Feature Article of Monday, 13 February 2012
Columnist: Bawelle, Eugene
I started writing this commentary after the first half of our third place match against the Eagles of Mali. The Black Stars of Ghana went into AFCON 2012 as Africa’s second best ranked team behind the Ivory Coast. After having won bronze and silver in the last two CAN tournaments respectively, every Ghanaian was expectant of the trophy. We also did well at the last world cup as the only African nation to get to the quarter finals in South Africa 2010. In Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 2012, power houses like Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroun were absent. And so apart from the surprise element, the Black Stars of Ghana were understandably expected to get to the finals and win the cup. Goran(Plavi) Stevanovic had also promised during his first press conference as Black Stars coach which I happened to be present that, he wants to win trophies. We failed to glitter at AFCON 2012 and these are my reasons for which Plavi must go. Now to the issues.
The coach was responsible for every single player selected for the tournament. The decision to take only two local players as reserve keepers while dropping Emmanuel Baffoe from the final squad was untenable and indefensible. Our top marksman, Asamoah Gyan was half fit (who by the way is better than a fully fit Prince Tagoe). Prince Tagoe may have been Ghana’s top scorer during the qualifiers but the truth is that the young man is simply out of touch and out of form. I don’t know why every soccer pundit saw this fact except the coach. It would therefore have been far-sighted for Goran Stevanovic to at least add one more striker to the squad. One fan remarked, “Prince Tagoe is the only black stars player who performed up to expectations because, Ghanaians expected nothing from him and he delivered as we expected by actually doing nothing. Who again robbed Ghana?” Don’t forget that Emmanuel Baffoe had hitherto scored eleven goals in twelve matches in the ongoing Glo premiership. And so he would have sort to prove himself and even seek to draw the attention of player scouts at the tournament. There was no outright right winger in the team and with the resignation of Kevin Prince Boateng, Quincy Owusu Abeyie should have had an automatic slot on the coach’s team sheet. Plavi failed to see it and instead relied on first timer Charles Takyi and out of form Sulley Muntari who usually doesn’t play on the right. In addition, the coach hardly stays in Ghana and instead prefers to monitor his players through phone calls and internet. If the coach stayed in Ghana, I am sure he might have heard names like Frank Safo Gyamfi of Wa All Stars, Uriah Asante of Hearts of Oak, Louis Agyemang of Medeama and many more. Ghanaians are not asking for all these local players to be included in the squad but at least one or two of them.
Plavi got his selection and tactics wrong for most of Ghana’s matches at the tournament. We went to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to win the trophy and you cannot win by failing to score. And so the decision to play only one striker upfront means that we needed more creative midfielders to do the supply and even score as well. To have started Samuel Inkoom in left back and put Kwadwo Asamoah on the bench for our first match was one of the worst decisions taken by the coach. Anthony Annan is very good defensively in midfield but Derrick Boateng would always initiate attacks through the midfield. It is true that inasmuch as you don’t concede, you have the chance to win matches. However, you don’t go into every match with a defensive mind you. This is why Derrick Boateng should have started most of our matches. Anthony Annan always passes the ball backwards and that is not good for offensive football. Even in the game against Zambia where Derrick made a lot of difference in terms of our play, I am reliably informed that the coach never wanted to play Derrick Boateng in the starting lineup. Why? No one knows.
Every one of the twenty three players selected for the tournament can command a starting role. Nonetheless, to have made changes to every single game only suggested that the coach did not have a firm grabs of the team. Some changes are inevitable because of suspension and so we would pardon Plavi for those substitutions. In the game against Zambia for instance, the crosses for the Black Stars only came from the right wing throughout the entire game. The reason is that, Lee Addy who was surprisingly selected for that game never went pass the centre line. The nineteen year Masahudu Alhassan had regained his confidence in the tournament only to be put on the bench for China based Lee Addy. Wasteful Prince Tagoe had no business whatsoever in our last two matches. But for the fact that he was already selected for the tournament, he had no place at all in the Black Stars just like Dominic Adiyiah.
Asamoah Gyan was lethargic and very heavy throughout the tournament. Ever growing but young John Mensah has always been the rock of Gibraltar. In this tournament however, the usual injury suspect in him came to play significantly to Ghana’s disadvantage. Some have suggested that the twenty nine year old hang his Black star boots. A move he has sharply rebuked. The surging runs and fine crosses from John Paintsil (or Paintil- spells his name differently depending on where he finds himself) were absent throughout this tournament. He woefully exposed himself in the game against Guinea. The most alarming issue for me is the alleged divisions in the team. Team work has played a very important role in the success story of the Black Stars since the captaincy of Stephen Appiah. Instead of concentrating on winning matches, the players were divided among themselves as to who becomes captain in the absence of John Mensah, all under the watch of Goran Stevanovic. Suffice it to say, there are some positive lessons to learn from this tourney. The Ayew brothers have staked a more convincing role in the Black stars. I am very sure John Boye is the biggest gainer in the team. He has earned himself a place in the team, and deservedly so.
The Black Stars team has reached a level that we can’t afford to be experimental with coaches. I am also sure that executives of the Football Association are fully aware that a successful Black Stars will have enormous trickledown effect on their future aspirations and so will not hesitate to straighten the whip while it’s still wet. South Africa 2012 is around the corner and we have to start preparations now. For starters, the coach must go. The FA must bring back Kevin Prince Boateng and we also need to start now, looking for a Samuel Eto’o or Didier Drogba for the Black stars. Don’t ask me whether we should go for a local coach. A competent coach is all we need, whether black or white. All I know is that Plavi must go.