What would squad announcements be without the long drawn out debates, comparisons and use of data? It is one of the enduring things about international football; the blurred lines of a coach’s authority, ability to make big calls and how it feeds in with the many coaches in their country of control.
And if you are a Ghana boss perceived to be passive, laid back and not exactly into your job, it becomes a problem. When asked repeatedly about players he dropped at his last press conference, Avram Grant claimed ‘people talk too much’ and labelled them ‘Sunday Professors’. They, he said know everything before a game.
Based on who he has omitted from his 23-man squad for the Nations Cup, Grant is turning us into Professors at least for the next few days because he provides with a lot to mull over.
Grant’s task in Gabon is simple; he must win the Nations Cup or risk leaving this country labelled a failure. It is an overstated fact but you have achieved nothing in Ghana unless you have won the Nations Cup and Grant’s case is even especially when the last five tournaments have consisted of three semi final finishes and two final placings.
Yet the target seems odd given the profound difficulties the Black Stars are going through now. They are winless in five matches, have dropped way down the ranking in African football and have too many players who are not playing great.
The debate about Ghana and how well the Black Stars are likely to do at the Nations Cup this term has ignored a basic fact. We are taking a squad of individual players who are having major challenges in their club careers that often does not translate into positive energy for the national team.
Asamoah Gyan has lost a bit of his pace and not been great in a Black Stars shirt for a while. Andre Ayew has had a difficult season and wobbled in a Black Stars shirt too. His brother Jordan has scored two goals in 20. The likes of Baba Rahman and Harrison Afful are not playing at the same level they used to. It is a struggle.
Grant’s solution it seems is to make it worst based purely on the decisions he makes. Armed with the opportunity to shake things up a bit and provide a bit of public confidence, he has made decisions that has triggered even more debate.
So Ralph Dwamena’s 18 goals in Austria is deemed inadequate for a place at Afcon while Bernard Tekpetey’s two senior appearances for Schalke is enough. Majeed Warris seemed to pick up form in November with four goals in the month but that was not enough either.
Warris’ omission has provided a telling point for debate and the statisticians have worked out a compelling case for the dropped duo. Combined they have scored 22 goals at club level this season. Combined, the strikers that Grant is taking to the Nations Cup i.e Asamoah Gyan, Jordan Ayew, Ebenezer Assifuah, Andre Ayew and Bernard Tekpetey have scored seven goals between them
Statistics never tell a full story though. For instance Warris looks much better when you do combined numbers but the truth is that his four goals this season in 17 games is nothing special. Even more compelling is the fact that in a Black Stars shirt, he has contributed little. Like many of the players he continues to benefit from one good game which came in November 2013 in a world cup qualifier against Egypt. Since then it has been one forgettable game after another in an injury interrupted period.
Dwamena’s case is different. Those keen to beat him down with the ‘Austria second division’ jibe may have a minor point but truth is goals breed confidence and above all he seems a genuinely different prospects from the available ones; well built, good in the air from what those watch him play say and good with both feet.
But Grant has made his call. We would pass our judgement on game by game basis. In the past, when such controversial calls have been made, the coaches tend to spill eggs all over our faces. We mauled Ratomir Dujkovic for his affection for Haminu Dramani; he helped us into the second round of the world cup. We always wondered what Milovan Rajevac saw in Opoku Agyemang; he was one of our assets at Angola 2010. And two years ago we swore Kwesi Appiah did not deserve to get anywhere close to our squad; he proved a valuable addition to a side that reached the final of the Nations Cup.
Grant can also call up statistics to strengthen his case. In Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew, he has players who have proven that in tournament situations, they are close to reliable. He can point to Jordan Ayew’s 12 goals in 37 games as good enough and claim he is not an out and out striker. He will take comfort in Andre Ayew’s six goals in Afcon history, five of which have come in the last two tournaments. And he will hope that Christian Atsu (three in two tournaments) and Mubarak Wakaso (five in two tournaments) would continue to be good alternative sources of goals.
Maybe there is method in the madness after all that we mere mortals don’t see but Grant is staking his reputation on the line with his call ups. Depending on how it goes, we those whose emotions are wrecked or enhanced by his decisions will have our say.