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Sports Features of Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Source: FootyGhana

Can Local Coaches Smile Again After The Maputo Victory?

Honestly, I had given up on even talking up local coaches as far as the Black Stars job was concerned.

I remember putting up a funny thread on facebook some months ago proclaiming the ‘death’ of the fight for local coaches and many people gave diverse comments on the issue.

I am well known as a vociferous supporter of local coaches but several incidents eventually forced me to keep quiet.

The first was the failure of Frimpong Manso to qualify the Black Starlets for the African Under 17 Nations Cup (I will come to the reasons later).

The second was the failure of the then coach of the year, Herbert Addo to win a single point at this year’s African national Championships (the team also failed to score a single goal).

Orlando Wellington, who had hoped to replicate the efforts of his predecessor, Sellas Tetteh with the Black Satellites, also failed miserably in attempting to qualify the team for the 2011 World Youth Cup.

My good friend David Duncan, whom I had touted in the past as a possible Black Stars coach in the future, also failed in getting the Black Meteors past the first hurdle in qualifying for next year’s Olympics and was replaced.

After all this, I was told by some of my confidantes not to speak again on behalf of local coaches and indeed I was so down at the time that I began to search for anything at all to support an argument that had been made to look foolish because of the aforementioned failures. As the saying goes, a drowning man will clutch at a straw.

Eventually, Kwasi Appiah was made the Meteors head coach and successfully navigated a tough qualifying round against Nigeria, albeit with the help of certain foreign based players, notably Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, who would not be available for the All Africa games.

So Appiah, together with assistant Maxwell Konadu, were faced with the task of proving a point without such players and to be totally blunt and honest, no one gave the team a dog’s chance. Honestly, I was just praying that Ghana would win a bronze medal and that would signify a small moral victory for local coaches.

So naturally, I was unhappy when we lost out first game to South Africa, but when I was told that the Meteors paid for missed chances, I told myself that perhaps there could be a chance that we could still qualify in the next game against Mozambique.

That happened, but after some nervy moments. After Mahatma Otoo hit a hat trick to send Ghana into a 3-0 lead, an injury to Rashid Sumaila unsettled Ghana and Mozambique scored three times to draw level before Gilbert Fiamenyo scored the vital winner that got us through.

I was at a meeting at the Ghana Football Association on the morning of the semifinal against Cameroon and it was in the course of the meeting that Prince Baffoe scored the crucial goal. This was because whilst the meeting was going on, the GFA President, Kwesi Nyantakyi had his radio on and so we were all listening to radio commentary on the match provided by Accra-based radio station Asempa FM.

I was delighted and after learning that we would face South Africa again, I was thinking to myself, that first of all, the minimum requirement of a guaranteed medal had been met, and so Ghana now had nothing left to lose. But Saturday September 17 2011 was to be another memorable day in Ghana’s football history.

Fortunately the game was live on DSTV and so I got the opportunity of watching the game. Ghana looked good in possession but the cutting edge upfront still needs improvement, even though Fiamenyo worked hard.

Richard Mpong was impressive and forced a save from the South African goalkeeper in the first half, and it looked like a tactical game of chess between both sides until tree minutes from the end. A thunderous shot from Otoo rocked the bar with the keeper well beaten and seconds later, South Africa had scored.

At that moment, I was like, well, we did our best and we will get silver anyway. Then suddenly we had the penalty.

Honestly, looking at the replays, we were lucky to get the penalty because the defender clearly played the ball, but in football, you make your own luck by fighting on.

This was 90 seconds into injury time, but Otoo showed nerves of steel to convert the spot kick to send the game to extra time.

South Africa never truly recovered from the psychological blow and soon, it was time for penalties.

That was when the team captain, Daniel Agyei showed that the experience of winning the World Youth Cup two years ago on penalties had greatly benefited him.

He saved one, forced a miss and scored one himself to give Ghana gold.

It was a real team effort and I will begin by crediting Appiah, Konadu and the entire coaching staff for bringing out the best in the players.

There were heroes all over the park, with Sumaila forming an excellent defensive partnership with Berekum Chelsea’s Ahmed Adams, who converted the winning penalty; Mpong had support from Medeama Sc club mate Augustine Sefa whilst Wa All Stars’ Edwin Gyimah was a true workhorse in midfield.

In any team, you need a winning mentality and perhaps Appiah and Konadu drew inspiration from the 1991/1992 league season, where both helped Asante Kotoko to the league title.

Appiah was Kotoko captain at the time and Konadu had enjoyed a fine first season with the club after joining from Upper West Heroes, so both ex-players are winners in their own right.

Also, Konadu was part of the Black Meteors that won bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, so a lot of that experience was brought to bear.

Daniel Agyei’s appointment as team captain proved inspired and in my books, he has to be considered as one of the three goalkeepers for the Black Stars.

Konadu has already tipped Sumaila, Mpong and Otoo to step up to the Black Stars and on the evidence of their performances, I will not argue with that.

So can local coaches start smiling again? Erm, not yet.

There are several things that need to be fixed so that local coaches can once again be argued for as far as national jobs are concerned.

I have always talked about the fact that there is a fine line between doing well and winning.

It is arguable, but factually, the only foreign coaches to have won anything for Ghana are Otto Pfister (1991 FIFA Under 17 World Cup) and Giuseppe Dossena (1999 African Youth Cup).

Sam Arday, Sellas Tetteh, Osam Duodu and C.K. Gyamfi have all won things at national level for Ghana and Kwasi Appiah has now added his name to the illustrious list.

That tells me that given the support, local coaches can do it, but sadly, local coaches are sometimes their own worst enemies.

First of all, some local coaches are unable to stand up to immense pressure from clubs, ‘player managers’, so-called influential people, and sometimes, high ranking persons in Ghana football with regard to selection of players.

When there are international matches to prepare for, you will almost always see long lines of 4-wheel drives at the training camps of most of the age-related national teams. I keep asking myself why, after building a core team for the Black Starlets, Frimpong eventually changed the team around because that was his downfall ultimately.

I am reliably informed that the likes of Francis Morton and Tawrick Jibril were mysteriously dropped by Orlando Wellington before the African Youth Cup in South Africa and indeed, there were allegations of certain ‘obligatory niceties’ performed to get certain players into the squad which backfired spectacularly.

Local coaches will have to stand firm in team selection issues and they should not allow anyone to dictate to them. These days, in a bid not to use the word ‘interference’, the expression used is ‘offering suggestions’ but to be blunt, it amounts to the same thing.

Player agents, clubs and individuals should stop the practice of using cash to induce selection of their players and coaches have to stand firm to reject such unscrupulous approaches.

Indeed, I am reliably informed that there are times when members of the coaching staff will receive such inducements and then tell the head coach stuff like ‘This player is not fit’ or ‘This player does not respect’ or ‘This player is not good enough’ among other things, so that the space is created to introduce other players.

Playing and coaching legend Ibrahim Sunday told me an interesting story about the lead up to the 1994 African Nations Cup.

According to him, he was coaching in Gabon at the time and when he was asked to take the Black Stars to the competition, he told them that he would do the job on condition that he would be allowed to pick and choose his players without any interference from anybody. After he mentioned this, he was not contacted again. The job went to the late Aggrey Fynn and Jim Amoah and Ghana was eventually knocked out in the quarterfinal by Cote d’ivoire.

So it is a two edged sword. Local coaches must reject all forms of interference, whether by imposition or by certain inducements. Also clubs and individuals have to desist from that practice.

There is also a very disturbing pattern occurring at our various clubs.

Most club administrators employ coaches and then, without the knowledge of the coaches, do ‘ways and means’ and spend a lot of money in doing so.

Then when the team wins, the administrator takes the credit and downplays any role the coach may have played in the victory.

Thus our club administrators do not respect our local coaches. For instance, ask yourself why after 10 barren years, Asante Kotoko wins the Premier League title in 2003 and the head coach, Abdul Razak is almost immediately fired from his job.

Since most of these top guns in club management occupy the highest echelons of Ghana Football, whenever a question is asked about if a local coach should be appointed for the Black Stars, then the answer is unanimously no. So our local coaches are not empowered from the onset.

Our local coaches are also guilty of undermining each other. Most local coaches will accept national jobs without a proper contract, and then another coach will be criticizing the incumbent coach and telling anyone who would listen that he can do the job for a cheaper salary.

In short, local coaches are seriously divided and this negates the idea of creating a pressure group that can fight for the rights of local coaches.

This has resulted in local coaches selling themselves so short that they only attract scarcely disguised scorn from powers that be in football. The end result is that it is not a known practice to pay a local coach more that $3000 a month to handle a national team.

Again, I will refer to another conversation I had with Sunday, who told me that after Claude Le Roy resigned from the Ghana job, Philippe Troussier was contacted by the GFA for the job. Because Troussier knew Sunday well from duels in the Ivory Coast in the nineties, when Troussier often coached Asec Mimosas against Sunday’s Africa Sports, he recommended Sunday as his assistant, asking for $30,000 a month for himself and $10,000 for Sunday. According to Sunday, that request by Troussier ended discussions and eventually Milovan Rajevac got the job.

Things had gotten so bad that Sellas Tetteh was told that he was not ready for the job after acting as an assistant coach for the Black Stars for seven years.

He redeemed himself by winning every trophy available at Under 20 level and even though he was not successful with the Rwanda national team, perhaps with hindsight, he should have been made to graduate with the victorious 2009 World Cup squad to the Meteors and perhaps London 2012 might have been reality by now, but as it is, nothing can be done about that.

What the Ghana Football Association has to do now is to ensure a systematic empowering of our local coaches so that they can take over in the future and financially save some money as well with regard to salaries.

To be fair, the GFA has sent some coaches abroad for some courses and Kwasi Appiah has been handled quite well in this regard. After winning gold, he can return to assist Goran Stevanovic knowing that in time, he could take over the reins….if and only if the GFA is ready to support him, because his feat in Maputo alone makes him a candidate in the future.

It is good to see that, for the first time, coaches are being encouraged to apply for various national positions and hopefully, good financial packages can be given to the successful applicants to ward off any temptation of doing ‘induced’ team selections which will ultimately cost the nation dearly.

Other coaches need to be given a systematic development plan that will see gradual empowerment so that long term, we see local coaches at the helm of affairs for every national team.

Nigeria has began by handing Samson Siasia a $50,000 a month contract and perhaps in the next few years, it would not be beyond us to pay a local coach say $25,000 a month to handle the Black Stars.

So the planning starts now, unless the focus is more on doing well, than actually winning at senior level, which has not happened in almost three decades.