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Feature: In the Black Stars Cup

Published on: 16 March 2014
Black Stars

By Nii Ayitey Tetteh

As I poured the contents of the flask into the cup, the vapour rose with immense ferocity.  In a rather chilled lounge, the heat emanating from the boiling water was strong enough to cause beads of sweat on my brow.

Such irony!  I wasn’t the biggest fan of coffee but sure, I do “flirt” on occasion. Well, on this occasion, the coffee was rather black and strong so I signaled to the waiter. “I would like some cream please”.

As the waiter made away, I stared into the almost blank screen, I had barely typed anything. Probably, my emotions were getting in the way. I had to find words; words to dissect the rumour gaining currency that ex Black Stars coach, Milovan Rajevac will soon be appointed in a “special” technical capacity to assist substantive coach Kwesi Appiah.

As I searched for an opening, the smell of the coffee sparked a thought; isn’t Ghana brewing a coffee of her own as she prepares for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? What kind will the Black Stars brew and serve?

Will it be black, strong or creamed up? In other words will Kwesi Appiah’s beans be adequate to fill fans appetite or Serbian Milovan “Milo” Rajevac’s cream is a required topping? The waiter was taking forever, so I reached for the keyboard.

Appiah’s Coffee

Since October 15, 2013, when Ghana beat Egypt 6-1 to ease qualification to the world cup, days have turned into weeks, weeks to months and it is becoming clearer that, that massive win may perhaps, just perhaps have been a fluke.

James Kwesi Appiah has since struggled to convince anybody that he is playing to a particular pattern. As you watch the various teams he has put out; the second leg of the play off in Egypt, against Japan, Turkey and recently Montenegro, a lack of pattern is visible.

You wonder exactly how the Stars are shaped out; is it to play the ball from deep through the channels, the middle or on the wings; is to set out defensively and catch opponents on the counter?

It is true Appiah should be credited for restoring Ghana to an attacking 4-4-2 formation, in which Abdul Majeed Waris plays on top with Asamoah Gyan behind. In as much as this formation produced several goals in the qualifiers, the opposition will be far stronger and tactics will be more exotic at the World Cup. Concerns about Appiah’s tactical acumen when the chips are down, and the stakes are high, seems genuine and outweighs his positives. It will be hard, indeed you will scratch your head to pin point one game where the stars were losing or reeling under pressure and Appiah effected a tactical change that swung the game for the Stars. I bet you will. The coffee you will say is really black and requires a little bit of cream .. ermm no pun intended please.  Just like the sloppy waiter who was taking forever, Milo’s return has not been confirmed yet, but if it is, will Milo be a viable choice?

 Milo’s cream  

Off the top of my head, the one big quality Milo will bring to the Black Stars is sound defensive organization. That kind of set up is what brought Ghana a semblance of glory as the Black Stars narrowly missed the 2010 World Cup semi final, after Gyan’s famous penalty miss in the 122nd minute against Uruguay. In as much as he has been tagged “a defensive coach”, a closer look at his Ghana tenure will reveal that he came by that shape purely by accident. Going into the 2010 Africa Nations Cup in Angola where Ghana won silver, the Black Stars squad was depleted. Injury ruled out key players like John Mensah and Michael Essien while Sulley Muntari was dropped on disciplinary grounds.

So, Ghana went to that tournament with a sizable number of players from the 2009 U-20 World Cup winning team, some of whom were rookies at the senior level. Ghana played Ivory Coast and lost by a heavy 3-1 margin.

Milo tossed the attacking formation and played to the strength of boys who were bursting with youth, power and hunger to succeed. Milo’s strategy was to cede possession and use the wings to counter attack and nick a goal when she gained it.

The industry of Andre “Dede” Ayew and Opoku Agyemang on the wings ensured that Ghana was adequately covered defensively and attack augmented. So was it that Ghana beat Burkina Faso 1-0 and continued with similar score lines for the rest of the tournament and later in the World Cup as well. One goal project it was called, it wasn’t pretty on the eye but it was effective. Indeed, that says a lot about Milo; a practical man, one who would fashion out tactics to meet the exigency of the time.

Well, I had to do a recap to put the analysis into proper perspective because the dynamics has changed since Milo’s first tenure. Back then he was the one calling the shots and in full control.

Kwesi Appiah was a willing assistant who took instructions. Appiah is now the head, how amenable will he be to Milo’s technical advice? Milo back then had players who were hungrier, younger and willing to do anything to succeed including Kevin Prince Boateng.

Today’s team does not have players with similar physical levels and may to be able to execute Milo’s famous defensive strategy adequately. But then again, it could all be in the realm of assumption that he will employ the same strategy. Maybe being the practical man that he is, he will improvise again.

We don’t know. What we know however is that, the circumstances which facilitated his success are very different now and his appointment may not necessarily bode well, indeed, it may elicit power play which may derail the team’s cause.  “Sir, here is your cream please, Sir, Sir”. That was the sloppy waiter calling for my attention. Just like Ghana, I was torn; should I or I shouldn’t top my black coffee…?

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(Culled from 90 Minutes)

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