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Sports Features of Saturday, 5 October 2013

Source: Lexis Koufie-Amartey/footy-ghana

Richard Kingson? Wrong Move, Mr. Kwasi Appiah!

The Black Stars will face arguably the most challenging game in their World Cup qualifying history when they face Egypt on October 15. In what is almost a complete travesty, head coach Kwasi Appiah has hit the panic button prior to this game by giving Richard Kingson a call-up.

In a game that promises to be characterized by dogged determination and passion, this call-up is synonymous with dismay and fear.

It just goes against the grain of football and common sense. Is this call-up doing a friend a favour or this is some technical wizardry beyond mortals such as us?

Players usually get more exhilarated when the stakes are highest and the rewards are greatest [re: World Cup] but Richard Kingson's inclusion looks to derail this peace and tranquility that Appiah has fought hard to instill after some bad publicity.

For those of us with longer memories, we know this team already has its fair share of inflated egos even with a plethora of talents. And this might just be a disturbing situation prior to one of the most crucial games in this country's footballing history.

There is no doubt about Richard Kingson’s ability, especially regarding his reflexes and his positioning on the line.

The issue here is that he has lost some of his ability as he has aged. Richard Kingson has had his time at the Black Stars party and, after becoming the new benchmark for all upcoming goalkeepers, one would have thought the country would have been better served if he came in to help groom the young ones than flying in as one of the three goalkeepers on the team.

Goalkeepers are vilified more often than praised in this country; a situation that Adam Kwarasey and Fatau Dauda have, recently, a telling experience about.

To handle this pressure and high-priority game situations, our goalkeepers require an amalgam of mental, physical and technical attributes that, when perfected, will make them greats of the game.

Richard Kingson has shown, in many instances, to have these exemplary skills and qualities.

But would we forever have to look up to Richard Kingson when we have the meanest of goalkeeping issues?

Consistency is probably the most important characteristic that coaches look for. But plying his trade in Cyprus (!) after a 2-year lull, Kingson has conceded 7 goals in 4 matches which has left Doxa Katokopias 7th in a 14-team Cypriot First Division league.

Nothing suggests consistency about this. It says a lot about a goalkeeper that we're so eager to give another chance.

The skill-set and quality that Kwasi Appiah should be looking out when he gives call-ups to his goalkeepers should be: Does the keeper steal ground effectively and stay composed? Is the keeper brave? How is his depth-perception on reading through balls? Does he risk injury when diving at forward’s feet? Does he look for quick outlet passes and is his distribution as effective when rushed?

Is he the sort of keeper that is aggressive or passive on breakaways? Does he organize the defense and prevent the opposition from making scoring opportunities? Richard Kingson would have ticked many of these boxes earlier in his career but the reality is that, he wouldn't tick as much now. No one can deny that a split second can separate a great save from a certain goal.

While goalkeepers require great awareness, agility and positioning, the ability to spring a fine reaction save is like a magician’s trick that denies the opponents a chance to tally.

Such saves help to cover defensive lapses and are particularly useful for follow-up saves off of rebounds. But the last few performances of Richard Kingson in a Black Star shirt had none of these traits written over it which lead to nationwide calls for an ushering of a new goalkeeper.

Richard Kingson had contributed his part to our football history and should take a break from its aisle.

The burning question however is, how exactly do you replace a legend (7 Nations Cup and 2 World Cups means I really think he is) like Kingson?

A player like Richard Kingson comes around once in a lifetime, and absolutely no one can replace him for his consistency and steadiness alone.

However, "Olele", as he is usually referred to, is already past his peak and as brilliant as we are being made to believe, his best days are over.

His chances to scare the bejeezus out of his opponents have passed him by, and his years in top-flight football are limited.

For over a decade now, Kingson has been the man between the pipes for the national team. But sooner rather than later, Kingson would have to be replaced. It was in this hindsight that we sought out to trust Kwarasey and Fatau Dauda in the post.

In an era when being a goalkeeper is a far more hazardous occupation than it was then, Kwarasey stood out amongst the crowd when Ghana played the Selecao of Brazil at the Craven Cottage in Fulham 2011.

His qualities on that night were manifold – he had sharp reflexes, excellent positional sense, great judgement from crosses and bags of courage. But a couple of slightly stale performances and we were quick to paint him with the "he's not exactly good" brush.

Adam Kwarasey’s colossal performance against Brazil and games after garnered the keeper praise throughout the world. Of particular interest was that from Eddie Ansah, who was between the sticks for Ghana when they lost 11-10 on penalties to Ivory Coast in the final of the 1992 Nations Cup hosted by Senegal.

”I see myself in Adam. He does everything like I did in my youthful days. He has great prospects,” Ansah said. “Adam is young but very effective, efficient and has good anticipation.”

Aren't these the same exact things we said about Kwarasey earlier? He went through a bad patch but he's suddenly earned the trust of his coaches at Strømsgodset where he's been made the substantive captain guiding his team to 2nd place in the Norwegian Eliteserien league.

I'm first to admit that Fatau Duada was a bit flaky in our game against Zambia at the Baba Yara Stadium. But we're using just a game as yardstick to call off his earlier impressive performances?

In modern times, goalkeepers are the first point of attack and the last line of defense. Good anticipation is an attribute that helps with distribution, but it is even more important as far as good defense. A good goalkeeper must also have spatial awareness, since knowing the positions of attackers and their lines of attack can reinforce anticipation.

Maintaining a needed physical presence involves staying on the feet for as long as possible and reducing the shooting lanes of advancing opponents. These are traits that Dauda showed when we played in the African Cup of Nations in South Africa. Why is it that suddenly we are oblivious to this praise? Do we have such short memories?

It’s a long road for Kwarasey and Fatau Dauda in satisfying Kingson's void. It will come with fan criticisms and media scrutiny on every performance. This is what comes with being Kingson’s heir. And much as their developments suggest that they’d have little difficulty with it, we've got to trust them. That's the only way we'll get the best out of them.

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