Sports Features of Monday, 14 January 2013

Source: Frederich Maafo

Much Ado About Akwasi Appiah

- The Cup is Coming Home.

I think we Ghanaians ought to learn to support our own, and trust them to do a good job. Ghanaians are very intelligent people and we have proved in every sphere of life that we are gifted, innovative and capable. Why do we always doubt ourselves? Is the enemy truly within?

Of the four times we’ve won the African cup, our coaches have been locals. For those who doubt Akwasi Appiah’s qualities I would like to refer to our last expatriate coach’s credentials when he took the job; I stand corrected, but I am certain that the most impressive achievements on his CV was that he was the assistant coach at Partisan Belgrade when they won their ‘domestic’ league in 2009 and was the assistant coach of Serbia and Montenegro at the 2006 world cup. Which of these achievements or experiences if I may ask compares with Akwasi Appiah’s? What at all did Goran Stevanovic (coach Plavi) achieve with the superstar squad he inherited from his more technically gifted countryman Milovan Rajevac (Coach Milo)?

So why all this noise about Appiah being wet behind the ears? Only a year ago, Appiah guided the Ghana U-23 team (The Black Meteors) to win a historic gold medal at the 2011 All Africa Games. At short notice Appiah answered an emergency call to take over the team on the verge of being kicked out of the qualification series for the tournament. He not only dispatched Nigeria in a two-legged ultimate qualifier, he led his charges to conquer all at Maputo to claim Ghana’s first ever gold medal at this level. Does this not tell us anything about Appiah? He has served under two of our last expatriate coaches; and Milo who in my opinion is the best tactician we have had for a very long time and our most successful ‘expatriate’ coach to date – taking Ghana to the finals of CHAN 2009, AFCON 2010 Finals and the World Cup 2010 Quarters within a space of one and a half years.

Before Appiah took the job his respect from the players, the technical team and coaches was indubitable, he was a mentor to the players and a great help on the technical bench according to all the coaches he worked with. So why have we suddenly began to doubt his abilities? Appiah, a former Kotoko and Black Stars captain has a way of influencing people in spite of his calm, quiet demeanour and statements from the Black Star players appear to indicate he is having that effect on them already, so why are we so negative?

After all, if the AFCON was won by the coach’s pedigree alone then Claude Le Roy should have won the trophy when Ghana hosted the tournament in 2008. I must point out that at the time of his appointment I felt Sellas Tetteh was ahead in the pecking order, given his success at the U-20 world cup, I thought he was better placed to take the reigns of Milo as potentially, about half of his world conquering U-20 players were now established Black Star players. However, as its stands, Appiah was given the nod and as far as I’m concerned he has proved himself to be a very good manager, my reasons are that: After the 2012 AFCON I wondered how the next coach would succeed in bringing that team spirit and unity back in the dressing room, as the team morale was at an all time low. There were two main psychological issues to overcome:

1. The team had lost their confidence, trust and mutual respect in each other after an alleged juju plot against one another during the last tournament. 2. The team which consisted of junior players who had achieved great success by wining the coveted U-20 World Cup and reached the finals of AFCON 2010 were struggling to bond with the older Super Stars who have failed to win any medal of any sort for their country. There were complaints of arrogance and disrespect from the understandably confident younger players.

Only a year down the line and faced with these problems, the fact that Akwasi Appiah has succeeded in bringing that team morale back so seamlessly by blending a host of new players making the current squad almost unrecognizable from the 2012 squad is testament to his people management skills. I am sure it is this new found team spirit that would be tested at the tournament rather than the talent of individual players. Regarding the Ayew saga, the media has created an impression that Appiah has got it in for the Ayews, however I beg to differ. Appiah does not stand to gain anything by picking a feud with them. He is a humble, decent and down to earth person; if you met him you will find no iota of vindictiveness in him. Appiah is not an unreasonable person and I think the negative comments about him and the tribalistic undercurrents are unnecessary. In world football, seldom will an injured player report to camp a day before squad selection and make the cut. Ghana football is for everyone; the team has always consisted of the best players from every tribe, region and religious background. Let’s not forget that Appiah is also doing his bit for our great country. As a fellow citizen, you can trust that his heart is in it to achieve glory for Ghana. Appiah, a former player himself is better placed to understand any player’s predicament if there are genuine reasons for a delayed travel to camp; as it turns out he is alleged to have had a ‘heart to heart’ with the player after which he decided not to include him in the current squad, so why not trust his judgment? After all, it is his career and reputation on the line!!

Appiah has invited the Ayews several times to play for Ghana so why are we talking about him having a thing against them now?

Ayew as we are all aware snubbed the whole technical bench of the Black Stars in public after being substituted during a match and refused to shake hands with the other players. It is alleged that the coach and the technical bench did not succeed in convincing this boy to apologize until the GFA gave him a bit of publicity with an ultimatum, only for him to send a half-baked apology on the deadline date. Am I the only one who sees clearly an attitude that smacks of dissent? I appreciate he is a young man and may be prone to the occasional indiscipline, these boys are seriously rich, have great personal achievement, so I can appreciate the occasional slide, but it should not be overlooked to the detriment of the team. I understand that Samuel Kuffour, Muntari etc. have all had their fair share of rebellion and it does take time to mature as a player but to expect a coach to brush these attitudes under the carpet is very irresponsible.

Jordan Ayew on the other hand, has had more playtime with Ghana than Adiyah, Oduro and especially Waris who is arguably one of the most prolific strikers in Europe this season and yet could not make the cut. Jordan has been in ominous form for Olympic Marseille but unfortunately he has struggled to produce similar high standards for Ghana. I must say that not all good players are able to translate their form in Europe to Africa as the game is completely different. Jordan just as his brother Dede needs more time and may get his chance next year if he continues to work harder on his game. Boakye Yiadom in my view, is more mature on the field of play; he is clearly a carbon copy of a younger Asamoah Gyan although much swifter on the ball and he is going to be Ghana’s secret weapon in this tournament. I am convinced that it will become clearer to Ghanaians why he got the nod ahead of Jordan after this tournament. There is also this ludicrous information floating around in the media about the GFA plot to frustrate the Ayews. Didn’t the same GFA openly back Andre Ayew’s nomination for the African best player just months ago? So what would frustrating one of the best players in our current setup benefit the GFA? I think people like to make preposterous arguments like this, targeting the gullible few who clearly lack discernment!!!

In the AFCON 2012 we had all our best players back and yet we did not achieve much even when the Cameroonians, Nigerians and defending champions Egypt did not make the tournament. Look at the way we struggled to beat Botswana. Shall we be reminded that the eventual winner Zambia, was missing arguably their best player in Mulenga, yet, a spirited team rallied to win the tournament dislodging Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast by playing together as a team.

Appiah has been able to bring on players like Atsu, Adomah, Clottey, Boakye Yiadom, Akaminko, Asante etc. when his expatriate predecessor completely ignored our local players using only the established players he had inherited from his predecessor.

Let us also be reminded that Appiah is assisted by one of the best local coaches, Maxwell Konadu, and that combination of great technical ability will almost certainly bring the cup home this time around. I am absolutely sure of that. For Samuel Kuffour, I think he is the last person to lecture us on coaching because we know how long his disciplinary record was as a player in the Ghana team. To argue that a half fit Dede is better than some of our midfielders smacks of total disrespect of the team and exposes his naivety technically. Perhaps this explains why he ‘won’ many African Cup trophies for Ghana! I would like to ask him how useful an injured Asamoah Gyan (Afcon 2012), Shila Illiasu (WC 2006), Stephen Appiah (Afcon 2006) and Micheal Essien (Afcon 2010) were to the Ghana team during the respective tournaments? I wonder why he did not put the same argument forward for Muntari.

Fellow Ghanaians let us support Akwasi Appiah to bring the cup home, he is our own. Ghana is stronger when the nation is united behind the coach and the players.

This team is technically better and more experienced than the team that got us to the final of Afcon 2010. Also, ‘man for man’ this team is better than the current defending champions. I therefore expect them to put on a better performance than Afcon 2012 and bring the cup home.

Frederich Maafo