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Sports Features of Sunday, 24 February 2013

Source: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Ghana And World Soccer

Orangeburg, South Carolina.

22nd February, 2013

Last Wednesday, Ghana was the toast of the world in soccer—because Spain’s Barcelona, arguably the best club in the world, was put to the sword by Italian club, A.C. Milan, at the San Siro, courtesy of two goals by Ghana’s Kevin Prince-Boateng and Sule Muntari, in the UEFA Champions league.

Perhaps, the performance by the two former Black Stars’ players, coming right after the African Cup of Nations competition in South Africa where we failed to impress, captures succinctly our predicament. In the last 30 years, despite producing many world-class stars, Ghana’s performance on the international stage has been, to say the least, underwhelming. The only bright spots have been our qualifications for the World Cups in 2006 and 2010. In the Cup of Nations, we have not been Champions since 1982 in Libya. Since then, Brazil has lifted the World Cup twice and yet, many argue that they are in decline.

As usual, following another dismal performance at the Cup of Nations, there is the pretence of a debate into the causes of our steady decline. The Head Coach, Akwasi Appiah has calmly accepted responsibility for the poor performance, as he should. Almost every Ghanaian has become an expert and has an opinion. Some want Coach Appiah fired. Others want him to stay. Some have questioned why Muntari, Boateng, Abedi and a few others were not in South Africa. President Mahama said, “I request the FA and management of the Black Stars must go to the drawing board and come up with a formidable team to take us to the World Cup.” The Ghana Football Association has weighed in, with unusual speed. In a statement, the GFA said, “We also looked at the coaching department led by the head coach, Kwasi Appiah. He did very well. However, we think the team could have done better.” Really? He did well? No gentlemen, things did not go well in the coaching department. It is a little inconsistent to laud the coach while admitting that the team could have done better. We were outplayed in most of our matches. We lost the semi-final despite some help from the referee. We replaced our most reliable penalty kicker, Wakasu, minutes before penalties against Burkina Faso. We were never in control of the midfield during the entire competition. Quite a few of our big guns, like the pair who downed mighty Barca were missing. Obviously, with the World Cup qualifiers just around the corner, we must be careful not to throw the baby away with the bathwater. While coaching must change, I think we must retain our head coach and maybe get him some help. Brazil just brought back the man who coached them to World Cup glory in 2002, Louis Felipe Scolari, to guide them to what they hope will be another victory in 2014. But they wisely hedged their bets in pairing him with Pereira, who coached them to victory in 1994. We need to get our coaches some help so that they will be better at in-game and match-to-match adjustments.

Furthermore, there is a difference between having great star players and having a great Black Stars team. We need a team that will take us to Brazil in 2014. Assembling that team should start with having all our best stars on board, regardless of age or temperament. If Italy can get Mario Balotelli playing despite his tantrums and rely on Pirlo despite his age, we can certainly get all our best players on board. Sometimes, the test of a great coach is not just his ability to coach soccer; but also his ability to manage egos and temperaments. In the long term, we must find a way of turning our great junior teams into great senior teams. Most of the teams for the 2014 World Cup will be dominated by players from the under-20’s World Cup which we won in Egypt in 2009. Logically, our team, dominated by those who won that competition, should be one of the favorites going in. As usual, however, their potential has dissipated, for the most part.

Finally, while the FIFA edict not to interfere with our soccer body is taken in good spirit, there is positive interference and negative interference. We must all, including the government, meddle positively with Ghana soccer so that we can get to Brazil in 2014 and come home with glory.

Let us move forward—together.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy

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