The Black Stars’ trainer has struggled when it matters most but must return to old ways in arresting that poor run
By: Sammie Frimpong
For a manager who has won just one major trophy in 14 years, you wonder if current Ghana boss, Avram Grant, has any ‘luck’ at all.
Working in England, Grant lost three cup finals by margins so narrow you could barely slide a thread through them. Two of those came in 2007/08 during his time at Chelsea, in the League Cup and the Uefa Champions League — an extra-time Jonathan Woodgate strike undid the Blues in the first against fellow Londoners Tottenham Hotspur, while they were condemned to a similar fate in the latter competition courtesy a heartbreaking shootout loss to domestic rivals Manchester United on one cold night in Moscow — and that came not quite a fortnight after United had pipped Chelsea by just two points to the Premier League crown.
Two seasons later, this time versus Chelsea, Grant, after leading relegation-bound Portsmouth on an unlikely run to the FA Cup final, had to settle for a bridesmaid’s role once more, losing 1-0. That sorry run, though briefly punctuated by league success in Serbia with Partizan Belgrade, still clung to him like a limpet; Grant, it seemed, just couldn’t deliver on the biggest stages even if his life depended on it.
It’s probably why many Ghanaians may have felt a tad uneasy when the 61-year-old was identified as the senior national team’s head coach late in 2014. For a country that hadn’t picked any silverware in over three decades — and which has unabashedly fantasized about winning the Fifa World Cup ever since coming ‘close’ to doing so in 2010 — Grant’s appointment hardly inspired any confidence.
Those fears were confirmed at the 2015 Nations Cup when — in Grant’s first assignment — Ghana reached the final, only to be edged by neighbours Cote d’Ivoire in the manner United did Grant’s Chelsea not too many years prior. The man’s plague, quite obviously, hadn’t cleared.
Believe it or not, though, Grant hasn’t always been so unfortunate. There was a time when everything — well, most things — he touched turned to gold. Between 1989 and 2002, Grant won ten titles with three clubs, never losing a final. But it was in charge of Israel’s national team during qualification for the 2006 World Cup, when the side went unbeaten and only missed out on the play-offs on goal difference, that Grant’s reputation as a ‘lucky’ winner — given the huge dose of good fortune he was deemed to have enjoyed in that ultimately failed quest — was established. It led to the humorous phrase Hatachat shel Avram — ‘Avram’s Ass’, to wit — being coined. Whatever that meant and however powerful that factor was, it seems to have deserted Grant when he took his craft beyond Israeli shores.
Those Ghana fans who do believe in the element of ‘luck’ (this writer excluded, anyway) would be praying, though, that he finds it — some of it, at least — as the race to the 2018 Fifa World Cup heats up, and also at the next edition of the Nations Cup where his team would be expected to go one better than they did at the last.
And if — after winning Gabon 2017, of course — Grant [does extend his contract], reaches Russia 2018 and conquers the world in the final [scheduled for Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, venue of his 2008 Champions League tragedy] as well, he would have exorcised all those demons that have plagued him in the last few years.
Don’t bet on it happening, though.