Sports Features of Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Source: Appiah, Papa

What a Joke! Kwasi Appiah!

My scepticism at the appointment of Kwasi Appiah as head coach of the Black Stars is no secret. It is nothing personal. I believed at the time, and still do, that there are better qualified Ghanaians for the post and Kwesi was gifted the post by a rather disgraceful act of cronyism.

Since his appointment as the first local coach in many years, however, I have sensed such an intense yearning on the part of Ghanaians to see him succeed, that can only be applauded. Those of us with dissenting voices have become “enemies” of the state. Suddenly, Ghana, a country that was satisfied with nothing but a win in the AFCON or a semi-final place in the World Cup, was applauding victories against the likes of Lesotho and Malawi and draws against China. This is all well and good. One cannot attempt to take away the hopes of men.

But the first alarm bells sounded for me in the manner the Dede Ayew case of apparent insubordination was handled. It became obvious to some of us, that Coach Kwasi Appiah, keen to pander to a pervading anti-Ayew sentiment in a large section of the public had erred in flexing his muscles to publicly humiliate one of our hardest working players. The historical imperatives were not lost on me, neither were the political and other nuances. Some of us were quick to point out, that top coaches round the world have a way of protecting their players from the wrath of the general public, while punishing them privately.

Even a player as potentially destructive as Mario Balotelli is being well handled by both Mancini and the Italian national coach. Dede Ayew is a young man who has actually captained the national under 20 team to victories in the African and World Cups. This is hardly a player with disciplinary problems and the coach should have sat down with him to enquire about his frustrations and why he behaved, rather uncharacteristically, the way he did. We are paying Kwasi Appiah thousands of dollars a month to actually manage our players, warts and all. It is not an easy job, and that is why not everyone can do it and that is why he is so well remunerated.

Be it as it may, I would defend, with all the vigour I could muster, the right of a coach to select whichever players he deems capable of winning football matches. “Results” is the name of the game. A coach does not even have to defend his choice of players so long as he is winning. When Arsene Wenger was sweeping all before him, he could have fielded a tree and still be called a genius. These days, his every move is being questioned. When a coach voluntarily suggests that he omitted certain players because of “football reasons”, however, then we are perfectly entitled to analyze what those reasons are.

There are fundamental differences between coaching a club side and a national side. A club manager may have the luxury of deciding in advance how his team would play and then go to acquire the players that would fit in the system. Again, a club coach has time to actually coach the players, change their bad habits and make them better players. A national team coach, especially of a country like Ghana, has to make do with what they have. Their job is to get the very best players, device a strategy that will suite them and motivate and inspire them to achieve success. Germany or Spain can afford to leave out top class players because they are spoilt for choice. Ghana simply cannot afford to do that.

On current form, Jordan Ayew is one of the best strikers in the French premier division, never mind Ghana. So, for what football reasons has he been left out of the team? In the few matches he played in the last AFCON, he was one of our very best players. I was amazed at his speed, trickery and direct approach. This is a player who would grace most teams and yet is not good for Ghana. Granted he had an average performance in the game against Zambia but didn’t the whole team play badly? Were we not simply outclassed tactically by a better coach? Why blame Jordan? In the Malawi match in Kumasi, again a game in which the whole team played badly, there were calls from a section of the crowd to take him off. So the popular Mr Kwasi Appiah, taking that hint, decided to leave him out. Now he wants me to believe he is so clever he has masterminded a grand strategy that will not require Jordan.

So who do we have instead of Jordan? Good old Asamoah Gyan who plays in a non-competitive league and whose fitness may not be at the level required for top class competition. But then again, he is our captain and has been a reliable servant for years. We could not leave him out. Then we have Emmanuel Clottey who has scored all of one goal for Esperance and whose fitness is in doubt. On current form, he is nowhere near the level of Jordan. Then there is Richmond Boakye Yiadom, a nineteen year old with great potential but who currently plays in Serie B and has a long way to go to play in Serie A, let alone the champion’s league. He is deemed a better choice than Jordan. Then there is Yahaya Mohammed, Kwasi Appiah’s “great” discovery from Armadeus, but who is untried and untested.

Anybody who honestly and objectively thinks this strike force is one that can discard Jordan, and would be capable of holding their own against the best defences in the world probably knows something I don’t. Please enlighten me.

Papa Appiah