As inevitable as night follows the day, Coach Charles Akonnor became the first casualty of the Black Stars’ jerky 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign as he was given the axe last Monday alongside his two assistants, David Duncan and Dutchman Patrick Greveraars.
The red flags went flying following Ghana’s shaky start to the qualifiers in spite of the team’s lone goal victory over Ethiopia in Cape Coast but the 0-1 loss against South Africa three days later sent the strongest signal that there was a need for a change in guard if Ghana were to salvage their campaign.
Akonnor’s uninspiring record of just 40 per cent win rate [he supervised four wins, four losses and two draws in 10 matches during his 19-month tenure as national coach] strengthened the case of those who felt he was not the right man for the job.
While the Ghana Football Association’s leadership cannot escape blame for the team’s shortcomings, the three-man team [Mr Mark Addo, Dr Randy Abbey and Alhaji Salifu Zida] tasked to head-hunt a new coach for the Black Stars cannot afford to make a wrong choice as it would come at a great cost to Ghana football.
There are no guarantees that big-name coaches cast in the mould of Pep Guardiola or Thomas Tuchel would definitely take Ghana to next year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar but Ghana’s Black Stars need an elite coach with a track record that can rebuild the team to unleash their full potential at the international level.
For all his exposure playing at the highest level in Europe with German Bundesliga side, VfL Wolfsburg, before a promising coaching career with Hearts of Oak, Dreams FC and Asante Kotoko, Akonnor did not appear ready for the challenges of handling the national team he once captained.
Akonnor confided in some close associates that his former manager and GFA President, Mr Kurt Simeon-Okraku, and other powerful officials imposed players on him. This was enough admission that the coach did not carry the strength of character to ward off external interference and other influences that undermined his authority and capacity to execute his mandate.
The Black Stars, seeking to make grounds after failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, find themselves at a defining moment as they must have in place a new manage to guide them through four matches over the next two months, the results of which would define their World Cup campaign.
In appointing Akonnor as successor to Kwasi Appiah last year, the GFA were guided by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s preference for a Ghanaian to lead the national team. However, with so much to lose if Ghana fails to make it to the World Cup and also perform abysmally at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, there are strong indications that the FA’s search team will cast its net wider and look beyond indigenous coaches.
Criteria for recruitment
In an interview with the Daily Graphic, Dr Abbey said the three-man team was looking for a top-notch coach capable of hitting the ground running but indicated also that no Ghanaian coach had applied for the vacant job. Nonetheless, the local media had linked former Black Stars forward and assistant coach of Borussia Dortmund, Otto Addo; former Black Meteors coach, Ibrahim Tanko, and former Dutch international, George Boateng, to the vacant job.
This time, however, the GFA will prioritise competence over a sense of nationalism while being mindful that the next coach’s demands must fit into the government’s budget.
“The bigger picture is that we are looking for a coach who will hit the ground running because of the circumstances we find ourselves in, so obviously we are looking for a top-notch coach who has the A certification, whether from CAF or UEFA,” insisted Dr Abbey, a member of the FA’s decision-making Executive Council.
Ghana may have to break the bank to sign the kind of coach the FA’s search party is looking for. And top-not coaches, not necessarily big name elite coaches, do not come cheap.
Ironically, Ghanaians want top-class coaches on a budget but good coaches don’t fit into Ghana’s existing budgetary limits.
Appiah and Akonnor — the last two indigenous national coaches — were paid $35,000 and $25,000 a month, respectively. And even with that salary range, the FA had to deal with salary arrears. At the time of his dismissal last Monday, Akonnor was owed seven months’ in outstanding salary and the FA are enjoined to pay the remaining four months on his two-year contract.
In the last few days, the name of Serbian Milovan Rajevac, the man who took Ghana to the final of the 2010 AFCON in Angola and the quarter-final of the 2010 World Cup, has been thrown into the fray for a possible comeback.
Will the Black Stars have another cup of Milo?
Qualities required of coach
Ideally, a coach cast in the mould of Frenchman Herve Renard, a former assistant coach of the Black Stars who later took Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to win the AFCON, has what it takes to take Ghana to dizzy heights.
Whoever the GFA settles on to succeed Akonnor, the coach must earn the respect of the GFA and predominantly Europe-based players and must work with confidence and ooze authority — important qualities of a top-class coach.
According to Mr Godfred Akoto Boafo, an official of Liberty Professionals FC, a successful Black Stars coach must have good man management skills and be strong on tactics, the kind of qualities that made Rajevac successful during his tenure.
“We need a coach at the elite level, not necessarily a big name but one who has coached, has operated at a decent enough level in Europe to translate it to the Black Stars.
“Once you break into the elite level, you need a top-class coach to keep us there; you don’t employ a budget coach to maintain you at the elite level which we attained between 2006 and 2010. It’s like buying a Ferrari and fitting it with a Tico engine and yet expect top performance,” Mr Boafo said.
These are extraordinary circumstances for the GFA’s search team and the next Black Stars coach and they all have their work cut out.