering for days, and exploded on Tuesday when they refused to train - even threatening to boycott their match against Portugal yesterday - until they were paid more than US$3 million in appearance fees, to be divided among the 23 players.
The fragile situation even required an intervention by President John Dramani Mahama, who spoke to the players and assured them the cash would be loaded on a plane and arrive on Wednesday afternoon. "Hopefully, the plane should arrive in an hour or two," he said. "They have taken off already."
It would not be a World Cup without a team threatening a boycott over finances or internal feuds (the upheaval that affected the French national team in 2010).
This year, Cameroon's players demanded their money in crisp bundles before leaving for Brazil. According to one Cameroonian journalist, the players received their cash in Puma sports bags. Some left the money with family members in Cameroon, and others took it with them to Brazil.
Fifa, dreading a boycott by Ghana, was also involved in the negotiations, and the deputy sports minister of Ghana said on Citi FM radio in Ghana that the amount on the plane exceeded US$3 million.
But why cash?
"The practice in Ghana has always been, you pay the money to the players in cash, and that has always been the way all these years," Appiah said. "Some of the players don't even have an account in Ghana. The system in Africa is totally different from Europe's. I am not saying that it is the best way. But you are coming from a different area and you need to understand the differences."
These have been trying times for Appiah despite Ghana's surprising 2-2 draw with Germany. He acknowledged a training ground flare-up with his star player, Kevin-Prince Boateng, but said it had been resolved.
He and his countrymen have also faced reports that the Ghanaian association has been tainted by match-fixing allegations at the youth level, which it has denied.
But for the players, the immediate concern was the delivery of bags of neatly piled denominations - they would not say what currency, or exactly how much.
"I don't think it is a good thing to reveal it to the media," Appiah said, adding: "The players would kill me."
Both he and Atsu promised that even if the bags were full of pretend money, they would still play yesterday, and play to win, hoping for the United States to lose.
"It would be bad if we lose the game because we are thinking about the money," Atsu said. "Even if we don't get the money, we will put everything behind us, because the whole world is watching us."