The Black Stars 10 series will give the reader an idea of the greatest players to illuminate the Ghana national team in the past 20 years.
You might disagree with some of the picks, and most likely wouldn’t also agree with the order, but the aim is to ensure you enjoy the stories. You can read more about the introduction to the series here.
“John is the rock of Gibraltar. That is what everybody calls him. If he is playing at the back, I don’t have any problem. I don’t doubt,” Asamoah Gyan said this during his early days at Sunderland.
The statement by Ghana’s all-time topscorer was an endorsement of the confidence he had in the center back. The fans of Sunderland seemed to agree with the assessment as they made a special chant for the player.
“Nobody gets past John Mensah but they keep on trying so he sends them flying.”
It is a fair assessment of a rock; Ghana’s special rock. Gyan did the business upfront for the senior national team but John did as much from the heart of defence.
Mensah really stood out in the Black Stars setup. He was 6 feet tall, imposing and never afraid to go in for the challenge when necessary. He had all the tools of a special defender.
In 2001, he was already making strides with the Ghana U20 side, helping them to the final in the World Youth Championship in Argentina. The Black Satellites, unfortunately, lost 3-0 to Argentina but Mensah had provided a very good account of himself and offered hope as Samuel Osei Kuffour was ageing in the senior team setup.
At 22, he was selected for the 2004 Olympics in Greece as a show of faith and he once again lived up to the expectations chalking up some incredible performances. Two years later, he was partnering Kuffour at the back during Ghana’s debut in the World Cup.
Mensah took charge of the defence after Kuffour’s unfortunate error in the opening game against Italy and never looked back. The Black Stars reached the round of 16 in Germany and Mensah was named Ghana Player of the Year, an amazing feat, especially for a defender.
He followed with a remarkable 2008 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament which convinced French giants Lyon to cough up €8.4 million for his services, a record amount for a Ghanaian defender in Europe. The record remained until Mohammed Salisu’s €12 million move to Southampton in August 2020, a hint of how good John was in the nation’s colours.
It was no surprise that he was appointed captain of the Black Stars for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. His impact was beyond tackles and barking out instructions at fellow teammates, he inspired confidence on the pitch and everyone was ready and willing to follow his lead.
Former Black Stars coach, Claude Le Roy was very pleased with his leadership skills ahead of the 2008 AFCON.
“He has handled his role very well as captain,” Le Roy is quoted on ghanafa.org.
“I am so lucky to have him as captain because in addition to being a good leader, he is one of the best defenders in the world.”
Every great player has endured some bad moments on the pitch and Mensah was no exception. In the 2008 AFCON, he received a red card for a bad challenge on Peter Odemwingie in the quarter-final. Fortunately, Ghana won the match 2-1 but missed his presence in the semis against Cameroon. In the end, the Black Stars had to settle for a bronze medal after a 4-2 win over Ivory Coast.
He also received a red card in Ghana’s 1-0 win against Botswana in the group stages of the 2012 AFCON. John, however, went on to score two goals in the tournament after returning into the lineup and earned a place in the 2012 CAF All Stars team. Mensah demonstrated a very strong mentality and has showed it on many occasions in his career.
83 appearances and three goals to his name seems fair for the former Rennes defender but it does not do enough justice to his legendary status.
John brought stability to the back of the Black Stars. He played with passion and was not afraid to take one for the team when necessary. In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was Samuel Kuffour. From 2006-2012, we saw the Rock of Gibraltar take up the mantle and create his own folklore.
For almost a decade, the national team have missed a consistent leader at the back. The void left by the Mensah seems astronomical, but until a replacement is found, the former captain remains Ghana’s Rock of Gibraltar.
Source: Bill Eshun (Joy Sports)