Sports Features Mon, 27 May 2019

Black Stars: The captaincy conundrum

I was not born by then, but I have read and heard how captaincy issues (among others) have culminated in the Black Stars’ failure to add up to Ghana’s four African Cup trophies. Between the late 80s and early 90s, Ghana had arguably one of its exceptionally talented group of players and should have won at least one African Cup trophy. The fracas between Current Coach Kwasi Appiah and Abedi Ayew Pele when the latter was handed the armband after the former was stripped off it for Senegal 92 is often cited as one of the reasons that generation never won the African cup, despite having all the arsenals to have done so at a canter.

At a time where the current team doesn’t boast of many high profile players and is yet to win back the love of all and sundry after the Brazil 2014 World Cup fiasco, captaincy brouhaha was the last thing Ghanaians expected to rear its ugly head especially at a time when the tourney is only a whisker away.

Ghanaians were hit with very surprising news on Monday May 20. ‘’Upon consultation with my family and team and as an active footballer and captain of the national team, if the decision of the coach is to give captaincy of the tournament to another player while I am named in the tournament, I wish to recuse myself from the tournament. I also wish to retire from the national team permanently; not pretending my presence would not fuel the purported undermining the country has seen under my captaincy’’.

The above were the exact words of ex-skipper (per the rumours) and all-time top scorer of the Black Stars, Asamoah Gyan in an obviously bitterness-inspired retirement letter on Monday 20th May, 2019.

Considering the stature and pedigree of the Baby Jet, this decision divided opinions sharply and has since been the major topic for discussion on almost all local sports shows and websites.

Given that Kwasi Appiah was set to name his (provisional) squad on that same day, this news added an extra layer of tension to an already charged atmosphere within the soccer fraternity.

For those championing the course of brawn and youth over experience as well as the avowed critics of the Kayserispor striker for various reasons, his retirement afforded Kwesi Appiah the perfect opportunity to give other younger players the chance in a major tournament, given that Gyan has been to every major tournament since Ghana 2008.

Since Gyan made his debut in 2003 as a 17-year old, the former Liberty Professionals’ striker has had a checkered stint with the National Team.

His decision to leave the team during the CAN 2008 after series of misses and attacks on his family, coupled with his decision not to take penalties again after his infamous miss at the semifinal stage of CAN 2013 readily come to memory. His rise to stardom has not been a smooth one and he certainly deserves the plaudits for his relentlessness and resoluteness.

Many other strikers have fallen along the way within the same period. Matthew Amoah, Joe Tex Frimpong, Razak Pimpong, Prince Tagoe, etc could all not endear themselves to Ghanaian football fans like Gyan has done. Kudos to him for being able to stay relevant and being the go-to guy for goals for the national team.

The past few seasons have, however, seen him suffer one injury after another.

This has undoubtedly robbed him of much of the blistering pace he had when he first burst onto the scene, a quality which earned him the accolade “Baby Jet’’. He would be the first to admit that his sharpness and fitness have equally taken a nosedive due to the combination of niggling injuries and age. Until recently, he seldom played for his club in Turkey. The factors stated above mean Gyan is very unlikely to lead the line for the Black Stars at the AFCON in Egypt next month.

That notwithstanding, many football fans are of the opinion that his vast experience garnered over the years would be crucial in our quest to win our first AFCON trophy in well over three and half decades.

Throughout last night and the wee hours of today, rumours were rife that Asamoah Gyan will rescind his decision to permanently retire from the Black Stars and make himself available for selection after being spoken to by the first gentleman of the land, H. E. Nana Akufo Addo.

Asamoah gave credence to this rumour by confirming same on his twitter handle.

A tweet posted on Tuesday morning read ‘’Later today, my manager @AnimSammy will be speaking on my behalf regarding my retirement from the National team. I will also release a statement based the telephone conversation with the president @NAkufoAddo.’’ At this point, it was quite clear that the Baby Jet was about to rescind his decision and a return to the team was on the horizon.

Five hours later, the highly anticipated statement was released and it confirmed all the rumors that had been making rounds the previous day. The baby Jet confirmed in the statement that he had rescinded his decision and this was largely due to the fact that he was granting a request made by the president.

Just like the earlier announcement, people applauded and castigated Gyan in equal measure. His management had their fair share of the flak.

To many, Gyan had not handled such a sensitive matter with the tact and cautiousness it deserved. Analysts of the game believe his consultations should have been widespread and all options should have been exhausted before arriving at that decision. Others are of the opinion that he could equally have just recused without opening up on the real reasons, knowing the impact it would have on an already fractured squad.

Gyan has betrayed the coach and needs to concede. He must apologise to him and his team mates.At the end of the day, the buck stops with the coach. He is responsible for his decisions as he is for the results on the pitch. Whatever his reasons for this captaincy decision are, I am pretty sure he would have made them known on the day the official announcement would be made.

Lovers of the game have also questioned the timing of Kwasi Appiah’s decision. Having been a victim of captaincy issues before, he was expected to have known and handled this decision better.

In his retirement letter, Gyan alluded to his unhappiness at not captaining the team, if only he was named. Now that he has made himself available for selection again, the onus, as always lies on the coach to decide how and when to play him (of course we expect him to be named in the squad).

The captaincy issue as well is solely the coach’s to make, irrespective of how Gyan or any other person feels. After all, he has been tasked with winning the trophy and so his decisions should be respected by everyone.

The reaction of Dede Ayew, the other party in this matter is one that cannot be known now. If our quest to win our 5th AFCON will be successful, then this issue has to be looked at again. At the end of the day, no one was born with or entered the team with the armband. Whoever wears is important but the trophy will mean more to the players and the nation at large.

With bated breath we look forward to Kwasi Appiah naming his (provisional) squad for the tourney. Any other issue(s) should be treated with a pinch of salt for now.
Source: Murphy Nana Kwame Sabi
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