QUAO: Time to cultivate the garden, Mr. Grant

Monday 9th February , 2015 12:23 pm
Ghana coach Avram Grant
Ghana coach Avram Grant

Following Ghana’s loss in the final of the 2015 final to Cote d’Ivoire, Citi Sports’ Nathan Quao takes a look at what the future holds for Black Stars head coach Avram Grant.

When Ivorian goalie Boubacar Barry slotted his kick past Razak Brimah at the Estadio de Bata, Ghana’s dreams of winning their first AFCON title since 1982 were blown away. It was a tough loss to take even for the most passive of fans who did not want anything to do with the Black Stars after the soap opera in the last World Cup in Brazil.

The team had pushed their way through from the group stages and they made a final when a lot of people thought a group stage exit was what they deserved. After all, they had to face Africa’s most in-form team in Algeria, a  solid Senegal team and a very fluid but disciplined South African unit in a group that was tagged with the word “death”.

The competition has now ended and we must look to times ahead and hope that bigger successes will come to the Black Stars and to be frank, Grant seems to have sown good seeds (in six weeks) to give us huge returns but he must do certain things else the potential will remain exactly that. Potential and never concrete prizes.

Choose your own men, gaffer

With the emotions of the tournament on the wane, it is interesting to note what Grant was telling all of us with the players he chose.

Samuel Inkoom did not go at all while John Boye, Rabiu Mohammed and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu went from regulars to being part of the supporting cast while Daniel Amartey, Kwesi Appiah and Afriyie Acquah got to the head of the queue when in another context, they would have been part of the supporting cast.

The message being? Simple, Grant did not tolerate names without deeds and players will have to earn the right to wear the national jersey.

Even emerging names like Frank Acheampong, David Accam and Ebenzer Assifuah must play their best hands (if or when they get their call-ups and starting roles) else they will also see themselves on the bench while other newbees get the opportunities.

Afriyie Acquah: Could he be in a tense situation with his Black Stars team-mates?

Afriyie Acquah:  Man of the Match in the finals against Cote d’Ivoire

The sense of competition will be very necessary for the rest of Grant’s tenure in charge because when players fight for places, the knock-on effects benefit the team.

Matches can now be won because someone is willing to tackle a bit more, pass  better, run an extra hundred yards and stretch a bit more for that header. Otherwise, someone else on the sidelines will.

And Grant needs to establish that point very well.

Mr. Grant, change when you must

Grant’s choice of a 3-4-2-1 in the first group C match of the 2015 AFCON against Senegal may not have worked but at least, there was a willingness to attempt a new way and a new idea. I appreciated that so much.

It was as though we had turned our backs to the rigid, reluctant brand of football from a few years ago and we were breaking into a different space but the new things did not end there.

Grant tried the 4-3-1-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1 at several points of the tournaments but despite the similarities in shape, there were striking things about the football itself.

There was more pace and adventure but there was also better defensive work and organisation.

Suddenly, set pieces could be flown into the Black Stars area by the dozens and there were not too many worries.

The team could now start matches better than before and hold their own until the opposition found new ways of operating (as we saw against South Africa in the group matches).

The coach also showed how welcome he was to making amendments when the situation demanded it.

For instance, after pulling even against South Africa, he threw on Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Kwesi Appiah and Afriyie Acquah and Jordan Ayew as Ghana went for the winner.

Andre Ayew

Andre Ayew celebrating the winner against South Africa

Agyemang-Badu kept the ball moving to the flanks for onward delivery to the forwards, Gyan and Appiah. The strikers did not score but the repetition of passes to the sides found Baba Rahman who assisted Andre Ayew’s headed winner.

Win us a trophy, will you?

All the work in training camps, on tactics boards, with research experts and scouts will not count for a lot if Ghana does not win something at a point under Grant.

I agree it may be too tough a demand because some dynamics that determine success in tournaments could be major like injuries, suspensions or failed game plans or could be as minor as a sliced clearance or  the wrong choice in a penalty shootout.

Nonetheless, Grant was signed to win us the African Nations Cup aside training local coaches and changing the team’s mentality.

He was brought in to do what Herve Renard has done for Zambia and Ivory Coast .

It is that simple.

And as a nation, we can ask that of him because he will have time between now and the 2017 AFCON to build the army he wants.

He will be able to fashion out plans for the team, find new players and give us options to turn to when we are in one fix or the other.

We might understand the explanations that will place the failure of meeting targets into perspective then but we might not be so conciliatory with the consequences we would like to enforce.

So, Mr. Grant, you have started well and you want to make your work easy. That is wise but it is time to see how you tend the soil and manage what you have planted.

Let’s get down to work.