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Sports Features of Saturday, 9 February 2013

Source: Appiah, Papa

“Ashanti Stars!” – The Demise of the Black Stars

Little decisions define great coaches. The Black Stars played Burkina Faso on the worse pitch anyone has ever seen in an international tournament. So the Burkinabe’s devised a simple strategy – to kick a long ball into the Black Stars’ area anytime they gained possession and get their fast forwards to charge up the field. They believed, and they have been proved right, that with the nature of the field, there was no point attempting man-to-man football. Again, the bounce of the ball on this pitch meant our defenders or goalkeeper could easily make a mistake. These are the little things that make a difference. These are not skills acquired in UEFA licensing courses. They are everyday common sense tactics.

The least said about the decision to take off Wakaso, the better. I believe that Kwesi Appiah, in his quiet moments, would reflect and accept that he made a mistake with that one. Suffice it to say, that in a penalty shoot-out, the least a coach can do is to start with one of the most competent and confident penalty takers to relax the rest of the team. What you do not do is to start with good old Vorsah, an untested player in this department, who’s every step towards the ball, displayed a total lack of confidence and belief. I felt sorry for the guy.

The problem with Kwesi Appiah is that while he was captain of Kumasi Asante Kotoko and the Black Stars several years ago, he has no real coaching pedigree to serve as a yardstick for assessing his competence. After all, being Black Stars captain does not necessary make one a good coach. Anytime I have said this, somebody has mentioned victory against Nigeria in some under-23 game and a gold medal in the All-African games under-23 competition and four years as assistant to the much-maligned Serbian coaches. I am sorry, but if that is the criteria for selecting the national coach of a country like Ghana, then I weep for Ghana soccer.

All over the world, serious football countries select coaches with indisputable proven competence at club level to become national coaches. The national team becomes a kind of “retirement” job for men who have done it all at club level. So Brazil have Scolari, England have Roy Hodgson, Spain have Vincente del Bosque, Germany have Joachim Low. If we are serious about getting to the semi-final of a World Cup, then these are the countries we should compare ourselves with. In the rare example where a person like Klinsmann became German coach, he was surrounded by some of the best brains in German soccer, while he led with his charisma.

Ghana’s most successful local coach, CK Gyamfi, the man who won 3 AFCONS for the country did not come out of the blue to become Black Stars manager. He had proved his coaching acumen at a relatively young age by forming his own club, Ashanti Heroes, and leading them as player and coach all the way to the top division in Ghana. That was an incredible feat that proved to all, that here was a particularly gifted man with a great future in coaching. He then went on to Borussia Dortmund as the first African in the Bundesliga, did his coaching badges when he retired and came down to coach the Black Stars. Anyone who has heard him speak will not doubt the knowledge, intelligence and inspiration this man exudes. Coaching manuals he wrote are still being used all over Africa. That is the kind of quality we are asking for!

National football coaching in a country like Ghana is serious business. It is not about having a pretty face, having friends in the right places, being “loved” by the players or being from the “right” tribe. The curriculum vitae of Kwesi Appiah at senior level reads as follows – Wins against the likes of Lesotho and Malawi, a World Cup campaign in peril, the worse performance by any Black Stars side in AFCON for several years. On what basis are we clamouring for his retention as our national coach? On what records are we vouching for his managerial competence? Or are we simply happy to leave him there, pray very hard and hope for the best because he happens to be a local coach?

There is more to Kwesi Appiah than the “mild-mannered” facade he portrays in public. I remember an incident in the 1992 competition when the captaincy had been rather controversially taken from him and given to Abedi Pele. In the middle of a game, Abedi had to receive treatment on the touchline. We were all surprised to see Kwesi Appiah running to the touchline to try to snatch the armband from Abedi even before a final decision had been made as to whether he was going to continue or not. As it happened, Abedi continued the game. It may have been a small incident but it clearly showed that while Kwesi Appiah played the gentleman and failed to complain in public, he harboured a deep bitterness that I believe has persisted till now.

This is a dangerous guy who has schemed his way to the top job and tried to compensate for his lack of knowledge by playing the tribal card from the bottom of the deck. The Black Stars suddenly became “Ashanti Stars”. Players like Derek Boateng who had hitherto been at the fringes of the team suddenly became spokesmen alongside Agyemang Badu. The Asantehene got caught in the flow. Kwesi Appiah fun clubs were formed in Kumasi and all-night prayer vigils were held for him.

He then pandered to anti-Ayew sentiments in Kumasi by playing the hero and making sure no Ayew was in the team. He even rubbed it in further by giving the cherished number 10 jersey to Danquah Adomah, an Ashanti second division player, woefully incapable of shouldering that huge responsibility. Vorsah was kicked out for Akaminko till the latter showed how rubbish he was. Waris was not even considered despite setting goal-scoring records in Europe. Richmond Boakye-Yiadom was deemed better. Asamoah Gyan, a guy who has had the audacity to withdraw his services from the nation was called back to be captain.

A blatant attempt was made to strengthen an Ashanti clique at the core of the national side, who would stick together and “die” for the course if need be. Unfortunately, as we have witnessed, there is far more to international football than that. We will only succeed with a coach who does not only have the experience and requisite qualifications for such an important job but who also understands, that while individuals may have different characteristics, it is his job to foster unity in the team. Ghana only succeeds when we stand as one people, a nation with a shared and common destiny. Kwesi Appiah must go!

Papa Appiah www.ghanansemsem.blogspot.com

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