Why The Black Stars Won’t Win A Tourney In The Next 10 Years
March 7, 2012 § 6 Comments
I think during one of several discussions (as you and yours most likely had) about the nature of the Black Stars a few days or so before the start of our first match at the recently ended Cup of Nations tourney, I boldly stated to my cousin Joe that I was a better striker than Asamoah Gyan. No, he didn’t dismissively scoff at that statement the way you just did. He smiled and paused for me to explain my assertion- which I did. I’m not match fit like Gyan or most pro footballers out there. I could argue I’m faster (I just ran an 11.4 100m at Elwak this past week and I’m 31!), but that’s not where my argument laid. My point was -and I should’ve probably expounded a bit more- that I, like many countless players both pro and amateur, had much better predatory instincts and finishing touches than Gyan. My only claim to fame was an All-Star selection for New England Prep Schools when I was in High School and scouting of my matches by UConn (which was the No.1 Div 1A program in the US at the time) and a Metro Stars assistant coach. So, although I’d readily acknowledge I’m not nor would I compare myself to any pro out there, I feel I had game and know my sh*t enough to write any critique of this guy or any member of the Black Stars team. There’ll be a few more about this guy, but let’s jump into and why I started with him.
– We started a promising, but young goalie and ill prepared him for some of the pressures that come with playing on that stage- and before the world. He’s arguably a very good goalie. If you can keep the likes Pato, Hulk, Neymar, and Ronaldinho at bay like Adam Kwarasey did in the Brazilian friendly last year, you more than deserve the opportunity to prove your worth. The problem for Adam was that he started second guessing his strengths as a goalie. When you do that, you start punching out everything you see; even when a routine grab would be prudent. Adam also had a largely soft backline to support him. When I say soft, I’m not referring to the skills of the back four. I’m referring to their ability to be truly vocal and command a resolute defense. Isaac Vorsah isn’t vocal; neither is Jonathan Mensah. Masahudu Alhassan was more prone to making stupid mistakes and needing cover than reassuring his goalie. John Paintsil, although vocal, his was more of a panicky bark than a commanding field general. And John Mensah with all his brawn was too quite a captain. The guy was also old, broken and slow, and for a young goalie thrown onto a big stage like CAN with little experience with this unit, you start being tentative like Adam was. What he needed was a senior player pulling him aside after the first match and reassuring the young goalie that they had his back, but we can never tell how much of that was communicated to him. The only real force in the back was John Boye, but he is also young and wouldn’t dare usurp the mantle of John Mensah as the leader of the back (but that should change very soon).
– This leads me to the next thing: the back four. Paintsil is old and slow like Mensah. The claim about these two is that they’re both 30. Ha! I’d peg ‘em at 35 and 38. The same goes for a lot of these players, but they’ll get their moments in this essay. If you watched all our matches, you’d see that opponents attacked through the middle and down the right wing where Paintsil clearly couldn’t keep up with speedy wings forcing Samuel Inkoom to drop back to cover on too many occasions. You can’t build up attacks when there are craps in your foundation you continuously have to reinforce. John Mensah is injury-prone. How many times was this guy subbed for this or that injury? A part me of thinks he almost enjoys the attention he gets that he probably exaggerates some of these injuries for effect. There are two problems here: 1. His presence on the pitch means that there’s always going to be a wasted sub as he’ll always need to be replaced. And 2. When opponents see that you’re barely standing, they’ll attack you forcing your teammates to back you instead of maintaining their lines.
– In the midfield, we always seem to have heaps of talent, but we always fail to utilize them effectively. I love Anthony Annan’s tenacity on the field. My problem is that teams have long figured out how to bypass him. Every team that gave us fits during the tournament broke through the middle and worked the flanks. With Agyemang-Badu playing more of an advanced attacking role, Annan’s weaknesses were exposed. He functioned well with KPB in South Africa, but that was then, and he’s had a bit of a drop off. It was only when Derek Boateng started against Zambia was this midfield hole plugged.
– The attacking three in the midfield were also not used effectively. Let’s start with Muntari. This guy fizzles when he’s parked on the left wing, and somehow he was thrown there most of the tournament. People like him and Dede (Ayew) as natural roamers. Muntari, I would’ve preferred playing just behind the strikers, with Dede floating back and forth. But we didn’t do this. Instead, we had Kwadwo Asamoah playing this role. I know how my Asante cousins like to hype themselves like no other (the English and Americans come close), but this guy is ridiculously overrated. I heard and read so much about what a maestro he was before the last World Cup, and then… poof! He’s not a very good passer. A lot of his passes can be tracked and broken up easily. He’s also a horrible shooter. I wish someone would tell this guy never to shoot. He can’t shoot. He’s always lobbing atrocious long-range bombs that are always off-target! If anything, he should’ve been back next to Annan with Agyemang-Badu playing the more attacking role. My other problem with this attack threesome is Dede. I love this guy’s energy. I love his bravery and fighting spirit. I love his never-say-die and selfless attitude. But I hate his ball hogging. You can’t play one-touch football when one of your primary mids holds on to the ball too long. He draws fouls every now and them, but that also brings another problem: injuries. When your body is pummeled so many times and you go down easily like Dede does, your career won’t last very long. He’s already nursing a shoulder injury, and once you’ve separated your shoulder, that problem will keep returning the rest of your career, especially if you’re often likely to be hit like he is. He also can’t shoot. Don’t take my word. I know we all love him, but the boy can’t shoot. Watch all his OM goals from the last 2 seasons and tell me how many goal-scoring shots went as he wanted. He’s scrappy and will score like he did against Inter, but often his style of play only allows defenses to regroup.
– Now on to the two strikers. I was thoroughly impressed with Jordan Ayew. I could go as far as to say that he’s <gasps> better than Dede. He likes to dribble, but he does so attacking and penetrating defenses. We haven’t had this kind of winger/striker in a long time. He also has a lot of pace – the kind that breaks down defenses easily…provided there’s a capable strike partner to finish. My two problems now with Jordan are that he’s tentative. He seems afraid to shoot so when he does, they’re feeble grounders. And for a young guy, he seems to run out of energy easily and rarely lasts 90 mins. If he had a Tony Yeboah or Yaw Preko in his ear offering a few sound tips about how to finish, this guy would be potent. I would say something about useless Tagoe, but I’d be wasting my energy. I can’t for the life of me understand why he was selected to join the team when I’ve watched some good local strikers on Metro TV. If I can see them, Goran Stevanovic should’ve noticed their potentials, too.
– And saving the worst for last: Asamoah Gyan. In the U.S., Americans have a term called coach killers. The meaning being that players of the sort are often selfish, self-centered, egotistical, only concerned about personal accolades, and how they can best use their team and playing platform to advance their careers. And their attitude on the playing field usually adversely affects their team’s performance that their coaches are usually the ones who bear the axe for their behavior.
Asamaoh Gyan is a coach killer.
– He was once rated the forward with the worst strike rate- meaning he was the worst at converting clear goal-scoring opportunities. Does this sound familiar? Look at the Black Starts from the 2006 World Cup till today and think of the many chances this guy squandered as a lone striker. It’s bad enough that we always played that ridiculous +1 formation, but to realize this dude was prone to blowing those few chances is unfathomable. The moment we got the penalty against Zambia, I muttered to myself “oh, no. not him” when I saw him walk up to take the kick. The worst for me was that even before the ball had left his foot, he was already headed to the byline to do his stupid azonto dance. A semi-final match; your team is creaming its opponent; you have a penalty that could easily kill the game, and all you’re thinking about is your azonto dance. That Zambian match was arguably the best match as far as tactical precision and team play I’ve seen of the Black Stars since the first half of the U.S. match in South Africa (and comparable to the Czech match in 2006). But once again, we left all the marbles in this idiot’s hands, and when he failed us yet again as that’s proven the only certainty from him, he boarded a private jet and off he went to the UAE. Brilliant!
– Goran Stevanovic, like Milovan Rajevac before him will soon face the axe, and both coaches met their demise because their “star” player failed to produce. Imagine Stephen Appiah had taken that penalty shot against Uruguay and let’s say Andre had taken this last one, we wouldn’t be discussing new coaching replacements, would we? John Mensah is old and warranted a last-resort substitution position at best. The same should’ve been for John Paintsil and Asamoah Gyan should’ve been left off the roster entirely. We made the finals in 2010 without cult hero, Michael Essien. We should’ve done the same with horse placenta, selfish and also aging Gyan back in the desert. The claim is that this guy is 25. Come on, people! Look at his face and tell me this guy is 25/26. He’s at best 30, and I’m being very kind here. Michael Essien, John Paintsil, Lee Addy who I love, Kwadwo Asamoah, Agyemang-Badu, and Derek Boateng are all much older than the ages they’ve given. Olele’s child long graduated from secondary school and he was celebrating his 30-something birthday at SA 2010. The guy is 45! It’s no wonder you see some of these guys purported to be 28/29 or younger with their bodies breaking down so rapidly. Some of them did colts, started pro early, then their ages were dialed back for them to make under-17 and onwards. So by the time they’re taken up by some European outfit, you read of this or that player being 21/22, when in fact they’re pushing 26/27 and have been playing pro since they were 15. How much longevity do those bodies have?
– My feeling about Stevanović is that he actually did the best he could with the parts he had, and was probably pressured into using certain players when any self-respecting coach would’ve avoided them. He tried out Alhassan when he (like the rest of us) noticed Daniel Opare was troublesome. Alhassan, although solid and athletic also gave the back line fits and was replaced by the steady Lee Addy, who I thought should’ve started all those matches to begin with. He gave Paintsil enough opportunities until he realized the hole was too big and only Inkoom was the best choice to fill it. In the middle, the now rejuvenated Muntari was often floated out to the wing where he’s ineffective and probably should’ve played a more natural attacking position behind the strikers. And for Kwadwo Asamoah, I don’t this coach or any future coach should force wedging him into any formation. To me, he’s now at best a super sub. If Derek Boateng can manage his fouls, I’d love him in central midfield paired with Annan or a withdrawn Asamoah. This leaves Agyemang-Badu, Muntari, and Andre Ayew as marauding midfielders. When a team faces those three attacking midfielders, it has little choice but to come out and account for those threats. This leaves someone like Jordan with lots of room to attack from the flanks and from the no.9 position. He’s not a lone striker and it’s time we stopped using him as such. Lastly, I’d heavily audition and recruit a young local striker who is selfless and has a hunger to score for the team. We don’t need a sluggish, slow, and selfish magajia who thinks the team and nation desperately needs his lazy ass. We’ve played this 4-2-3-1 formation forever and although we’ve been lucky in the recent past, I think it’s time we did away with it as most teams have figured out how to defend it. Zambia knew they couldn’t outplay us, but they knew they could defend against that last cross into the 18. It was that easy. A natural 4-4-2 formation with two primarily attacking midfielders is perfect for our style of play. We created lots of opportunities and seem to advance the ball with ease against Zambia, but then always failed by crossing to a lone striker who was operating at 70 percent, and one who was always marked well by 2 defenders. That’s why we could never score in that match. We’re nearly untouchable when we keep the ball on the ground. I can go as far as to say, we’re in the top 5 teams in the world when it comes to one-touch possession football (club or country), with Barca being #1. Long balls into the 18 aren’t our style and won’t win us any tournaments if we keep on with this lone striker experiment.
– It’s time we retooled the Black Stars and ceremoniously retired several aging players. I’ll always be thankful for what these guys did, but I think it’s time we said goodbye to John Mensah and John Paintsil, Michael Essien, and relegated Asamoah Gyan to the bench.
But should we keep the status quo and place Gyan at the front of our formation with everyone buying into this silly idea that he’s 25/26 then we’re going to be stuck with this guy for the next 7 years leaving promising talent off our roster and assuring ourselves that we’ll never win a tournament in the next 7-10 years, and dare I say…face the very possibilities that we may not qualify for either the 2014 World Cup or next year’s Nations Cup.