The Israeli’s best efforts have gone largely unappreciated in a country where petty ‘issues’ are taking too seriously
By: Sammie Frimpong
Nobody said coaching Ghana was going to be easy but, surely, no-one told Avram Grant it was going to be this hard either.
For a man who has managed English giants Chelsea (under an owner so hard to please and against fans and a dressing room which remained loyal to his predecessor, Jose Mourinho), Portsmouth (when the coastal club were perhaps at the lowest they’d ever been in their 118-year history after going into administration), and West Ham United (in a season that saw the Londoners relegated), Grant has been through some of the most stressful situations in football.
Still, what he’s experienced in just under two years as Ghana boss isn’t like anything he’s handled before. The criticism began to pile even before he’d overseen his first competitive game at the helm of the Black Stars, with skeptics raising concerns over the team’s preferred destination for pre-Afcon 2015 camping and the choice of opponents during those preparations.
And after — adopting a formation that deviated from what Ghanaians are accustomed to — Grant’s team fell 2-1 to Senegal in the tournament opener, the seat only got hotter. Thankfully, things only picked up from that loss, and the Stars went on to reach the final, missing out on glory only narrowly to neighbours Cote d’Ivoire in the final via a shootout.
In the months that have followed, Grant has produced some fine results, losing only once (in a friendly against the troublesome Senegalese), qualifying Ghana for the next Nations Cup, and remaining on course in the quest to secure a ticket for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
Not that any of those successes is of much value to the average Ghanaian fan who’s always struggled to see through a lens constantly clouded by doubt, though.
Indeed, Grant has hardly been hailed for all he’s achieved, instead being flogged for the ‘wrongs’ he’s committed thus far in his line of duty: not showing enough interest in domestic football, not inviting enough new faces to the Stars’ set-up, not winning ‘easy’ games convincingly enough, etc.
It’s why the Israeli, usually reserved and good at soaking abuse without hurling some back, couldn’t resist the urge to serve ‘haters’ a dose of their own medicine when — after a 3-1 home victory over Mozambique in March this year that saw Grant’s players criticized for ‘under-performing’ — he asked his critics to “concentrate on football, not the bullsh*t”.
Yes, he was eventually forced to apologize for those offending remarks — or did he? — but, regardless, that rare outburst proved Grant was being inched ever closer towards a tipping point he’s probably never reached in his long career. The 61-year-old has been pushed a little further in the past few days when, after naming a largely foreign-based squad for Ghana’s final — albeit practically valueless — Afcon 2017 qualifier against Rwanda that was honoured last Saturday, Ghana’s outspoken Minister of Youth and Sports stopped just short of insisting that the initial roster be scrapped and a new one saturated with domestic footballers be released. It was an attempt at external interference comparable with nothing Grant had ever experienced prior in his managerial life — not even from domineering Roman Abramovich, I daresay. To his credit, Grant didn’t budge.
And while that may have been the biggest test yet of Grant’s resolve, it’s by no means the last. With the race to Russia 2018 gathering speed when the group phase of qualifying begins next month, as well as the Nations Cup in Gabon due early 2017 when the Stars would be expected to go one better than at the competition’s previous edition, he’d have to develop even tougher skin. His call-ups and team selection decisions would be questioned, as would his man-management skills, touchline demeanour, and even his sense of fashion.
If he survives it all and remains willing enough to extend his contract [which expires after the upcoming Afcon, by the way] and take Ghana all the way to Russia, great. But don’t blame him if he drops dead at the end of it all and simply has no desire and strength to continue, as we’d all be guilty of pushing a man doing his best into a pit which, in all candidness, he foresaw but probably never expected to be this deep.