Indisputably, Ghana’s successes in the world of football cannot be written without mentioning the immense contributions of Serbian trainers. At least three coaches from the eastern European nation have had the opportunity to coach the senior national soccer team, the Black Stars. Current coach, Goran ‘Plavi’ Stevanovic is the fourth Serb to handle the Black Stars. Though the first of these four, Milan Zivadinovic, left post unceremoniously, the Ghana Football Association, after being ditched by Portuguese Mariano Barreto which was a prequel to an unsuccessful second spell by German Burkhard Ziese, pinned faith in another Serb, Ratomir Dujkovic. The former Rwanda coach excelled at the helm by qualifying Ghana to her first ever world cup in 2006. He led Ghana to equal Nigeria and Senegal’s record in the world cup by qualifying the Black Stars from the group stage on their debut. These achievements came at the either side of a bad campaign at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations in which Ghana failed to move out of the group stage, and worse of all, beaten 1-2 by less fancied Zimbabwe in the final roup game. Kofi Doja, as Dujkovic was affectionately called, was liked by a majority of the football populace. So, a marginal number of fans rooted for him when the issue of him staying or not came to the fore.
Ghana and world cup
After a love affair with Frenchman Claude Le Roy, who also left unceremoniously though the media were lied to that he had signed a contract extension, the Ghana Football Association settled on another Serb – Milovan Rajevac – to lead the Black Stars to another world cup and possibly win Ghana the Africa Cup of Nations. Milo, as he was affectionately called, achieved the former and missed the latter by a whisker. The former was even complemented with the surpassing of the record set by his compatriot at the 2006 World Cup. He nearly made Ghana the first African country to get to the semi-finals but for a last-minute penalty miss. I would not want to mention the player who missed the penalty for reasons better known to all of us! Again, when the issue regarding the retention of Milo came up, a marginal number of football enthusiasts went to the support of the Serb though the conservatives still rooted for a local coach.
Unfortunately, the kind of divided agitations for the cited Serbian coaches above cannot be said for current coach Goran Stevanovic. Plavi, as he likes to be called, took up the appointment on 15th January, 2011 and confidently stated that it was time to win trophies. What an admirable benchmark! Most of us could not agree with him more. Ghana had been performing well on the continent as regards friendly matches and qualifiers and so the only missed piece of the jigsaw was a trophy, which Plavi assured will bring.
On 15th December, 2011 when he was unveiling his 25-man Africa Cup of Nations’ provisional squad, he confidently asked the press and all gathered whether they are ready for trophies because, according to him, it was time for trophies. I am forced to believe many did not hear him but an answer to one of the routine questions he was asked is what has come to be indelibly etched in the minds of many. He said he would resign if he failed to bring the 2012 African Nations Cup trophy. And he failed to bring the trophy! So, what next?!
To the chagrin of many, Stevanovic has taken a U-turn on this statement he made by denying he ever put his job on the line. That was one of the several denials I witnessed in the Conference Room of the Ghana Football Association on 22nd February, 2012. Management Committee members also denied ever having passed some comments on radio. I do not want to go into those but the furore that Stevanovic’s was met with said it all. As esoteric as it may be, Stevanovic is the first Serbian trainer to have a ‘unanimous aversion’ to his stay as coach of the Black Stars.
Surprisingly, besides the apology he rendered for failure to bring the trophy, Stevanovic rather admonished those calling for his head not to be myopic by assessing him with the Africa Cup of Nations. Cheeky, isn’t it? He said they should assess him with friendly matches and qualifiers. This is where, in my opinion, Stevanovic has lost focus. If you took appointment and made winning trophies your priority and you failed at your first shot, why do you call on critiques to follow you where you want to turn the hand of the clock? No coach in charge of the Black Stars will use friendly matches and qualifiers as a yardstick because Ghana has grown beyond that. Ghana now needs to win a major tournament and the Africa Cup of Nations is the most realistic of the major tournaments. Therefore, Stevanovic should come clear on what his priorities were and what they are now. Indeed, with few days to go to determine his fate as per consultations by the GFA with their major stakeholders, Stevanovic should only be sacked if he thinks friendly matches like the 1-1 draw with England, and recently Chile, are what should be used to assess him.