Sports News of Sunday, 6 December 2015
Sometimes a man says lot more by what he refuses to say and if there was one significant takeaway from Avram Grant’s recent press conference it simply was that he is as astuttely independent minded person who may hear the noise but refuses to be distracted by it.
The Israeli reminded us that while we may all have opinions, he had the job of calling up players for the national team and that he will do it on his terms, not ours. It was a an assured display but far from a convincing one. It was a performance that also threw up a lot more questions.
There are things we know definitely now even if Grant was smart enough not to say in express terms. His relationship with Adam Kwarasey is clearly flawed now. It is a relationship that clearly has suffered a battering after the issues surrounding the Canada friendly.
First Kwarasey says publicly that he has been invited, then pulls out before the game because his club has what was in his estimation a more important game the following day. Against the background that it was an international day and Ghana had a right to the play, Grant was understandably unhappy and it showed when he suggested at a press conference after the game that he never called up Kwarasey.
Grant’s regular reference to a player’s commitment to put Ghana first suggest he clearly feels that Adam Kwarasey does not do that for the national team. It is row that could simmer but one that needs to be fixed urgently. Grant’s one year assesment press conference was not dominated by Adam Kwarasey because any of the gathered journos feel he is the Ghanaian version of Lev Yashin or Peter Schmeichel.
It was dominated by questions relating to Kwarasey because there is a feeling that he adds to the quality of the goalkeepers available to the team. It is no judgement on the quality of Razak Braimah and Fatau Dauda. It is merely an acknowledgement that the best Ghanaian goalkeeper at the moment is not in the side.
Kwarasey is one of the few players from that world cup squad missing from Grant’s regular squads. In assesing his one year in charge, the Israeli spoke of how he has lifted spirits again, restored belief and made Ghana a tighter unit defensively and cut down their goal concession rate. Smartly he refused to grade himself and asked that we judge him by the world on the field.
And that parameter of work on the field suggest the one year with Avram Grant has been nothing spectacular. It has been OK but nothing that history will remember in amazing terms. Those who want you to believev Grant has been some sort of saviour figure for Ghana football speak of how low spirits in the team was when he took over and how bad we had become as a football nation.
The evidence points to something else. Grant did not take over a football team that was on it’s knees. He took over a football team that had put money ahead of football and allowed their pursuit of it to distract them from doing the red, gold and green colours of Ghana proud. The events at the world cup before and after was not a football problem, it was an attitude problem. And as Grant discovered in the build up to the Comoros game, when money becomes an obsessive subject, preparations suffer. Crucially when it gets to that stage, a coach can have very little influence.
In the one year period as Ghana boss, there is no doubt he has had some incredible highs. My personal favourites all come from the Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea. That 1-0 win over Algeria was a tactical masterpiece that was given more meaning by Asamoah Gyan’s genius. Long before Gyan struck that evening, Grant had managed to organise his team in a manner that neutralised all of Algeria’s arsenals. Then there was the win against South Africa where Ghana stuck to a game plan and got the deserved reward.
Once out of the group stage though, this was more like a walk in the park. Guinea crumbled easily and Equatorial Guinea did what most home teams do; rise to the later stages of a major tournament and then tumble because in purely football terms, they fell short. Since then, Grant’s team has beaten Mauritius, drawn twice with Canada and Comoros and then beaten Comoros.
They say a coach can only beat what is in front of him but they also say that the quality of the opponents adds to the significance of a win. That is why when Grant speaks about improving the team defensively since the Nations Cup, the rankings of Mauritius (173), Canada (102) and Comoros (177) comes quickly to mind. Trumpeting a defensive record against these teams is fair to say laughable. The area that Grant convinced the most at the assesement press conference has to be in the one area where he is constantly criticized. His regular trips abroad and decision to stay in Europe more often has made Grant a hugely unpopular figure. He has been called lazy and disrespectful to home-based players.
Truth is you want your national boss around, you want him to watch key games and while Grant is right to say the best players play outside, it untenable that he doesn’t make time to watch the local Black Stars and junior sides play. It does not add up.
But he is right on one thing. The national boss must be where most of his players are which is the exact point Grant made with an analogy of how he spends his week in Accra and in Europe.
He said: “the last week before I came here on Saturday I flew from the place that I was before in Italy to see Warris in France. The Sunday after I took a train to London and I saw Jordan Ayew on Monday which I like because he is improving his game. Thursday I saw Frank Acheampong, he is not here but he is in my list of 35 players and Saturday is the game. In between that I speak with players, managers amongst others.
“In two weeks when I was here before Rwanda, I saw AshantiGold become champions and then no other games. I enjoy this country but no games to watch. Your league is competitive but don’t lie to yourself, you need to face the truth, don’t be so sensitive.
“Last Friday two players went to Sudan and they only saw them to Sudan. Lawrence Lartey that won the cup the champion went to play in Africa instead to stay and try to win the African cup with his team the situation is because the money is not coming to this because their players are giving everything this is the situation so this is my job and this is what I need to do.”
It was compelling defence and one that makes perfect sense. Except that even when the local Black Stars is playing, Grant does not show up and when the big local games come around, he does not bother too. It is the feeling that he does not exactly care that rubs off many people the wrong way.
Hopefully that will change in the second year of his leadership. It has been okay for the moment but there is still an incredible lot that can be done.