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Sports Features of Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Source: Joe Aggrey/Finder Sports

Kwasi Appiah shows sterner self

If there was one area where even some well-wishers of Kwasi Appiah feared he would fall short when he was offered the job as coach of the Black Stars, it was the ability to be decisive in maintaining discipline among the playing body and be his own man

That feeling could have had its basis from a certain perception many have of Appiah. Since his playing days, he has been known as gentle, quiet and unassuming, but effective. This became even more evident when he led the Black Stars to qualify for the African Cup of Nations in 1992 under the late German coach, Burkhard Ziese, after 10 years of failed attempts.

Not even the capricious decision pay him back by stripping him of the captaincy on the eve of Senegal 92, based on the flimsy, laughable excuse that Appiah didn’t speak French, could affect his cool demeanor, at least not outwardly.

Even though eventually that decision would lead to a certain degree of factionalism in the Black Stars, nobody could accuse him of being responsible for the ghost of that tactless move which was to haunt the team for a long time.

It was against this background of a man who had gained a reputation of being incapable of hurting a fly, coupled by the fact that even as an assistant, Appiah was not known to be assertive, that had influenced some people to doubt his ability to hold firm the ship which was not without a few prima donnas.

Seven months into the job, he has done more than enough to remove substantially those cobwebs of doubt. This he has done by still remaining cool and unassuming, whilst revealing a trait which many had not previously associated with the soft-spoken tactician. Not only has he been able to show that he is his own man by the players he has selected into the team for both the World and African Cup qualifiers but also by the way he has amply demonstrated that he isn’t afraid to drop ‘big’ names, who were without clubs or lacked quality playing time with their teams.

Even more important is the message he sent out to all and sundry by the way he handled that incident involving Andre Dede Ayew, whose behavior on being substituted during the last AFCON qualifier against Malawi was frowned upon by the coach. Having failed to quietly resolve the outcome of that act of indiscipline by one of the rising stars of the team, Appiah went public to demand an apology from the Olympique Marseilles player.

That Ayew promptly responded by publicly apologizing to the coach, the rest of the technical and playing team and the Ghana Football Association has shown beyond doubt that the player took the ultimatum seriously, even though one might have some problems with the long, winding, even legalistic tone, with references to ‘alleged indiscipline’ et blah, blah in similar vein.

Indeed, without attempting to belabor the point, one would wish to admonish that in future such apologies should better be made to show more remorse than veiled attempts at justifying wrongdoing. However, the more important issue at stake is that a player misconducted himself, an apology was demanded by the coach, it has been delivered and accepted. End of matter, let’s move on.

I guess all are painfully aware of the role acts of indiscipline played in the Black Stars failure during the last AFCON finals and therefore see the urgent need to nib any traces of player misconduct in the bud before the team makes another bid to end the country’s 30-year cup drought in South Africa next year.

Incidentally, Kwasi Appiah’s show of resolve and steel under his cool exterior was followed by his decision to name a new substantive captain for the side in the person of striker Asamoah Gyan. His choice which, I’m certain followed extensive consultations with all the major stakeholders, including the GFA and some senior players, has been generally well-received.

Making John Mensah, who apart from battling injuries and has been ‘clubless’ for some time now, is a good move. Mensah has served his nation and team well and it would have been a sign of ingratitude to have replaced him just like that. Of course, it would have been very strange, if Appiah, who was himself a victim of such thoughtless action in the past, had resorted to treating Mensah in similarly shabby manner.

It is interesting that all these developments took place just before the draw for the next AFCON finals. Ghana is Group B with DR Congo, Mali and Niger and I’m happy no one has started making any wild predictions about the Black Stars getting a comfortable draw. Previous experiences have made all of us wiser and more cautious in our outlook.

But what is gratifying and indeed reassuring is that Kwasi Appiah, at the helm, has shown us his other side just in time. That he won’t take any nonsense nor take any prisoners when it comes to discipline would be half the battle won as he prepares to break that jinx which has haunted Ghana since 1982. One can only wish him the best.

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