Sports Features of Mon, 12 Jun 201722
Avoidable Gyan armband saga shows Stars' emotional unintelligence
On a normal day, it should not be a big deal. But this is the Ghana national team, where ‘normal’ is definitely defined abnormally on the best of normal days.
In typical Ghanaian fashion, a thumping 5-0 win Ethiopia to begin the 2019 AFCON qualifiers has been sidelined, and a totally avoidable controversy is on board.
Goals from Asamoah Gyan (replays suggest it may have been an own goal, but the official CAF match report credits the striker), John Boye, Ebenezer Ofori and a brace from Raphael Dwamena rounded off a fine day where youth combined with experience to produce three points at the Baba Yara Stadium on Sunday.
Late on, team captain Gyan was substituted after featuring in his 102nd cap for the Black Stars. The normal practice is for him to have handed over the armband to his deputy, Andre Ayew. Instead, Ghanaians watched as the elder Ayew was given another armband from the bench.
What happened? It turns out that Gyan’s armband was customized with his photo and shirt number, and so Ayew couldn’t have possibly worn it.
What did Gyan wear?
Within minutes of the incident, television cameras and photographers provided pictorial evidence of what Gyan’s armband looked like.
One of the best photos, as shown in the main image of this piece, was taken by the excellen Senyuiedzorm Adadevoh of Images Image. It quickly made the rounds on the web and other media.
Many could not remember seeing a precedent like that anywhere in the world, and so the obvious reaction was of surprise, dismay and, depending on your leanings, disbelief, frustration and/or anger.
Did Andre wear something else?
Yes. When Gyan came off, Andre Ayew wore a captain's armband with a Puma logo on it.
What do the rules say?
Every competition has its regulations. What may apply in a Fifa World Cup game may not necessarily apply in a Fifa World Cup qualifier.
It is true that the Confederation of African Football is under Fifa, but CAF’s competitions sometimes have slightly bespoke versions of the general rules.
At the last Olympic Games in Brazil, for instance, the Fifa statutes were clear in saying that a captain’s armband “shall remain free of, and shall not produce, in Fifa’s discretion, the visual effect of a Manufacturer’s Identification, a sponsor, any Decorative Element or further elements, except for the word ‘captain’ or an abbreviation or translation thereof.”
That was the Olympic Games, and generally, Fifa competitions follow that rule. The 2019 CAF qualifiers also, generally, follow the Fifa statutes when it comes to armbands, meaning that technically, the Ghana team should not have allowed this to happen.
However, there are exceptions.
Will Ghana be punished?
As far as Joy Sports understands, no.
Before every game at this level, there are technical meetings. There, decisions peculiar to the game are taken. CAF, as well as its stakeholders, can decide to circumvent certain regulations in special circumstances.
In fact, Joy Sports checks with CAF show that if the match ref, Maguette Ndiaye from Senegal, saw the need to report the incident as an anomaly, Ghana could be fined. But he would not, because it is understood that he knew of this arrangement ahead of time.
Why did Gyan wear the armband?
Joy Sports understands that Ghana’s kit maker, Puma, had earlier sent this special armband with Sunday’s set of equipment.
Having been on 49 goals before this game, the armband was given in anticipation of him getting a 50th - which he did by scoring the opener. Some may ask: how was it known that he will score? As regular watchers of world football will well note, making such provision for auspicious occasions are not unusual.
When the Black Stars played the 2015 AFCON final in Equatorial Guinea, they had customized shirts with ‘2015 AFRICAN CHAMPIONS’ emblazoned on them, waiting in the dressing room. Of course, the clothes were never used because the Stars lost.
When Juventus recently lost their Champions League final against Real Madrid, the Italians had to pack all their pre-arranged celebratory memorabilia, complete with monochrome buntings and customized champagnes, back to the peninsula.
Similarly, many players have inscriptions written under their shirts, ready to share them with the world when they score goals; but end up not doing so if they don’t score.
So, from the rulebook’s point of view, Gyan may not have erred in wearing that armband.But, decisions at this level do not need always need rulebooks. Sometimes, what is needed is plain common sense.
The Ghana skipper, and the technical team, should all have foreseen the furore this would have created, and simply avoided it.
Following the shame this Ghana team brought unto itself and its people with the disgraceful episodes of the Brazil 2014 World Cup, public interest in the team has plummeted to historic lows.
It’s been extremely challenging to get fans back to supporting the team. Kwesi Appiah, who was widely seen as an unwitting scapegoat in the whole sordid Brazil affair, has been accepted, mostly, as the man who could rally the country behind the team again, upon his re-appointment in April.
The mistakes he made in his first stint are well documented and should be a guide in the two-year tenure he has started. He should not forget the perception that he allowed players, especially the senior ones, to have too much sway in the team.
Also simmering in the background for years, has been the public belief that there is an Asamoah Gyan vs Andre Ayew farrago. Nothing has been proven, but the perception has loomed large over the team since Gyan became captain in late 2012.
Indeed, just last week, there were rumours in a section of the media, for the umpteenth time, that rifts are developing in the side.The two players, as they have done in the past, went the extra mile to be seen joking at training and being friendly anytime the cameras were around.
Anyone close to the team will tell you these rumours are rubbish, but they have become an urban myth that may never go away until the two players retire.
Why even allow this controversy?
With all this information known by the team, it boggles the mind why a) Kwesi Appiah will allow this Gyan armband matter to even happen at all and b) why Gyan himself could not have resisted the urge to go ahead with it – knowing how it could be interpreted and c) why the handlers of the Black Stars thought this was a good idea to okay it.
You know what’s even more surprising? Among the backroom staff of the current team are people who should have seen this coming from a mile away: Stephen Appiah (team coordinator and ex-Ghana captain), Richard Kingson (goalkeepers’ trainer and veteran Ghana ’keeper),Ibrahim Tanko and Maxwell Konadu (both former national team players, now Kwesi Appiah’s assistant coaches).
Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor These four names have, between them, seen some of the most turbulent times Ghana has been through in the last 30 years, and it is disappointing that they let this happen.
Heck, even high school students are divided over whether Gyan or Andre should lead the team. So, why would anyone give room for such a distraction?
Where’s the emotional intelligence?
In a 2001 BBC interview, the legendary Charles ‘CK’ Gyamfi explained how he kept his star-studded AFCON-winning teams of 1963, 1965 and 1982 all happy, despite the fierce competition for playing time.
“Ghanaians are interesting people. And everyone had an opinion about how I should manage the team,” he began.
“So, after I took all my decisions with regard to selection and so on, sometimes I weighed it against what the public wanted. I did not always do this, but I think every successful national team coach has done this before at one point or other, because although the team must behave the way you want, it’s more important that the team behaves the way the nation wants.”
One of Kwesi Appiah’s biggest problems in his first stint was his deficit of emotional intelligence – where he seemed unable to gauge public temperature toward his team and act accordingly. Every political job (and make no mistake, managing Ghana is a political job) needs savvy leaders.
After he supervised the demolition of Ethiopia on Sunday, the 56-year old’s post-match presser was dominated by questions of the armband. His answer?
“We are all aware of [the customization of the armband]. In case [Gyan] is being changed, we cannot give the customized armband to [Andre] so the idea was [that] in case [Gyan] is being changed during the game, we need to give [Andre] the original one.”
Completely unnecessary, in the current football climate the Black Stars finds itself in. If Kwesi Appiah wants to have a fruitful second stint where we discuss his on-field performances rather than sideshows, he should simply not allow these things to happen.
For now, let’s enjoy the win. --- Gary Al-Smith is an assisting Joy Sports editor. Get him on Twitter @garyalsmith. All photos in the piece (c) Images Image/Senyuiedzorm Adadevoh.
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