One palpable example any person can cite regarding a Ghana-Serbia relationship is the once-upon-a-time influx of Serbian coaches, or tacticians, into Ghana’s football arena. No wonder when the diplomatic relationship between Ghana and Serbia recently suffered wreckage, football was cited as the area to suffer most. These fears were, however, allayed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Mohammed Iddrisu, stated clearly that Ghana will still have lots of diplomatic dealings with the Eastern European nation. He further revealed that only the respective consulate offices have been closed down and that will slightly sever the erstwhile good rapport between them. Indeed, Serbians continue to do business in Ghana just as Ghanaians continue to do business in Serbia. Even recently, the most adorable skipper in the history of Ghana’s senior national team, Stephen Appiah signed for a Serbian club – FK Vojvodina.
Notwithstanding, there is a significant mutation in the area of coaching in Ghana. This area had been laden with Serbs. There is no gainsaying the influence Serbian coaches have had on the country’s football. For nothing at all, Ghana’s maiden qualification to a world cup was masterminded by a Serb – Ratomir Dujkovic. As if that was not enough, another Serb, in the person of Milovan Rajevac, replicated what his compatriot did by also taking Ghana to a world cup; in his case exiting the most respected international football competition in grand style by equaling Africa’s record of a quarter-final finish. After Milovan Rajevac came Goran Stevanovic, whose towering ambitions for the Black Stars could not be translated into actions. His best performance was taking Ghana to a fourth-place finish at a nations cup. Unfortunately, he became the only Serbian coach, in recent times, not to have led Ghana to play in any world cup qualifier, or better still a world cup final. He was sacked!
Just as the Serbs were in control of our national teams, they were also at the helm of some major cubs in Ghana. Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Accra Hearts of Oak and Obuasi Ashanti Gold were among the clubs who hired the services of Serbian trainers to head their technical teams. Bogdan Korac, Kostadino Papic and most recently Nebojsa Vucicevic were some of the Serbian coaches, who were handling Ghanaian clubs concurrently as their compatriots were handling the Black Stars. Even at key points in time, extensive consultations went on between the Serbs in the selection of players into the national team for instance. I must state, nonetheless, that some of the Serbian coaches were presuming on this trend to throw dust into the eyes of the Ghanaian football populace. For example, asked why he left Sammy Adjei out of the squad for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Goran Stevanovic stated that he became aware of Sammy’s ill-health after consulting his compatriot Vucicevic, who categorically denied having been consulted on that matter. Bygones are bygones so let me not veer of what I want to discuss!
The Serbian influx seems to be waning and at its wake is a new trend – the ascension of ex-national team players onto the coaching seat. The former national stars are not coming out of the dugout in jerseys this time but are in coats and suits, at least different from the 22 players, who are led out by referees.
It began with Kumasi Asante Kotoko. The Porcupine Warriors, at the beginning of the season, went for the service of former national team player Maxwell Konadu. The former dreadlocked player, who was a member of the 1992 bronze-winning Olympic team, had a coaching stint with Wa All Stars. As to whether he was assistant or the head at All Stars, the point remains that he cut his coaching teeth with the Upper West Regional club. He came into the fold of Asante Kotoko ostensibly to assist Bogdan Korak but after the Serb was ripped of his position, Konadu ascended the seat. His time with Asante Kotoko, so far, has been up to scratch. Asante Kotoko leads the Ghanaian Glo Premier League with 45 points and the club is as good as winning the league this year.
Just last two weeks, another Serbian trainer had to pack bag and baggage out of town. Nebojsa Vucicevic, through a mutual consent, parted ways with Accra Hearts of Oak. In his stead was named a former captain of the Black Stars – Charles Kwabena Akunnor. C.K. Akunnor’s stint as a coach on the local terrain came when he, then assisted by Nii Odartey Lamptey, was at the helm of Sekondi Eleven Wise for the second part of the 2009/2010 season. Unfortunately, the club went into relegation that season. However, ascending the seat at Accra Hearts of Oak rather gave me fodder to be happy as it marked the gradual development of a system churning out coaches out of former national footballers. I hear Yaw Preko was even approached to assist Akunnor in this new role but he declined the offer as he claims he wants to cut his teeth with a lower division club.
Yaw Acheampong, who is doing a yeo man’s job at Asahnti Gold Sporting Club after the exit of Croatian Zdravko Logarusic, is also a former Black Stars player. His winning streak after ascending the position is one unrivaled in recent times.
But the crucial position currently vacant is that of the senior national team. Personally, I think it will be quite ideal if a former Black Stars player is given the nod to handle the position. I have had an opinion, and I still hold to that, that the current Black Stars players can be themselves and perform fluently if one of their own is made coach. And in this current dispensation when every major coaching vacancy is filled by former Black Stars players, it will be consummate if a former Black Stars player is named coach of the Black Stars. To this extent, I will call on the Executive Committee members of the Ghana Football Association to revoke the acting status of Akwasi ‘Mayele’ Appiah and make it substantive. I don’t want to wade into the growing debate regarding who becomes the next coach of the Black Stars but so far as there is a former team member in that position currently it should remain as that. This will even save us more money after the GFA threw a huge amount into the bush because of someone’s negligence in not tabling a proper contract to Goran Stevanovic. But for now, I give thumbs up to Maxwell Konadu, CK Akunnor and Akwasi Appiah for making a say for former national team players.