Sports Features of 2014-01-26

Technical Decision making: A problem for local footballers

I have deliberately not commented on the Local Black Stars’ performance during the ongoing Championship of African Nations in South Africa, about from my time as the competition’s anchor on Ghana Television, but after watching three games, suffice it to say that despite Ghana topping Group B and making it into the quarterfinals, this achievement does not hide the fact that serious structural changes are needed in the way football is run in this country, particularly from the technical point of view.

It has become abundantly clear that effective coaching at the youth level is virtually non-existent. Players from a very young age are given coaching by passionate football followers rather than proper grass root coaches. As a result, the basics are not taught properly and raw players remain raw even into their thirties. For example, decision-making in the final third, controlling the ball, getting a good first touch, shooting accurately and movement off the ball are all basic stuff that a player needs to learn from a very young age.

Unfortunately, it is easy to see a player shooting in the final third when the correct thing to do is to pass, or the other way round. A player is going in on goal but more often than not, the first touch lets him down and he is either tackled or he shoots wide. Even controlling the ball from a pass seems difficult and indeed players tend to shoot more in hope than in expectation. Issues like leaning back when shooting, shooting with the toes instead of the instep sometimes and a general lack of accuracy are becoming more and more prevalent and that constitutes a real challenge.

I am concerned because much of the challenges I have outlined above are evident when the Local Black Stars are in action and I cannot help but feel sorry for Maxwell Konadu. The head coach must probably be shaking his head in frustration because his players do not implement his tactical instructions. He deserves immense credit for how far he had brought the team, and hopefully things should get better, but watching their games, you can tell that he is unhappy that the players are remaining tactically indisiplined game after game. Fortunately, he brought in the likes of Asiedu Attobra and Samuel Afful in the second half against Ethiopia and Ghana, in sharp contrast to the games against Congo and Libya, played better in the second half.

To be honest, the bigger picture is that there is no effective coaching at grass root level and the earlier something about this is done, the better it would be for Ghana football. Budding and talented players from under the ages of 6 should be supervised by coaches with the requisite training and as the player grows older, the focus should be on technique. Former Black Stars goalkeeper Abukari Damba thinks that if players are taught technique from a young age, all other things will follow. “It is all about technique. When coaching very young players, the emphasis should be on technique, technique, technique. Once that is done, all other things will follow, such as ball control, decision making in the final third and accurate shooting.” Damba is also concerned that goalkeepers of today do not distribute the ball well to start attacks, noting that most of the time, goalkeepers give away possession when kicking the ball in. “Most of our goalkeepers do not have that ability to effectively distribute the ball. 75% of the time, when a goalkeeper kicks the ball, it goes straight to the opposition. Goalkeepers should be involved in the buildup from the back. That is very important.” Clearly, that also means that goalkeepers’ trainers have to undergo lots of courses to bring themselves up to speed in coaching potential talents in goalkeeping.

In short, coaching at the grassroots levels is seriously under resourced and ineffective and the danger is that unless a player leaves Ghana for greener pastures overseas to develop his game, that player will remain an unpolished diamond until the end of his playing days. That represents a real challenge, in terms of preserving a conveyor belt of talents in Ghana football.

I believe that the Ghana Football Association, which has done a good job of branding the Black Stars globally, should invest more time and energy into grass roots football. The Omo Funtastic Five competition has seen 12-year old players competing for their various basic schools and perhaps that is a perfect place to start. With some talents given a proper coaching program, that is one of the many ways of properly developing players for the future. I recall that Michael Essien once played for a national Under 12 team that had the likes of George Yamoah in it. Maybe that is one way of facing the challenge head on.

Clearly Ghana needs proper football development at the grassroots level and the sooner the GFA acts on it, the better it would be for us all.