Ghana coach Avram Grant celebrates a year in charge of the Black Stars– A year which has seen the team move from public enemy back to being the pride of many Ghanaians.
Avram replaced James Akwasi Appiah after the Ghanaian had seemingly lost control of his dressing room.
The Israeli has been in charge of 17 games; winning 10, drawing four and losing three. These statistics is a carbon copy of Kwasi Appiah’s first 17 games as he also led the team to 10 victories, three defeats and four draws.
What have been the high points of Avram’s reign?
1. Mean defence
In Avram’s 17 games for the Black Stars, the team has conceded a meagre 12 goals which represents 0.7 goals conceded per match as compared to the 21 goals Ghana conceded in the last 17 games prior to Grant’s appointment representing 1.23 goals conceded per match.
To further buttress on the defensive stability, Grant’s team have kept a total of nine clean sheets in these 17 games whereas the combination of Kwesi Appiah and Maxwell Konadu only managed three clean sheets in their last 17 games prior to Grant’s arrival.
The three clean sheets were kept against Sudan, Lesotho and Korea. It is worthy to note that in Konadu’s four games in charge of Ghana, the team failed to keep a clean sheet.
What makes Grant’s record more impressive is the fact that the team have kept majority of these clean sheets in competitive matches.
In 10 competitive matches all year, the team has kept seven clean sheets and conceded only four; two to Senegal, one against South Africa and Mauritius.
To put things into perspective, the Stars are yet to concede a competitive goal since June and with the international break set to happen in 2016, this spell is set to extend for quite a few more months.
2. Gyan dependency is gradually diminishing
Avram Grant’s team have scored 30 goals in his 17 matches and guess what? Asamoah Gyan has scored only three out of these 30 games.
The captain has been plagued with injuries along the line but this statistic comes as music to the ears of many who had been wondering how and who will be finding the net for Ghana should Gyan decide to hang his boots.
Avram’s high pressing attacking team has ensured more midfielders go up in support of the traditional front two and thus, the goal scoring burden has been shared evenly amongst the team.
It comes as no surprise wingers Dede Ayew and Christian Atsu have shipped in a fair amount of goals this year as well Mubarak Wakaso albeit from dead ball situations.
Others like David Accam, Jeffrey Schlupp, Albert Adomah and Emmanuel Agyeman Badu have also found the net as Avram Grant’s Ghana have found goal scoring the least of their problems.
The player to benefit the most has been Jordan Ayew who ends 2015 as Ghana’s top scorer for the Black Stars with 5 goals.
3. Settled midfield- Rediscovery of Wakaso
Prior to Grant’s arrival, the midfield duo for the Black Stars had never been settled. Since the dynamic partnership of Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah in 2006 who dictated matches, Ghana has always been found wanting in that department.
Several combinations have been used by different coaches without having the desired effect Claude Le Roy started off with Essien and Muntari in midfield before introducing Anthony Annan at the latter part of the AFCON in 2008, Milovan Rajevac started off with Agyemang Badu and Anthony Annan in midfield at the AFCON in 2010 before pairing Annan and Kevin Prince Boateng at the World Cup.
Fellow Serb Goran Stevanovic shuffled between Derek Boateng and Anthony Annan alongside Emmanuel Agyeman Badu. Kwasi Appiah tried the Kwadwo Asamoah and Rabiu Mohammed combination, Rabiu, Badu combination, Derek Boateng and Agyeman Badu combination Essien, Muntari combination against Egypt and finally settled on Rabiu Mohammed and Sulley Muntari for the World Cup.
For all these combinations, there were either issues of one not complimenting the other or injuries or disciplinary issues or self-imposed exiles.
This has not been the case under Grant. The team has arguably a settled midfield with the introduction of Mubarak Wakaso being a masterstroke.
The Las Palmas man had by and large been used as a winger ever since he was introduced to the Black Stars. His introduction against Algeria at this year’s AFCON coupled with his magnificent assist for Asamoah Gyan has been the turning point for Ghana’s midfield.
Wakaso, alongside fellow workaholic Afriyie Acquah have dominated games for Ghana in the heart of midfield with their speed, power and energy. Credit to Grant for forming this partnership which has a lot of legs in them and more footballing years ahead.
It has not been smooth sailing for Grant. What have been his low points so far?
1. Perceived phobia for Ghana
Many Ghanaians when given the task can easily calculate the number of days and hours Grant has stayed in the country. Despite having success on the field, Grant has failed to stay in the country for a considerable period of time.
His employers, the GFA, may not openly admit it but this is a cause of worry to them. One of Grant’s mandates was to offer technical advice to the local coaches in the country.
How will he do it when he clearly does not stay in the country? It is clearly obvious most of these coaches in the country are not accustomed to using skype or any of these social media platforms so no virtual meetings can occur.
This points to the fact that these meetings can only be held face to face and with Grant rumored to be mostly monitoring players in Europe, our local coaches are obviously the losers.
Grant however held his first meeting with the coaches in the country at the Alisa Hotel yesterday, but with the next international break in March next year, one can imagine when next Grant will be seen on the shores of the country when he leaves in a few days most likely.
2. Abandoning of the Local Black Stars and league
Is it a coincidence the last set of players to play the Local Black Stars (Harrison Afful, Samuel Inkoom and Agyeman Badu) and make the step up to the Black Stars proper all played under Milovan Rajevac who was in charge of both teams?
Is it a coincidence all three players had parts to play during Ghana’s wonderful display at the AFCON in 2010?
Is it a coincidence that the last the team to emulate Rajevac’s record at the CHAN tournament (second place) still have no players knocking at the doors of the Black Stars proper?
Is it the 2 minute cameo of Samuel Tetteh that delights many? In all honesty, had Christian Atsu been fit, the chances of Tetteh being called up would have been slim.
Grant has paid little or no attention to the local Black Stars and it comes as no surprise the team performed woefully. The last time the team had this awful showing was under Herbert Addo when they were treated differently from the Black Stars proper. In the last edition, despite not being in charge, Kwasi Appiah flew to South Africa to offer his support to the team.
This team was left solely in the hands of Maxwell Konadu with Avram perceived to be ‘monitoring’ Europe whereas his compatriots such as Michel Dussuyer and Sunday Oliseh took charge of their local teams.
From all indications and from the comments of his agent, Saif Rubie, the league in Ghana is not one that could attract much of Grant’s interest.
The Ghana League is far from its death, as is being perceived.
At the 2014 World Cup, the Black Stars team that held World Champions to a draw started with 8 players who at one time or the other plied their trade in the local league. (Fatau Dauda, Harrison Afful, Kwadwo Asamoah, Jona Mensah, John Boye,Rabiu Mohammed,Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan).
Add Baba Rahman, Razak Braimah and Mubarak Wakaso in the current Black Stars set up and mostly all our starters played in the league.
Most of these players had the exposure on the national stage with the youth sides which fetched them contracts abroad to expose them. Why not give the current players a chance under your guidance with the local Black Stars?
This league has produced quality and will still produce quality players because talents abound in this country. The exodus is inevitable but sustaining the competiveness and attractiveness is our collective duty with which Avram Grant should spearhead.