The ‘second coming’ of Coach Kwesi Appiah received lukewarm reactions from Ghanaians. Coach Appiah was blamed for Ghana’s woes at the 2014 World Cup and I saw his return as an opportunity for redemption after the treatment he endured. I thought Ghanaians would, if not welcome him with open arms, at least give him an opportunity to redeem himself. Little did I know that the bashing was going to begin just after playing his very first game.
Coach Appiah had the start coaches dream of for their first games. Ghana beat Ethiopia by 5 unanswered goals in front of a packed home crowd and introduced three debutants who not only had perfect games but one of them scored two goals. Not to mention, the team’s skipper, Asamoah Gyan, scored a landmark 50th international goal. Which coach wouldn’t want to achieve the above fate in his first game? Moreover, most countries would have thunderously applauded such an achievement by its national team – not Ghanaians. To my surprise, Ghanaians, looking for reasons to be displeased, threw this accomplishment out of the window in favor of controversy about an armband that was worn by the team’s captain, Asamoah Gyan.
Skipper Asamoah Gyan wore a personalized captain’s armband with his photo when Ghana played Ethiopia. Andre Ayew, the deputy skipper, had to retrieve the original captain’s armband from the team’s bench when Asamoah Gyan was substituted. This prompted all kinds of wild accusations of Gyan’s arrogance and unfounded speculations about his actions among Ghanaian soccer faithfuls. The fever pitch level of this hysteria forced journalists to harp on the matter with both Captain Asamoah Gyan and Coach Akawasi Appiah during the post-game press conference. The question of the day – why Captain Gyan did not give his armband to his deputy – was asked by almost every journalist in the room. The coach and his captain had a simple and understandable answer to the question: Gyan’s armband was personalized with his photo and was not the original captain’s armband, which was given to Ayew when he entered the game.
While some media houses and Ghanaians descended on Captain Gyan for his perceived arrogance, much of the heat was directed at Coach Kwesi Appiah for being too ‘soft’ or ‘too gentle’ to properly control his team. I’m not interested in upholding the general outcry of Kwesi Appiah as weak nor am I interested in condemning it. I however want to raise certain points and hopefully after reading, readers will be a little circumspect when criticizing.
1. Are Africans – or let me be more specific by saying are Ghanaians – too quick to criticize our own? I belong to a discussion group consisting of very intellectual Ghanaians. Naturally, the issue of Gyan’s personalized armband came up for discussion. Almost all of the group members who chimed in subscribed to the argument of the day and blamed what transpired on Kwesi Appiah, whom they charged as ‘weak’. Some even took it further, speculating that the Gyan-Appiah saga would have never happened anywhere else. To my surprise, when it was brought to the group’s attention that Italian Seria A side Atlanta star, Alejandro Gomez, personalizes his armband in almost every game, some members shifted their concern from Kwesi Appiah being too weak to whether Gyan asked for permission to use the armband.
NOTE: I did not hear Ghanaians calling Avram Grant weak when he did not sack Razak Brimah from Afcon 2017 tournament after his explicit rants on fans.
2. Does a leader or coach have to chastise or discipline a subordinate in public to prove his toughness? My little observations on good leaders inform me that they do not wash their dirty laundry in public. I have seen the likes Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte and many more coaches defend their players at press conferences even after obvious misconduct by their respective players. Going back to point one, hardly do I hear any Ghanaian call the above coaches weak because most people know that even though they might have defended their players publicly those players in question will be dealt with privately. Can we give Coach Kwesi Appiah the same benefit of the doubt?
Does a lapse in Judgment equate to weakness? Was Coach Appiah aware that Captain Gyan was going to use a personalized armband? Did Gyan seek permission from the coach before using his armband? These were the common questions being asked by Ghanaians. Based on the post-game press conference, it appears that the coach was aware. On the matter of whether Gyan sought permission, let’s assume that he did and was given the go ahead, shouldn’t that then be judged more as a lapse in judgment on the coach’s part since it could have led to reprimanding from FIFA? A lapse in judgement is not weakness; it is simply a lapse in judgement. Making the right diagnosis for a problem is the best way to solve it. Acting on our impulses and immediately jumping to the wrong conclusions will not do us any good.
3. Can we learn anything from the past? Ghana has had some very tough native football administrators with very strict stances before and I’m sorry to say that those publicly strict stances did not end well for our mighty Black Stars. A prime example was when Coach Cecil Jones Attuquayefio – may his soul rest in peace – decided to use all local players to play a world cup qualifier against Nigeria on March 11th, 2001, at the Accra Sports Stadium. The game ended goalless which was more of a moral victory for Ghana but that result diminished our 2002 World Cup hopes. The late Ben Koufie – may his soul rest in peace – had a similar tough stance which unfortunately did not end well too.
Are the Black Stars ready for a Ghanaian coach? This is a topic I will address in a later article, but, in brief, I will say that it will be good for Ghana football and, more importantly, for our players to look forward to future careers in leadership roles. Unfortunately, Ghanaians (our players inclusive) are not psychologically and philosophically ready to embrace this.