Goran must consider transition
Black Stars coach Goran Stevanovic seems to have won over his critics following the Star’s recent string of impressive performances after only two months at the helm.
When the former Partisan Belgrade manager was introduced to the football family in February, 2011, some journalist openly expressed misgivings about his appointment giving his history at his former post where he resigned under intense pressure from the home fans.
The statistics bare it all: two wins and a draw in three matches surely represents a dream start for any coach particularly considering the circumstances under which the Black Stars secured their dramatic 1:1 drawn game with England.
Indeed the Serbian has barely put a foot wrong in his early days in the Ghanaian hot seat but it will be wrong to draw any hasty conclusions because after all, in his own words the ultimate aim is to win the nation’s first major trophy since 1982.
But before that dream can be realised, there is a need to address some pressing issues because it appears some deep cracks have developed in the foundation of the team.
There is therefore a pressing need to revamp the Black Star team which has seen some players play together for the past ten years.
That is to say that some players in the current team are well past their prime and will not be around forever, meaning urgent steps need to be taken to immediately introduce new blood into the “starting lineup” of the team, especially during friendly matches.
But the big question “Plavi” as Stevanovic is nicknamed, has to answer is: do we wait for the “cracks to develop into Valleys” before finding solutions?
History of transitions
The country has witnessed many such smooth transitions over the years due to the abundance of talents and also the existence of good soccer structures which enables players to move through the development cycle.
The first of such transitions occurred in 1965 under legendary coach C.K Gyamfi who took the then unpopular decision of dropping all but four of the 1963 African Nations Cup winning squad ahead of their title defense in Tunisia.
Gyamfi and his team virtually left the country for Tunisia under the cover of darkness, after much public outcry over his decision to select “school boys” for such an important tournament.
But guess what, the then-little known Osei Kofi and company emerged victorious and secured Ghana’s second African Nations Cup trophy to the surprise of all. It is instructive to know that Kofi and co graduated from the Academicals to the New Horizon before national duty came. Those structures were created by the late Ohene Djan, the nation’s first director of sports.
You might call C.K. Gyamfi and his assistant Ben Koufie magicians, but the duo knew exactly what they were doing, having observed that most of the 1963 players were ageing.
The national team has seen at least three smooth transitions ever since: the Golden boy Abdul Razak and the Mohammed Polo generation which covers the 70’ and 80’s, Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah 90’s generation and the present generation of Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien.
The most difficult transition came in 80’s as football administrators were not seen to be putting in place proper structures as witnessed under the nation’s first sports director Ohene Djan. Some will also argue that the exodus of many locally based players to Nigeria and elsewhere had an effect on that generation.
Of all the generations, Stephen Appiah will easily be remembered for his inspirational role as he easily stands out as key to the success story of the current generation. After a rather difficult period under the Abedi Pele/Tony Yeboah generation where the team lacked team spirit, Appiah was able to bring both the old and new players together under his captaincy.
Having won the Fifa Under 17 trophy in 1995 with the Black Starlets, Appiah seems to have done his homework very well, having observed the split in the national team as a young player, so that he knew exactly what to do when he assumed the reins in 2004.
In the words of one renowned former national team coach, “Stephen Appiah is a gift to the nation and everybody should hail him.”
The good thing though is that the coming generation of players who are likely to be captained by Andre Dede Ayew, the son of soccer legend Abedi Ayew Pele, have had the experience of playing under Appiah and are expected to take a lot of inspiration from him.
That unique experience was made largely possible by the immediate past coach of the Stars, Milovan Rejavac who took the bold step of selecting six players from the victorious 2009 Black Satellites Fifa world Cup winning team to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola..
Post World Cup era
In the post world cup era, many national teams have started the re-building process with much emphasis on introducing young players in their set ups. The ultimate aim is to prepare teams towards the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
I have keenly followed the exploits of Brazil and Argentina in particular who are under new coaches after getting rid of Dunga and Diego Maradona respectively after what was a disastrous world cup, by their own standards.
In an article titled “Brazil show Argentina way forward,” the BBC’s South American football correspondent Tim Vickery showed the different approach the two South American Giants are using in their quest to develop a system of play that will be suitable for their different types of play. And more importantly how Argentina can learn a lesson or two from their rivals with regards playing a regular striker.
But of great importance is the balanced manner in which the national team coaches are simultaneously utilising their experienced and young prospects in their quest to build a winsome team.
For instance in their game with Scotland, Brazil coach Mano Menezes used Jadson and Barcelona ace Daniel Alves down the right and Andre Santos and the talented Neymar down the left flank.
Manezes also gave 21 year old striker Leandro Damiao, his debut against the Scots.
Again Argentina Coach Sergio Batista is steeply involved in gathering his team up from the ashes following their disappointing run in South Africa 2010. Batista is more concerned with finding the right balance for the attacking riches at his disposal particularly Lionel Messi.
Ever Banega has assumed a greater role in the set up as well as Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria.
Mention can also be made of the English who played without five regular players against the Black Star as Fabio Capello gave the home fans a glimpse of the future national team.
The plain truth
In the present case of Ghana, it is becoming increasingly clear that some senior players in the set up will not be able to withstand the test of time despite their unquestionable loyalty to the national cause.
Players including Captain John Mensah, John Paintsil and Richard Kingston are fast fading out and a close observation of their performance in the English Premier League will easily reveal that.
This is not to say that the above-named players are not giving off their best effort to the national team. On the contrary these players are some of the most patriotic sons of the land to date and it will be wrong to write them off immediately but their long term stay with the Stars is quite doubtful.
Mensah in particular has struggled with injuries for a greater part of the last two seasons.
He is still regarded as one of the most powerful defenders in the air and barely disappoints on his day but he has been given a torrid time by some top strikers lately including Luis Suarez and Carlos Tevez.
His lack of pace is quite evident and you only wonder why his name sake Jonathan Mensah is not being given much look into.
John Paintsil’s problems at Fulham are well noted and the Craven Cottage outfit is not thought to be keen on extending the contract of the veteran defender following his inconsistent showing this season.
Again, Stars coach Goran Stevanovic has more than enough replacements for the position with many wondering why Samuel Inkoom is regularly seen on the bench.
The issue of finding a worthy replacement for number one goalkeeper Richard Kingston continues to dominate major discussions with no solution in sight. The Stars technical bench has not treated the issue with much urgency for years as.
It’s an issue which if not well dealt with can become the Achilles heel of the national team in the near future.
It’s a fact that Kingston has been wonderful in post for the Stars and continues to pull off fantastic saves anytime he is called upon but a succession plan must be put in place to ensure a smooth transition and it begins by allowing others the chance during friendly matches.
If Kingston is on good form, he is bound to give us good defensive cover in the posts, but what about if he loses his fitness at some point in time at Blackpool?
There is time for everything, as the saying goes. The current crop of senior players in the Star’s camp have paid their due and it is only fair that the young players in the team assume greater roles in order to aid a smooth transition.
I am not asking for a drastic change like the one witnessed under C.K. Gyamfi in 1965, but the present group of young players need to be tasked with more responsibility.
That test is bound to come sooner than later for Serbian coach Goran Stevanovic. After all, he is paid to make such big decisions; the earlier he makes this one, the better for all of us.
By Erasmus Kwaw