Friday June 1,2012 was not only the start of a new month,well for most Ghanaians I must say. It signified the start of a new era in the life of the Senior National Football Men's team the Black Stars.
This is because,for the first time in 10 years, a local coach (James Kwasi Appiah)appointed last month, was going to manage the side (on a full time basis)in his first match,against Lesotho(a qualifier for the 2014 World Cup). He had replaced Serb Goran Stefanovic, to whom he had been assisted for two years.
It had been a long wait, although many people had been sceptical and pessimistic about the whole move to go in for a local trainer.Many argued that Ghana was ''not ready'' and that a local coach would lack the tactical knowledge and the mental resilience as well as authority to handle all the pressure(and trust me,immense pressure) as well as the egos within the team (as many of the boys play abroad,earning fat salaries and enjoying worldwide fame).
In a nation where almost everyone has a keen interest in football (primarily all issues pertaining to the black stars) the anticipation was intense, many across the opinion divide just couldn't wait for the opportunity to see how things would pan out.While the pessimists were waiting for him to ''mess up'' for them to prove their point, the local coach activists were hoping in tension, that Kwasi would rise up to the task. And boy did he perform!
Bar a potential reputation ruining cum humiliating floodlight failure that held up the game for close to an hour, the game was an absolute beauty(from Ghana's perspective). The Stars's performance evinced confidence and rejuvenation,with every player putting in a 10 out of 10 performance to impress the new gaffer.
The passing was pin point, the organization world class and the finishing top notch. A highly convincing 7-nil drubbing (Ghana's first ever seven nil win in decades) left spectators ecstatic, with critics put in a jaw-dropping trance. In a very fluid 4-3-3 formation that in a very unusual way had two to three players operating in a free role(most notable skipper Sulley Muntari who put in a virtuoso performance), Ghana passed the ball around,almost playfully,dwarfing the confidence of their Lesotho opponents.
One could clearly see the positive change and improvement in the team, as hitherto non-performing and doubted players like Derek Boateng, Dominic Adiyiah (scored a brace) and Jordan Ayew (also scored a brace) put in man of the match performances.
Many would bear me out that this had been the most exceptional Black Stars displays we have witnessed as a nation for many years. Even the skeptics had to back down with that argument of ''Lesotho being a weak team." and just give it to the boys and their coach.
Whichever way you look at it, it was a refreshingly exhilarating performance, something the team desperately needed for the start of a new phase.Besides, it would have been a gross injustice to take anything away from the performance, as even though the opponents were 'weak', not many teams could on any day put 7 past them, and in such a manner.
For most of us who were at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi to witness the dawning of this exciting new era, it was money well spent, even despite the floodlight drama. And yes, Im proud to say (as a pro-local coach activist and firm pan-africanist) that this performance was masterminded by one of our own.
Kwasi Appiah, a former captain of the Black Stars himself, who served as assistant coach for four years under two different managers, has proved, if his first outing is anything to go by, that giving him the job was an astute move. Soon after his appointment, he quickly recommended Maxwell Konadu,a young vibrant title winning coach with Asante Kotoko and as well as an old friend, to the Ghana F.A, to assist him.
Max Konadu's Kotoko side were lauded and acclaimed critically in the just ended season for being a solid side, which brought to the spot light his (Konadu's) tactical acumen. An clever appointment, in my honest opinion, as both had worked together to win Gold for Ghana's Olympic team at the All-Africa Games in Maputo.An ideal team from that perspective.
The new boss has injected a new spirit of renaissance into the squad, with players praising his attacking/possession football philosophy, which he works on at training by drilling the boys through more and more on-the-ball works. Off the pitch too,he has made efforts to stamp his authority in the player selection process,by fearlessly venturing into breaking grounds by conducting a recruitment process based more on merit(something Ghana has hardly experienced under the foreign coaches before him,where players got into the team as ''stars'' even after not having regularly played at club level). Although not a 100% certain that he has done so, there has most definitely been an improvement in that respect.
Also, being a local coach and privy to the knowledge of talent abounding in our local league, he has regularly monitored,fished out and included the crème de la crème of our local elite into the side,again another thing his foreign predecessors failed to do, much to the contentment of the local media and supporters alike.
Kwasi Appiah is overseeing a transition at the helm that has a brand new positive outlook, new players, new playing style and most importantly a new identity that most Ghanaians now feel they can relate to.The Black Stars of the 1960s 70s 80s and early 90s is being reincarnated so to speak, in Kwasi's team; a local coach, fluid attacking play, possession domination and above all, a chance for local players.
And with the support of Ghanaians (majority of whom were mesmerized and impressed by his debut), he can only go on and achieve great things, to prove a point for local coaches and give meaning to Kwame Nkrumah's famous proclamation that ''the African is capable of managing his own affairs''
It has been a dream, flying start to life in his new job.And in collaboration with his fellow young up and coming assistant,the duo will hopefully represent a new era/ movement of local coaches embarking on a journey that will ultimately lay the foundation, set the pace and serve as a long lasting legacy for future local coaches who will man the national team.
Hopefully, they'll go on to achieve great things and dispel the general thinking that local coaches are incompetent, inept and not up to the task.Their success or failure could spell out the fate of local coaches aspiring to get the opportunity in the future. A tough task stares them in the face,and inferring from the flying start,we have course as Ghanaians to believe that there is hope.
The future looks bright.
Saturday June 2,2012.