FEATURE: Black Stars– Kwesi Appiah And The Heavy Tasks That Lie Ahead

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The Ghana Football Association (GFA) announced – on April 4th – the appointment of former Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah as the successor of Israeli Black Stars trainer Avram Grant whose contract with the GFA came to an end after this year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon where Ghana reached the semifinals.

According the GFA, Appiah will officially start work on 1st May 2017 after agreeing a 2- year contract as he beat Cameroon’s Cup of Nations winning coach Hugo Broos and Frenchman Willy Sagnol to become Ghana coach for the second time in five years after the three coaches were interviewed by a six-man search committee headed by Kwesi Nyantakyi the president of the GFA.

“Kwesi Appiah was chosen because he got the highest marks on the score sheets of the interviewees who took part in the selection process and that ranked him first among the final three nominees who were interviewed. He was chosen on merit but not because he is a Ghanaian. ” Nyantakyi said on April 5th.

The tasks that lie ahead of “Mayele” Kwesi Appiah are honestly greater.

First of all he will have to instill a sense of togetherness and harmony in the Black Stars and even if that exist already in the team the alleged disunity within the Black Stars players has been a constant gossip subject among Ghanaians game after game, tournament after tournament it never seems to cease. Before he does that it is crucial that he stamps his authority in the team. He is the boss and every other player MUST respect his position and personality. These rumors even if untrue could have already hurt the team. How can players play to win if it is already out there that they are not united? That they have set up mini groups within the team? It is something Appiah must try to heal if he is to go on to succeed. He has been there before and knows what happens in the team better than probably anyone else.

On a personal viewpoint , I have come closer  to the Black Stars team and nothing suggests for instance that there is the Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew factionalism in the team. In Gabon 2017 AFCON when the team dines you will mostly see Gyan and Andre together so I found it difficult to believe the rumors or are they concealing it from the public? Then that will be a dilemma. Whether it is true or not , the national team’s manager is is just like the father in a family. He should make outsiders see the unity in the Black Stars and this is one of the tasks of a football manager and if Appiah is able to integrate the team very well then the grounds will now be fertile for success . There is no victory when there is no unity.

The next thing that awaits Appiah is to properly and effectively scout local players in the local leagues and why I still admit that the standard and quality of the local game has gone down over the years it does not automatically makes all the players in it bad. There are few diamonds in there. Former coach Avram Grant hated the local league so much that he never took it any serious but we are told one reason why Appiah is enjoying a second coming is that he knows the local game and therefore he must deliver what Grant could not give us. When you consider the fact that Appiah is also in charge of the Local Black Stars or Black Stars “B” or whichever way you want to term it you will accept that he will do lot of local scouting.

Again Appiah must rebuild the attack of the team. Kwesi Appiah had Asamoah Gyan as the number striker during his first tenure from 2012 to 2014 and Gyan got the job done but 31-year old Gyan is no longer the reliable scorer we had in the past. Current captain Gyan is aging and has already contributed greatly for the this nation but this should be handled in a careful manner. He must make Gyan to understand what he requires of him at this time and it should be done in a professional manner. Let me chip in the issue about the captaincy which is of great interest to Ghanaian fans. It was Appiah that named Gyan as captain in 2013 but now in 2017 the question about whether Gyan will continue to be captain or not will depend on the plans Appiah has for Gyan. If Gyan does not start in Appiah’s team then the coach rationally names a player who starts as captain but if Gyan is going to start games then there would not be any need for a change of captain of the team, for me.

Now to the games proper. What will be Appiah’s first competitive game is a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Ethiopia on 9th June later this year either at the Accra Sports stadium or Babayara sports stadium or Tamale sports stadium and if you look at the other opponents of Ghana in the qualifying group being Sierra Leone and Kenya, Appiah should make it to Cameroon 2019 without breaking a sweat. This is an easy group per the standards of Ghana in AFCON qualification tournaments. The rest of the qualifying games will be played in 2018 and so for this year the qualification for the 2019 AFCON will not really be our main focus.

The Ethiopia game will be followed by the Mexico international friendly in Texas on 28th June.

However the main focus will be on the next four games that will determine whether the Black Stars will be at Russia 2018 or not and this is where the most challenging task of Appiah begins as his predecessor did not start on a strong note in the World Cup qualifying Group E having drawn at home to Uganda and lost away to Egypt.

Even before the World Cup qualifiers begin, as head coach of Local Black Stars Kwesi Appiah is tasked to qualify Ghana to the 2018 CHAN to be hosted by Kenya  from January to February 2018 and Ghana is paired against Burkina Faso in the qualifiers. The Local Black Stars visit the Burkinabes for the first leg on 11th August this year and receive them on the 18th August for the second leg and these two games are all that Kwesi Appiah needs to negotiate in order to qualify us to the CHAN which we failed to qualify for the last edition in Rwanda 2016 under coach Maxwell Konadu. At this time the CHAN is a priority and Appiah and his assistants know that as we cannot afford to miss the CHAN for two editions running. It  will be a really tough month of August this year for Kwesi Appiah.

After the CHAN double header versus Burkina Faso on the 11th August and 18th August, Appiah will not rest as there would be ten days left for his Black Stars to play the crucial Congo World Cup qualifier on the 28th August.

The best ever thing to come from Appiah in the World Cup qualifying group E is to win all remaining four games that is the two games against Congo on 28th August and 2nd September, the visit to Uganda on 8th October and the last home game against Egypt on 6th November and still hope that the Egyptians – who lead the group with massive 6 points – blip in their games against Uganda and Congo. It isn’t easy. Right? We can be optimistic but I want to be a realist here. Yes.  It was him that qualified Ghana to the Brazil 2014 World Cup three years ago but now this is a very difficult task for Kwesi Appiah to get us to Russia 2018. Very very difficult.

I have even listened to the GFA president Nyantakyi on Ghana’s chances of making it to Russia and he does not seem to have the confidence to declare that we are qualifying like he did three years ago. He is cautious with his speech this time around.

When Appiah was given the job in 2012 I supported the appointment but when he came asking for the job again alongside Broos and Sagnol in April , I was routing for Broos who had won the AFCON with Cameroon but the search committee decided and we take it as such.

We will all be eagerly waiting to see the first list of players Appiah will invite for his first game and we continue from there.

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