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Sports Features of Thursday, 7 February 2013

Source: Christopher Opoku

Is it time for snap decisions or for long term solutions?

I am writing this article at a time when tempers are quite high in Ghana following the Black Stars’ loss to Burkina Faso on penalties at the 2013 African Nations Cup in South Africa.

Many are asking how it is that Burkina Faso is able to eliminate the Black Stars and indeed head coach Kwasi Appiah is now the target of savage criticism from many Ghanaian fans, with many calling for his head after the defeat.

This piece will not only attempt a post mortem over Ghana’s campaign, but will also seek to ask whether it is time to take a snap decision, given that Ghana has World Cup qualifiers to negotiate, or work towards a long term future of the team.

I will begin by examining a few issues, which I feel can be discussed now that the Black Stars are out of contention.

The Omission of the Ayew brothers

As long as the competition was ongoing and the Black Stars had a chance of winning the trophy, discussing the omission of Andre and Jordan Ayew from the team was not relevant. Now that the dust is settling on another campaign which resulted in the popular refrain, “so near and yet so far’, that issue can now be actively discussed.

As far as I know and thanks to some digging, it was clear that the writing was on the wall for the Ayews after Ghana’s 2-0 win against Malawi in Accra.

Someone high up at the Ghana Football Association told the Black Stars technical bench that the two brothers could not be selected at the same time because they were disruptive influences in camp.

Indeed, the original plan was to drop Andre Ayew from the Black Stars, but fearing the backlash that would have resulted, Jordan Ayew received the axe, despite the fact that he was having a good season with Marseille and with the paucity of effective strikers available, he would have been a good option upfront for Ghana.

Indeed Kwasi Appiah failed to explain why he had omitted the 21-year-old striker. In Andre Ayew’s case, failure to adhere to a deadline to report after sustaining a hamstring strain led to his axe from the team.

I am reliably informed that Andre’s dropping sparked celebrations in the Black Stars camp in Abu Dhabi because a few of the players have issues with him.

In my view, the Ghana Football Association is guilty of showing a shocking lack of effort in man-managing so-called problem players.

Even though I felt the squad could have won the trophy (I will come to the reasons why we didn’t in a bit), Andre and Jordan would have helped the squad if present.

Is the GFA saying that problem players cannot be man-managed into producing their best for Ghana? Why do we like cutting our noses to spite our faces?

If a player like Mario Balotelli can be man-managed, then for goodness sake why could these two players not be man-managed?

Indeed the two players could have been sat down and GFA bigwigs should have pointed out the error of their ways to them, as well as settling any petty disputes others may have had in camp with them.

Instead they were left out with the convincing excuse of lack of discipline. I am told that the father of the boys, former Black Stars captain Abedi Ayew ‘Pele’ had to be constantly man-managed, even from the time that Opoku Nti was the team captain, because of his importance to the team.

I am not encouraging indiscipline in any form, but clearly, every team would have maverick players who would do things different from the norm. Such players, if properly man-managed, can produce magic.

Sir Alex Ferguson had to contend with one of the world’s most controversial players, Eric Cantona and he did a superb job of man-managing him. Harry Redknapp did a similar job on Paolo Di Canio at West Ham United and more recently, Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli coaxed performances from Mario Balotelli, who destroyed Germany on his own in last year’s Euro semifinal.

With Richmond Boakye Yiadom injured and Emmanuel Clottey not retaining the trust of the technical bench, would it not have made sense to select Jordan Ayew? Indeed what about Abdul Majeed Waris?

Instead we were left with a striker who has lost more than a yard of pace (Asamoah Gyan) and as is always said, a lead striker should score goals when needed, as Emmanuel Emenike has done so well for Nigeria.

More on Gyan later, but the GFA should stop being lazy with regard to man-managing perceived problem players! We stand to lose if this is not done!!

The curious case of Asamoah Gyan

When Asamoah Gyan left Sunderland for Al Ain, the move sparked a lot of debate over the wisdom of the move.

At the time, the general consensus was that $200,000 a week in wages was too good to turn down and as such, it was a prudent financial move, but in footballing terms, a foolhardy one.

Clearly Gyan’s time in the Emirates has lost him more than a yard of pace and blunted his sharpness. My colleague Gary Al Smith wrote an article detailing why the team captain needed to start from the bench and even though that evening Gyan scored against Niger, clearly the article from Al-Smith had a ring of truth.

The only problem was that if Gyan was to be dropped from the starting lineup, there were no options on the bench. I am being brutally honest here because as mentioned earlier, Boakye Yiadom was injured and Clottey did enough to show that he wasn’t the answer to Ghana’s striking conundrum.

It is safe to say that Gyan is approaching the twilight of his career with the Black Stars unless he moves to a more competitive league and whilst his experience will stand him in good stead, clearly that is not enough to make him as sharp as he was when he scored that equalizer against England in March 2011.

Going forward, it is time to search for a replacement for Gyan because frankly, in terms of goal scoring, his performances fell short.

No direct replacement for John Mensah

I was seated with ex-Black Stars and Hearts of Oak defender Joe Addo during a program on Ghana Television over a week ago and he made a telling comment.

According to him, there is a difference between a centre half and a central defender, noting that centre backs are essentially stoppers who can be relied upon to mark out dangerous players whilst the central defender is the organizer at the back who reads the game well enough to cut out dangerous balls.

He mentioned that the current Black Stars had no central defender in the squad, describing the likes of John Boye, Isaac Vorsah, Jerry Akaminko, Awal Mohammed and Jonathan Mensah as stoppers or centre halves.

In other words, there was no player to inherit the mantle left by former team captain John Mensah.

Even though Ghana has conceded 3 goals in 5 games so far, clearly neither Boye nor Vorsah led from the back and that led to many anxious moments, even though to be fair, both did their best.

So going forward, the technical team needs to find a player who can lead the backline like a fit John Mensah did with distinction.

Tactical mistakes on the day in question.

Kwasi Appiah clearly is a man learning on the job and the 2013 African Nations Cup has been a steep learning curve for the ex-Black Stars and Asante Kotoko captain.

Before I touch on the mistakes he made in the match against Burkina Faso, I would like to discuss his imprint on the team from the first game.

The experiment of playing Kwadwo Asamoah was one that was doomed to failure and indeed it cost us dearly in the game against DR Congo.

It was good to see that Appiah acknowledged that and brought Harrison Afful to left back whilst welcoming Isaac Vorsah back from injury. That solidified Ghana’s defence against Mali and resulted in three clean sheets.

Again, after having a shocker against DR Congo, Derek Boateng was benched and Rabiu Mohammed took his place in front of the back four. Rabiu did so well that Ghana did not concede until he was inexplicably replaced against the Stallions on Wednesday night.

More on that in a bit, but fielding Rabiu was one of Appiah’s successes in giving the Black Stars a solid base from which to attack.

Albert Adomah’s inclusion helped make Ghana’s right flank very strong and since Adomah was crossing good balls as well as tracking back to help John Paintsil, he was considered a shoo in for the right wing in every match. Evidently, this was not so.

With all this as a background, it was surprising to see Adomah benched for the Burkina Faso game because his direct play would have troubled the Stallions, and even when Paintsil got injured, he was left on the bench with Solomon Asante going on instead. It is no coincidence that the Stallions got their equalizer by closing down on Ghana’s right side.

Again, even though Rabiu Mohammed had received a yellow card ruling him out of the next match, it made no sense to replace him with Derek Boateng so early in the second half, especially when he was not going to be involved in Ghana’s next match. That substitution further broke down our midfield, especially with Emmanuel Agyemang Badu having an off day.

Mubarak Wakaso was therefore doing the job of two men and he was doing very well. In my view if Clottey was to come on, it should have been for Gyan. Instead, Wakaso was inexplicably withdrawn for Clottey. With that, Ghana lost more attacking thrust from midfield and indeed a hole was created during the penalty shootout because Wakaso, who has converted all his spot kicks for Ghana so far, had already been benched. Talk about a short sighted approach to things and you will not be far from right.

Again, with a fit Richard Kissi Boateng on the bench, why Kwasi Appiah moved Kwadwo Asamoah to left back was mind boggling. It robbed the team of much needed creativity and if the experiment failed in the group stages, why was it expected to work in the semifinal of all matches?

Pitch and Officiating

The football pitch played a minor role in ensuring that both Ghana and Burkina Faso players had difficulty controlling the ball and the Confederation of African Football has to carry the can for being criminally negligent. Surely the games there could have been played elsewhere, since that pitch has caused injuries to the Stallions’ Alain Traore and Mohammed Koffi, Ghana’s John Paintsil and two key players from Ethiopia among others.

In terms of officiating for the Ghana v Burkina Faso game, Slim Jedidi did himself no favours by having a terrible game.

I say this without fear or favour because for starters he was not protecting the players, especially Ghana players who were on the receiving end of crunching tackles from the Stallions.

Secondly, he was so blatant in showing bias against Burkina Faso that it was untrue. He denied the Stallions an early penalty and also ruled out a legitimate goal, as well as giving several questionable decisions against them.

His decision to send Jonathan Pitriopa off encapsulated a horrible day for the Tunisian official who could be accused of doing everything to ensure that the Black Stars qualified for the final.

Decision time

Even though I am aware that some are already saying that Kwasi Appiah should be sacked because the same thing happened to his predecessor Goran Stevanovic for failing to at least reach the final last year, plus the fact that certain mistakes he made ultimately led to the loss, I will advise against taking the snap decision to sack him.

For all his mistakes, Appiah has restored team unity, a far cry from what happened last year and in the likes of Rabiu and Wakaso, a foundation is being built for the future.

Appiah is also responsible for making the goalkeeping department competitive again, especially from Fatau Dauda’s excellent performances.

Appiah will have learnt from this experience and it will have made him a better coach and a better man.

Some continuity is needed so that he carries on rebuilding the team. Sacking him now will mean bringing in a new coach whose philosophies will be different and as a result, new players will be called up which will slow the rebuilding process.

Such a move could also spell disaster because with impending World Cup qualifiers coming up, the squad that went to South Africa should rather be built on, especially with the impending return to the team of an experienced player like Sulley Muntari and the Ayews.

Rather, a player like Derek Boateng looks to have played his last tournament and probably should be phased out.

Let me conclude by saying that these are my thoughts and suggestions. Only time will tell if the GFA will work towards a long term future for the Black Stars, or take snap decisions like axing Kwasi Appiah.

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