Sports News of Tuesday, 1 December 2015
The press conference which was scheduled to last thirty minutes extended to well over an hour. Avram Grant, relaxed, patient and engaging, answered questions pertaining to his year in charge of the Black Stars.
Journalists probed. Issues ranged from his relationship with Adam Kwaresey, confidence in Maxwell Konadu, as he well as his constant overlooking of local players and more.
Joy Sports’ Gary Al-Smith and Kweku Arhin sat through it all and cobbled together these pointers.
1. On what mark he’ll give himself, out of 10, so far. “I never grade myself. I leave it to my wife. The answers will be on the pitch. Judge me by my work on the pitch and the results.”
2. Why is Adam Kwarasey, arguably Ghana’s best ‘keeper anywhere in the world, not getting callups? “I don’t have a problem with Kwarasey. Normally I do not answer questions on players. I have no personal issues with any player. For me, I work for the team and this is it.There are three parameters I use in choosing players. First is quality, the second is personality including mentality and discipline and everything and third and most important of all is that the national team must be the most important thing to you.”
3. A question that was repeatedly asked: has or did Avram extend an invitation to the player? “I won’t answer questions on individual players. I will not answer on Kwarasey. It is a personal issue. Players must be willing to put the national team first.”
4. Any chance Grant’ll leave the job before the end of his contract? “You never know about my future. This is football. Anything can happen. My contract ends in January 2017, although I will it were January 2017 and one week more!”
5. Does Maxwell Konadu (right, above) inspire confidence as an assistant? “I am comfortable with Maxwell Konadu as my assistant and my staff. I am very comfortable with the staff both the local staff and the ones abroad. Maxwell did a very good job because he is the contact man for the local players. Everyone had to do a good job for the Black Stars and if they don’t I will gently tell them to step away.”
6. General impressions of how he’s done. “My first task as Black Stars coach was to take the team out of the World Cup trauma. I don’t want to remind Ghanaians of the past. I think the players have done well for themselves and for their country in my first year.”
7. On why locally-based Ghanaian players seem to think the only way into the Black Stars is to go abroad. “Don’t divide Ghanaians. Everyone is a Ghanaian. Either foreign or local they are Ghanaians. In fact, I see all players, whether local or abroad, as locals. The team has impressed me. I can’t single out any individual.”
8. Why is his monitoring so Euro-centric and why does he not stay in Ghana to see players here, while using ubiquitous technology to see what those abroad are up to? “I am following the best Ghanaian players where they are. If a majority of them were here I would stay. I’m trying to follow everyone There’re a lot of technologies to do this, but I prefer to see players with my own eyes.”
9. More on that point… “I travel extensively to watch Ghanaian players in Europe. In a week, I can watch three players. Take the week before our last match for instance. I flew from Italy to France to watch [Abdul Majeed] Waris, and he had a red card after 43 minutes. I don’t know whether he did it specially for me [laughs all round]. Then I took a train to London to watch Jordan [Ayew] and he did well. Then I went to see another game”
10. More Ghanaian players are going to play in African countries, as opposed to Europe. Why is he not monitoring in these countries on the continent too? “Monitoring in Africa is one thing I have to do. I am not happy with myself on that.”
11. On why Godfred Saka (Aduana Stars) is not getting a look into the team. “Everyone has his opinion about players. If I pick a player, it means he deserves to be in the team. Quality, Personality and ability to die for the national team. This is the criteria I use for the national team. All of you are coaches. Media have agenda to push in some players but remember I take the decisions. I saw Bernard Mensah and I gave him a chance and he showed he is a good talent.Now he is not playing and I hope he starts to play.”
12. On why some of his callups have been of players with little or no playing time in their clubs, such as South Africa-based Edwin Gyimah. “I am not happy to pick players who don’t play regularly, but sometimes you must pick players who do well for us. We’ve called up, at different points, Christian Atsu, Baba Rahman and Mubarak Wakaso when they were not exactly regular.”
13. Some junior national team players have been doing very well in the last year but have not been rewarded. What’s up? “I believe except in exceptional circumstances, I believe progress from one national team to another must be gradual.”
14. Like Samuel Tetteh (above, pictured) who was given a Ghana call-up after displays at U20, U23 and CHAN teams? “I saw him, and other players when I was with the CHAN team in Senegal earlier this year. I was there for one week and I really liked what I saw. That team has players that will be the future Black Stars for sure.”
15. On Kwadwo Asamoah’s chances of getting back into the side after such a lengthy injury layoff – almost a year since he’s consistently played. “Kwadwo Asamoah is a top talent. I spoke to him not long ago. He will return to playing next week.I hope he can return to top shape. If Kwadwo Asamoah recovers and he is fit he will provide good competition to the guys we have.”
16. It’s bene said many times that the GFA employed Avram o have oversight technical responsibility for all national teams. But his touch hasn’t been felt anywhere apart from on the Black Stars. “The junior national team is not officially part of my job, but I will like to help them.”
17. What two things have been improved in the last year under his tutelage? “I am happy we have improved our goalscoring as a team. We also set targets to improve our defending from set pieces and in general.”
18. And the greatest challenge so far? “My greatest challenge is to improve what we have done so far. It is a long process. The door is open for every player. The Black Stars is a stage for the best players.”
19. On the media’s constant requests for certain players to be called up. “You are doing your job, I am doing mine. I hope you look in the mirror to access yourself. I am not judging you.”
20. A gentle reminder about who is the boss. “I am sure we will differ on what a quality player is, but I am sorry, there is only one man in charge and that is me. If I pick a player, it means he is good enough to be in the national team.”
21. Ghana has a notoriously bad no money syndrome where sportsmen and women are not paid on time. How has that affected the team? “It’s not my area. I always divide myself: football and money. I want that everything is good. I didn’t like what happened before Comoros [where a bonus row dominated headlines] but I had to use my influence but I have told everyone this is not good for the team. Players need to be focused only on football. It wasn’t my area, but I had to use my influence, but I have told everyone this is not good for the team.”
After covering more than a dozen Avram Grant pressers, it’s what I’ve come to expect from him.
The standard menu of part seriousness, part droopy scowl, and plenty wit and humor to douse sensitive topics. But what stuck out was how relaxed he was about the meeting.
He even had the confidence to upstage his employers: “I should let you know that I am here because I called for this press conference because I feel after a year in charge, we have to have this conversation. You [journalists gathered] have a job to do too so it is important to know where we all stand on issues”.
Fair play. That set the tone nicely.
But the Ghanaian press, being who we are, dug in almost immediately. One of the first missiles was whether assistant coach Maxwell Konadu is, essentially, good enough.
Konadu’s eyebrow’s shot up in surprise at the journalist’s temerity. Grant simply guffawed and slapped his assistant good-naturedly, and answered with aplomb: he was fine with Maxwell, blah blah blah. Standard.
His handling of the Kwarasey questions left a taste of a manager who can be petty if he wants. The 60-year old, with so much experience in varying climes, surprised the gathered press with his curt, almost dismissive, answers when it came to the ‘keeper’s aloof stance to national callups.
One would have thought that given the history of Kwarasey’s discontent with the national team management, Grant would have taken a more feathery approached.
Here’s some background: following his dubious bench role at the 2014 World Cup when Fatau Dauda was suddenly put ahead of him, Kwarasey shunned the Black Stars.
With Avram in charge, it’s been reported that the two have met and spoken. It’s also been said that there’s been progress in talks. However, in a recent Ghana friendly against Canada, Kwarasey had asked to be excused because of club commitment. It was clear during Monday’s presser that Grant is still raw from that snub.
Instead, the Israeli’s usually unreadable demeanour clearly showed irritation at the Norwegian-born player.
And on the prickly matter of why he doesn’t seem to favour staying in Ghana, his answers were swift and firm, if not very direct. But he left no doubt about what he thought of the local league, that it is not good and consistent enough for it to warrant his staying in the country.
Which is why he hops around North America and Europe, where things are more predictable and schedule friendly. At that point, the GFA spokesperson, seated to his left pursed his lips. He knew the man was right – the local league’s products cannot compete with the best of the Black Stars in major international competition.
One can always talk about giving them a try. But when you are Avram, and every friendly match is scrutinized so hawkishly, sometimes you cannot gamble too much.
The coach made no bones about how the nonsense of not paying players and the politics that surrounds it could scupper future endeavours. A few weeks ago, Ghana laboured to beat Comoros home and away, with copious attention given to a sad case of bonus-hogging.
And Grant made it clear that he wanted none of it. A big plus for his clarity of expression on that score.
December 1, 2014, is actually the day he officially started work. There’s more to be done for him to attain a tag of legendary Ghanaian coach. So far, not so bad.