The history of Ghana football cannot be written without mentioning the contributions of Serbian coaches. On both national and club levels, Serbian coaches have paid their dues to the success of football in Ghana. Ghana’s two most glamorous clubs – Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko – have had Serbian coaches manage their team at one point in their history. For the latter, a recent trip to the Eastern European country attests to the relationship Ghana football seems to have bonded with Serbian football and Serbian coaches. Both clubs have Serbs as head coaches now – Bogdan Korak for Kotoko and Nebojsa Vucecevic for Hearts.
Before the 21st century, Ghana had achieved much in football. Ghana had won the Africa Cup of Nations four times, had played and won world cups organized by the world governing body of football –FIFA(at the junior levels). The only chink in the armour of Ghana football before then was having tasted world cup football at the senior level. The quest to qualify for a world cup became a Holy Grail year-in-year-out for some of the talented players of Ghana. However, in 2005 Ghana went in for the services of a coach, who had stunned the Black Stars by qualifying the Amavubis of Rwanda to the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 2004. Serbian Ratomir Dujkovic took the reins of the Black Stars and masterminded an unbeaten run in 2005 winning Ghana the Best Moved team on the FIFA ranking. One trait most of us came to learn about Dujkovic was his intransigence in handling the team. That had long not been felt in the Black Stars camp.
2oo6 World Cup
Ratomir Dujkovic showed all and sundry he was in charge when he defied all suggestions to include Haminu Draman in the Black Stars squad for the 2006 World Cup. He did so at the expense of players like Baba Amando and Baffour Gyan. Most people wanted these two players to make the cut into the Black Stars but the Serbian tactician was intransigent by making them stand-by players. As if that was not enough, Dujkovic dropped one of Ghana’s most successful players in Europe – Samuel Osei-Kuffour – to the bench after Ghana’s first match at Germany 2006. He brought in the likes of Shilla Iliasu and Habib Mohammed, who justified their inclusion in the squad. Haminu Draman even snatched Ghana’s first goal against USA becoming one of the five Ghanaian players, who have scored at the senior world cup. Ghana equaled a feat chalked by Nigeria in 1994 by making it out of the group stages as a debutante African nation. A Serbian coach leading in this feat.
Then comes the 2010 World Cup! It took another Serb to qualify Ghana. Milovan Rajevac gave us the clue that Serbian coaches are strict disciplinarians. I remember in his early days in charge of the Black Stars, he pinned ‘holding midfield hope’ in Daniel Yeboah then with Heart of Lions. Though many criticized the use of this player in that position, the Serbian remained resolute. Fortunately, he qualified the Black Stars to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2010 World Cup. Indeed, ‘Milo’ made it clear that he was going to make judicious use of the U-20 players, who had brought glory to Ghana and Africa the previous year by winning the U-20 World Cup. I should think that some of the senior players might be subtly questioning the ambition of the Serb in his resolve to use the U-20 players. Fortunately or unfortunately, he mad that clear by sidelining Sulley Ali Muntari from the Africa Cup of Nations squad. Even in the face of injuries to some of the senior and more experienced players viz Stephen Appiah, John Paintsil and John Mensah, he turned a blind eye on the UEFA Champions League winner with Inter Milan. Milovan Rajevac, at the Africa Cup of Nations, achieved what had not been witnessed with the Black Stars in eighteen years. They played in the finals of the continental competition though they lost 0-1 to Egypt.
Feat of Cameroon and Senegal
Then came selection of players for Ghana’s second appearance at the world cup. Milovan Rajevac excluded experience and went for youthful exuberance. The likes of Eric Addo, Haminu Draman and Laryea Kingston were excluded from the final list of 23 players. Our sympathies went to Kingston, who was yet to taste senior world cup football. Here again, the Serb was intransigent to the flaring up of Kingston. Rajevac went to the 2010 World Cup to equal the feat of Cameroon and Senegal set in 1990 and 2002 respectively.
Then goes a Serb and comes another Serb. Goran Stevanovic replaced Milovan Rajevac as coach of the Black Stars. ‘Plavi’ made it clear during his outdooring that he is in to win trophies for Ghana. Welcoming indeed! He starts to work with the core of Milovan Rajevac’s players. But the ‘discipline issues’ the Serbs deal with every time they handle the senior national soccer team seem to be rearing its ugly head again.
Rumours are that there is a stand-off between Stevanovic and one of Ghana’s 2010 World Cup stars – Kevin-Prince Boateng. Boateng is reported to be choosy when it comes to Black Star matches. For Ghana to have qualified to the 2010 World Cup in which he played, the Black Stars went to Tripoli, Libreville, Bloemfontein for the first round and went to Omdurman, Bamako and Cotonou for the second round of qualifying besides Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi. What every player must know is that Ghana can play in any part of the globe. It could be in Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America, North America or even in Africa. And every fit player called must honour the rare invitation, which many players wish to have. Otherwise, plausible reasons must be given of any absence. Reports I had, though I was not in Ghana then, indicate that when he was called for the Congo-Ghana CAN 2012 qualifier, KP Boateng scratched himself out with the reason that he was injured only to appear in the Black Stars camp three days later for the Ghana-England friendly. Well, KP Boateng may have been healed within hours but I think he should have made the turn of events clear to the team’s management committee if not the coach. Again comes another friendly and KP Boateng adduces pretexts of injury only for us to see him play in the Italian Super Coppa in China. I believe in KP Boateng as one of the few successful players to have switched nationality for Ghana. But if this attitude is anything to go by, then he is making way for his own downfall. He should better learn from the likes of Sulley Muntari and Sammy Osei Kuffour as to how a positionin a national team contributes to a player’s club success. He should even know better as his performance in the 2010 World Cup contributed in no small measure to his esoteric transfer from Genoa to AC Milan. No two Italian clubs would have reached such an agreement!!
Dede Ayew-Prince Boateng combination
The Stephen Appiah-Michael Essien-Sulley Muntari-Laryea Kingston dominated Ghana’s midfield in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup and I think the Dede Ayew-Prince Boateng combination is one of the best on the continent. As a result, the earlier KP Boateng irons out issues with the coach, the better for him. And I would want to hold breath for Boateng and write that if it is an intension of any player or technical person to sabotage KP Boateng, that person is doing so at his or her own risk.