Sports Features of Friday, 30 August 2013

Source: Christopher Opoku

Pettiness is unnecessary; time to move on

I am writing this article because I feel that lovers of football in Ghana should begin to put things in proper perspective.

I refer of course to the return of Michael Essien, Kevin Prince Boateng and Andre Ayew to the Black Stars.

To give some background, Boateng retired from international football citing his health as a reason. Definitely there were other reasons but those issues were ironed out and he has returned.

In Essien’s case, after suffering two serious knee injuries whilst on national duty, he asked for time off to revitalize his career and his loan spell at Real Madrid proved moderately successful.

Andre Ayew and younger brother Jordan withdrew their services from the national team after citing differences with members of the Black Stars management team.

After meetings with Ghana’s President, H.E. John Mahama and the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu, both players have since announced their return to the Black Stars.

Let me state here and now that I am taken aback at the vitriol aimed at the returning players by a section of the Ghanaian sporting public.

The returning players are accused of being opportunistic; waiting for the hard work to be done before they join in and the phrase “Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop” has become a common term used. This piece will attempt to counter such sentiments.

First of all, as Ghanaians, my candid view is that we are being overly petty and emotional over the issue and we are missing the point completely!

Take Kevin Prince Boateng for instance. He has represented Germany at all levels from Under 16 to Under 19. His displays at Hertha Berlin led Tottenham Hotspurs to go for him.

Unfortunately, the manager who signed him, Martin Jol, was fired and replaced by Juande Ramos, who didn’t fancy the midfielder.

He was loaned out to Borussia Dortmund where he did well, and when he joined Portsmouth, it was his energetic displays that saw Portsmouth reach the 2010 English FA Cup final. Have we so soon forgotten that it was his tackle on Michael Ballack that ended the German captain’s international career?

He was hardly unknown when he joined the Black Stars ahead of the 2010 World Cup, so to suggest that he used us to get recognition is farfetched to say the least.

Even assuming without admitting that his performances during the World Cup convinced Milan not to loan him out to Genoa, did we not also use him to get to the quarterfinals? Since Michael Essien was injured and his replacement Emmanuel Agyemang Badu was also ruled out because of a hamstring injury, did we not fall on Boateng to fill the void in midfield?

So did we not use him as well? Why are we being so hypocritical? Are we being fair to the player, who by dint of hard work and his undoubted talent, has kept his place in the Milan starting line up over the last couple of seasons?

Honestly, the pettiness being exhibited by some Ghanaians is not good at all. Let us get real! He is returning to us a better player than he was three years ago and he will strengthen the squad; a fact that is not in question.

Andre Ayew may be viewed as a controversial character, but no one can argue that he is a tenacious character and he takes after his legendary father, Abedi Ayew ‘Pele’ with respect to total commitment to the cause whilst on the pitch.

I do not think his return to the squad should be sniffed at, because he has qualities that can only add to the Black Stars, whether he starts against Zambia or not.

Rather than question his return, the focus should rather be on what he brings to the squad.

Clearly all issues have been resolved and he would have been told the error of his ways and as I have said before, these players did not just get up and return to the team.

A lot of consultations would have gone on and so to suggest that the GFA just allows them to walk in and out of the team when they wish is insulting to say the least.

With regard to Essien, he had suffered serious injury twice whilst on national duty and he missed the 2010 World Cup as a result. Another injury whilst in preseason training with Chelsea a year later stalled his career.

Under the circumstances, he was entitled to ask for time out to salvage his career. Moving to Real Madrid has sparked a mini revival of sorts and if he feels it is now time to return to the national team, why not?

I have heard the argument that he wants to use the Black Stars to improve his chances of getting into the Chelsea team. Fair enough, but are we also not going to benefit from his services?

For crying out loud, this player was once one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world and he is still a good player in my opinion.

Consider this; the return of Kevin Prince Boateng and the Ayews to the Black Stars did not command as much attention in the international media as Essien’s return after a 2-year absence.

Can you imagine what Zambia’s head coach Herve Renard must be feeling now after hearing this? I maintain that Kwasi Appiah has thrown a huge psychological punch ahead of the Zambia game and trust me, that punch has well and truly landed.

Another argument I keep hearing is that now that Ghana is on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup, these players are simply coming to take all the glory.

First of all, let me state categorically that Ghana is not on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup; certainly not at this moment.

After the game against Zambia, should the Black Stars avoid defeat, there are two more games to play against yet-to-be determined opponents.

So again to say that the Black Stars are almost there is completely wrong!

Secondly, the Black Stars are up against a team that Ghana has not beaten in 21 years in a competitive encounter. Do not forget that it was also the Zambians that prevented Ghana from qualifying for the 1988 Olympic games, after the Black Stars failed to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in Lusaka.

So the return of these players will only add experience to the Black Stars team which has done well so far.

Besides, with what we have seen of Appiah so far, no player is guaranteed a place in the starting lineup against Zambia and so for all you know; all three players could start the game from the bench.

It still leaves Appiah operating from a position of strength because should he get into a spot of bother during the match, he can look at the bench, see Boateng, Ayew and Essien and think that he can bring on the Calvary.

So either way, the Black Stars would be the better for it.

I believe that Kwasi Appiah and his technical team, together with the GFA hierarchy, as well as ex-Black Stars defender Tony Baffoe amongst other distinguished individuals should be credited with working so hard to get these players back.

Let us abandon the emotionalism and pettiness and move on!