Sports Features of Saturday, 11 February 2012

Source: Owusu-Barnes, Carl

Fundamental Issues with Ghana Soccer that Needs Immediate Addressing

The expectations and penchant desire of Ghanaians to exorcise the ghost and end the 30 year hiatus of being crowned African Champions once again experienced another excruciating setback when a beautiful curl of the ball by Emmanuel Mayuka went past the elastically outstretched arms of goalkeeper Kwarasey, and sealed our doom. As is akin to Ghanaians there will be name calling, witch hunting, accusations of poor player selection etc. In less than 24 hours after the Zambian defeat a remix of Asamoah Gyan’s song dubbed African Girls Penalty Remix was composed, there was a purported statement by a member of the Black Stars Management Committee/National Executive member of the NDC Yaw Boateng-Gyan asking coach Stevanovic to consider himself fired and not to return to Ghana, and the most ludicrous of all being an article by one Raymond Yeboah insinuating Gyan is jealous of Dede Ayew thus handing over the captains arm band to Anthony Annan instead of the former.
There’s also likely to be a proliferation of post-mortem articles aimed at calling for peoples heads, finding faults, casting innuendos and the like. This article, however, seeks to take a different approach by outlining some of the root causes of our woes (not just in this tournament), and recommending mitigating measures that can forestall their persistent recurrence. We cannot be clouded by insanity to be doing the same thing over and over whiles expecting different positive outcomes. Here are a couple of issues I find troubling about the just ended tournament and Ghana soccer in general that methink needs immediate streamlining if we’re to be considered serious and noteworthy.
1. The premise upon which we entered the competition was flawed from the get go. Because other perceived African stalwarts like Nigeria, Egypt, Cameroon etc. were going to be absent there was the false sense of assumption and entitlement that Ghana was going to automatically win the tournament by beating Ivory Coast in the finals. I don’t know who had that revelation but it was drummed home so loud on various sports fora and among fans to the extent that I think the players may have also advertently or inadvertently bought into the hype, and thus were looking past their opponents. There’s a saying that “to be the best you’ve got to play the best”. If we want to exceed our mark as World Cup (WC) quarter finalists then we have to be prepared to play the best teams as well as the perceived soccer minnows with confidence, determination and a sense of urgency. Our psychological and mental fortitude should not dwindle based on the opposition. We should be resolute in our disposition, never look past any game and underestimate any opponents and play with a sense of urgency at all times. Did anyone notice a sense of feeling of “aletsor” (too known in Ghanaian parlance) in the boys during the dying embers of the Mali game?
2. We should get back to the basics of the game, act responsibly and stop always apportioning blame to referees and what not. I did not watch the game against Botswana so I cannot really say much about that but apart from the Mali game Guinea, Tunisia and Zambia looked more determined and purposeful than we were. I remember posting a message on my face book page after the Tunisia game that I was feeling very antsy about our lack of urgency and level of play, and in just the very next game my fears were vindicated. Instead of identifying and correcting our shortfalls we were rather channeling our energies on the refereeing. Yes the refereeing wasn’t the best but if we will be honest with ourselves we also got some breaks. Can anyone honestly justify the red card handed the Guinean player on his clean tackle on Prince Tagoe, and the penalty awarded Ghana which has now become Asamoah Gyan’s waterloo? Had it been the other way round I think voluminous conspiracy theories would have been expounded to explain away our demise. If we adhere to the basics, get firm command over what we can control it doesn’t matter the orchestrations of the referees we shall remain triumphant.
3. Ghanaian fans, supporters and players alike should disabuse their minds of the erroneous impression that God is a Ghanaian. Let me make this unequivocally clear that God loves everybody and every country. We are always quick to invoke the name of God when it comes to soccer to the extent of entitlement. As a Christian I do not discount the power of God to do any and everything, and always wish His favor to be upon us but the fact remains He loves the Namibian, Egyptian, Senegalese as well. Success, they say, comes about when preparation meets opportunity. So we cannot neglect the preparation portion and think God will hand things down to us on a silver platter. It sometimes exacerbates me when I hear learned/educated people or those supposed to know better being caught in the web of dogmatism making statements like: “We shall win because God is on our side”. If I may ask – who is on the other team’s side?
4. Now to the players. The players have to make personal commitments to enhance themselves, hone or polish their skills for the betterment of themselves, their families, clubs and country. In an article I wrote in 2010 entitled “The Bane of the Ghanaian Player” I outlined a number of measures that will make them better but seems they really never paid attention. Here are a few observations I made of some of our players and what I’ll recommend they do personally if I were coach Stevanovic:

Adam Kwarasey – Needs to work on aerial balls during the off season
Samuel Inkoom – Needs to work on his crosses and will recommend doing it mostly whiles in motion
Anthony Annan – Dare to venture a bit upfront, be more creative and stop relying too much on square passes.
Kwadwo Asamoah – Needs to take about 50-100 shots at goal after training each day. He’s a fine player but needs to work on his shots at goal because most of them go way too many inches off the crossbar. He needs to work on the technique of how to get shots on target.
Asamoah Gyan – Needs to attempt about 100-150 penalty kicks after training each day with all seriousness and should try to maintain at least a 95% conversion rate. Seems he relishes taking spot kicks which is fine with me but in that case he should work seriously on the technique of effective penalty shooting.

Just to digress a little bit, last year when the Miami Heat lost the NBA Championships Lebron James took the heat in the media and one flaw that was harped upon was his lack of “inside” game. What did he do in the offseason? Contacted Hakeem Olajuwon and worked on that aspect of his game and this season he added that to his repertoire and we are all witnesses to the marked improvement he’s made to his game. So I hope the players will take constructive criticisms in good faith and work on their weaknesses as well as sharpening their strengths.

5. It is a normal phenomenon in life that one cannot progress in any endeavor when he/she makes a decision but keeps revisiting the past to make comparisms whenever there’s a little hiccup. If we’ve decided as a nation to get past the Kingston era then so be it but to keep making comments such as “ Olele would have done better”, “Where’s Olele?” and the likes only has the propensity to shatter Adam’s confidence and maybe even cause him to second guess his decision to play for Ghana. The Olele ship I think has already sailed and the better we encourage Adam and look for other prospects or replacements the better. Also calling for the coach’s head and reigniting the debate on local coaches vs. foreign coaches at this point is counterproductive. If we don’t resolve the basic issues we can even hire Pep Guardiola as Black Stars coach and it will make no difference.
6. Last but not the least, I think Ghanaians cannot emphasize this point enough. Ghana is in need of POTENT STRIKERS and there’s no mincing words about that. That should be our foremost priority going forward because if Asamoah Gyan and Prince Tagoe would be our only options for the next two years and over then we should be prepared to deal with the honor drought a little bit longer. We need STRIKERS whichever way we can find them – ‘divine intervention, manufacturing, recycling’ whatever. Even if we don’t get the likes of George Alhassan, Opoku Afriyie, Tony Yeboah but the likes of Ben Kayode, Henry Acquah and Ebo Mends we should have that issue somehow decently solved.
Happy New Year to everyone and here’s to wish Ghana soccer all the best in the future.

Carl Owusu-Barnes
Maryland, USA.