WE NEED A LOCAL COACH
I am writing this column on Tuesday evening - the most humiliating day in Ghanaian football history. It has been some two hours since Ghana's Black Stars were turfed out of the MTN African Cup of Nations and I have been sitting here feeling bewildered. In a sense, I shouldn't be. After the match I switched to the post-match analysis on DSTV and heard Abedi Pele, who all week had tried to sound upbeat finally come clean. He said that Ghanaians would not be surprised because they knew we had a bad team or words to that effect.
Every supporter of the Black Stars, which means all Ghanaians bar a few who had other agendas, knew that this was not a winsome team. However, we tried to cover our anxiety with a cloak of nationalist optimism, which is known as burying our heads in the sand. We clutched at every straw, be it the excuse of injury or a lucky win, as flimsy cover for our non-performance. In the lead up to the Nations Cup the Black Stars lost every warm up, including the one to a local Egyptian league side. In the final qualifying matches for both the World Cup and the Nations Cup, we qualified because Burkina beat South Africa.
Every win served as an immediate amnesic for the ills besetting the team and, even more critically the deficiencies of football management and sports administration in the country. The first game against Nigeria was a telling expose of the lack of confidence in ourselves as a country. The possibility of a draw until the Nigerian goal in the 85th minute was hailed as a victory because most Ghanaians expected their World Cup team to have gone down by a heavy margin before the interval.
I am sure that by the time you read this piece on Saturday, Ghana's ouster from the Nations Cup would have been analysed to death so my one Big Idea could be old hat by then. But I should still stick my foot into it, (pun intended). That the head coach should be sacked must be an automatic reaction on his part, if not that of our FA. What we need to do is replace him with a local coach. I have to explain, if I need to, that I am not xenophobic neither do I subscribe to the view that a local coach is necessarily tactically superior to a foreign one. I am not against foreign coaches in general, and as a principle, I think where a person comes from should not be too important when it comes to getting a job. Simply, I believe that for our present purposes, a local coach is better. Let me explain.
Ghana was in Group D, the "Group of Death" alongside Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe. Apart from Ghana, every country in the group got some glory at the end of the first round. Nigeria beat all its opponents and won the group. Despite losing to Ghana Senegal qualified for the quarter-finals and thus fulfilled El Haj Diuof's loud-mouth boast that the World Cup teams would flop. Zimbabwe covered itself in glory by beating Ghana, the four times champs. Ghana's only victory, over Senegal, was inconsequential.
Of the four teams in Group D only Ghana had a foreign coach. However, Ghana had the pedigree, having won the cup four times, and every time with a Ghanaian coach. The Americans say "if it ain't broke why fix it?" The four times win ought to inspire us to proudly parade Ghanaian coaches on the world scene instead of hiding them under the bushel (whatever that is, but you get the point). A country that has won the Nations Cup four times and has such a passionate following for the game must also have necessarily developed the infrastructure of the game, including coaching and training.
In addition to having won the cup four times, we also have a strong league. I remember reading a media report recently that Ghana's Premier League was in the world's top 30. That means that there must be some decent coaches in the system. Ghanaian coaches working abroad have not done badly. In recent times, coaches Osam Duodu and Jones Attuquayefio have led teams in The Gambia and Benin respectively to major tournaments. And frankly, we have not been lucky or sensible most of the foreign coaches we have had. So why is the FA so fixed on a foreign coach?
I think that our confidence as a nation has taken a battering due to several factors. We have swallowed the idea that foreigners are better at running things for us. Somehow, we have even come to the conclusion that any good thing must have a foreigner involved. Even worse, when we do something good it must be because we want to please foreigners. The most absurd example of this phenomenon is the idea of cleaning Accra in order to attract one million foreign tourists next year.
You might argue that Ghana's last win of the Nations Cup was in 1982 and that things have changed and our coaches are not doing well as they ought to or as their mostly European counterparts. But stop to think about it again. From a purely football point of view, we cannot afford coaches of the top draw so we are scrambling for those in the lower reaches whose claim to fame may have been guiding, say, Rwanda to the finals of the Nations Cup. But they have not guided Ghana to anything significant.
But there is another football reason to stick to local coaches. Coaching at the highest levels is not about teaching the players how to play football. It is even only marginally about team tactics, which depends on the players available. It is about motivating the players to play for the country and the coach. In a recent interview on BBC World Service, a coach of one of the former Yugoslavia republics said his main motivation method was to tell the players about their country's history.
I believe that statement should keep us thinking for a while. When a player puts on the Black Stars shirt, of which more soon, he becomes a different person in the same way in which a person in the uniform of the Ghana Army is no longer your younger brother or older sister but Corporal X or Captain Y. the inspiration for Ghana's success lies in its past and in that sense the captain of the Black Stars must see himself as the proud successor of the great captains of the past. We need someone who knows that past to lead the pack.
Talking of the past, I have been worrying why the Black Star has disappeared from our Ghana team strip. The Black Star used to be displayed proudly on the shirts and any player wearing it, I am sure, was imbued with a sense of mission for the country's pride. Now, we have a team with some players playing for the watching horde of scouts while wearing strips that could belong to teams in Ireland or Iceland. The coach, meanwhile probably thinks Aggrey Fynn refers to a post-conflict agreement made in Finland! For reasons of both national pride and football let us get a local coach now.