The Augustus Effect: Kwesi Appiah Seeks to Transform Ghana

By: Sammie Frimpong

He may not have been as hugely popular and as well-remembered by posterity as his illustrious predecessor, but Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar lays claim to an achievement neither his uncle Julius nor all of the other Caesars can boast of. It’s a feat immortalized in the famous words: “I found Rome brick; I left it marble.”

It’s a statement newly re-appointed Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah would wish to echo in the future when his latest stint at the helm of the Black Stars ends. But for a truly terrible experience at the 2014 Fifa World Cup that really was no fault of his, Appiah — the only Ghanaian to have steered the senior national team to an appearance at the Mundial — would have had that luxury when his first tenure ended barely three years ago. Since then, during the stint of one-time Chelsea boss Avram Grant, Ghana have been bowed by two failed Nations Cup campaigns — the first heart-breaking, the second simply annoying — while, between those disappointments, the bid to qualify for a fourth consecutive World Cup is already two games-dead, with very little life remaining in it.

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The squad Grant bequeathed to his successor/predecessor is practically same as the one he inherited, many believe, but — in the opinion of this writer — the Israeli actually left Ghana even weaker than he found it. Quite a few established members of the setup have no right retaining their entrenched positions anymore, and others may need some competition to provide that huge kick up the backside to get them playing like worthy Black Stars again. In sum, Ghana needs rebuilding, and though Appiah may not have to do it all from scratch, he certainly has much work on his hands.

He starts on May 1, aided by a backroom staff that could likely be as good as new in composition. In truth, the task handed him might appear rather daunting: reaching Russia 2018 would surely be herculean, even improbable at this point, and 2019 — given how much work has to be done on a Ghanaian team that’s about entering a transition phase — is perhaps a bit too soon for the country to think of ending its long wait for a fifth Nations Cup crown.

But the real objective of Appiah’s appointment — never mind that the Ghana Football Association probably didn’t include that in the memo, at least not in so many words — is to build a solid squad that could last Ghanaians a lifetime and bring their wildest dreams to fruition, and that’s hardly impossible.

If Appiah could achieve that with a Ghana side which — at a lowly eighth in the African rankings of national sides — is a bit more brittle than bricks at the moment, he could well boast as Augustus did.

DANGOTE AT ARSENAL: FIVE THINGS TO EXPECT

It’s always been ‘in the pipeline’, and now we have yet another official reminder from the man himself: Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest, has genuine intentions of purchasing English giants Arsenal.

Estimated to be worth around US$15.1 billion by June this year, the Nigerian certainly has what it takes to finally make that dream — which failed to materialise after an attempt in 2010 — come true, revealing to Bloomberg Television that it could happen in “maybe three to four years”.

But what could Arsenal fans expect if Dangote does pull it off?

Here are five not entirely unthinkable scenarios:

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REPLACING WENGER WITH . . .

Dangote hasn’t been Arsene Wenger’s greatest critic by any stretch — Piers Morgan would claim that title, thank you — but the affluent Nigerian hasn’t been too impressed by the Frenchman’s refusal to adapt when there clearly has been the need to, once opining that “[Arsenal] need new direction”.

Where that new direction, with Dangote at the helm, would come from might not be too hard to identify. Don’t think along the lines of some celebrity manager, though; just peek across London to find current Chelsea technical director and Dangote’s countryman, Michael Emenalo, who should be just a phone call away from his dream job. (Given, of course, that Wenger — whose current deal at the club expires in May 2017 — would still be at the club by then.)

 

FREE CONFECTIONERY FOR ALL

The 59-year-old’s wealth has mainly been acquired through, among other things, trade in sugar and flour. Dangote’s commodities have, hardly surprisingly, contributed plenty to the confectionery industry in Africa, saturating sweets and soft drinks, buns and pies. Visitors to the Emirates Stadium in the future could therefore reasonably anticipate a good treat during games and tours, with pastries et al likely to be offered as freebies. For all Arsenal notoriously charge in ticket prices, Dangote’s little edible gifts would seem a good reason to dole out the handful of extra pounds required to watch the Gunners play.

 

T.B JOSHUA’S PREDICTIONS

Should Dangote become the largest shareholder in Arsenal, he would quite justifiably call the shots but may not be the only influential Nigerian with a say with respect to Arsenal’s fortunes. From his Lagos-based SCOAN (abbreviation for ‘The Synangogue, Church Of All Nations’), controversial televangelist Temitope Balogun Joshua – himself a club owner in his homeland – would almost certainly tune the focus of his so-called prophecies to Holloway. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing, if only he’d be capable of providing any accurate idea as to when that elusive 14th league title would come.

 

EXPANDING HIGHBURY SQUARE

The Emirates might stand all glamorous today in north London, but just 500 yards away stands the site of the club’s former home as a memory of Arsenal’s glorious past. What remains of it now, however, has since been developed into the 650-flat apartment complex called Highbury Square. Throw in a little more cash — and, of course, cement (the other product for which Dangote has earned renown for) – and perhaps the property could be expanded a little more. Er, a 1000-odd flats, maybe?

 

KANU’S STATUE OUTSIDE THE EMIRATES

If there is anything Dangote has more of than money, it’s probably cement (Dangote Cement, mind, is the largest cement production company in Africa). Hence if, after taking measure #4, there are some spare bags of building powder remaining — and there sure would be – it could cross the great man’s mind to erect a statue outside the Emirates of the greatest Nigerian ever to wear an Arsenal shirt, Nwankwo Kanu, celebrating a goal with his trademark gun-mimicking, two-fingered salute – a gesture he explained was based on the team’s nickname – alongside existing figures built in tribute to club legends Thierry Henry, Herbert Chapman, Dennis Bergkamp and Tony Adams. For a man voted 13th by appreciative Arsenal fans in the “Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players” poll just eight years ago, Kanu’s greatness would, quite literally, be cast in stone.

CARTOON OF THE DAY: NYANTAKYI SAILS THROUGH

 

Kwesi Nyantakyi, president of the Ghana Football Association, has been cleared by world football’s governing body, Fifa, to contest one of two slots available for Africa on the powerful Fifa Executive Council after passing intergrity checks. The lawyer-turned-administrator would be up against five other top football figures from the continent in the elections scheduled for later this month in Cairo.
KickerGH‘s Makaveli dips his brush into the matter.
Enjoy!
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ERIC BAILLY: THE IVORY COAST’S NEXT CAPTAIN?

By: Sammie Frimpong

Yaya Toure, skipper of Ivory Coast and the country’s finest footballer, announced his retirement from international football days ago, necessitating the assignment of ownership of the side’s armband — and the ‘office’ of its most influential character — to a new personality for the second time in two years.

The last change-over came just around this time in 2014, when Didier Drogba — long the side’s leader — stripped off the national team’s orange for the last time after the Fifa World Cup in Brazil. The baton was passed to Toure (hitherto a strong presence in the Ivorian ranks but not quite at Drogba’s stature) who, within less than a year, had succeeded in perhaps the one area his predecessor failed: winning the Africa Cup of Nations (2015 edition), Ivory Coast’s first in over two decades.

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Like ageing and accomplished Drogba, though, Toure has opted to bow out, having secured for himself a legacy that posterity would struggle to match. As indicated at the outset, however, the 33-year-old’s exit also leaves a leadership vacuum that needs to be filled. This time, though, Les Elephants — for the sake of long-term stability, at least — require the appointment of a younger, hungrier player, rather than one with little more to achieve and only a couple of years left in his career.

That search, if it’s what the national team authorities do intend to embark on, is one that would ultimately focus the spotlight on Eric Bailly, 22. The Manchester United centre-back has been on quite a trajectory since making his international debut in January 2015 versus Nigeria. A first major title followed at the Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea shortly thereafter, where he starred so brilliantly, playing all six games with the nous of a veteran and particularly exuding composed assuredness in a final — against neighbours Ghana — which was set on the thinnest of knife-edges.

His move to Old Trafford from Spain’s Villareal in summer this year — as the first recruit of Jose Mourinho’s reign and for a fee only eclipsed as an African record by Liverpool’s £34m purchase of Senegal’s Sadio Mane — was unheralded, but it’s already proving quite a bargain. Prior to United’s recent slump, Bailly had been one of the stand-out men of the Mourinho era, outdoing even fellow fresh arrival Paul Pogba (the world’s most expensive footballer, in case you’ve forgotten) as an impact signing thus far into the season and being named the club’s Player of the Month for August 2016.

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Bailly is by no means the most experienced option for Ivory Coast captain — the likes of Salomon Kalou, Seydou Doumbia, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony would seem more probable alternatives in that regard — but few Ivorian stars currently possess a profile higher than Bailly’s. Granted, Bailly still has much work to do in becoming an ideal fit for the role, particularly with respect to his temperament. He notoriously got booked 11 times in La Liga last season — even sent off once — yet there are encouraging signs that, steadily developing a cooler, wiser head (see his calmly converted spotkick in the incredibly tense, drawn-out shoot-out which climaxed Afcon 2015), such a poor disciplinary aura would begin to clear up with time and the weight of added responsibility. Truth be told, though, what’s a leader without some fire?

Bailly deserves the mantle neither due to his impressive physical attributes (at 6 ft 1 in, he is one of the more imposing specimen available to Ivory Coast boss Michel Dussuyer) nor because of the stereotype that defensive players generally make the best captains. Despite his youthfulness, he brings far more to the table and, if it’s an exciting new face Ivory Coast need to represent the exciting new generation emerging for the West African nation’s football, it’s him.

Really, what’s not to like?

END OF AN ERA: ‘GAME OVER’ FOR YAYA TOURE

By: Sammie Frimpong

Yaya Toure has been a relevant — maybe Africa’s most relevant — force  ever since leaving Barcelona for Manchester City in 2010. The midfielder has since starred in the Citizens’ capture of two Premier League titles and a fine haul of domestic cup prizes, with City often not operating at the same level in his absence.

For his country, Ivory Coast, Toure’s worth grew in said period, especially after talismanic Dider Drogba’s exit from the scene a few years ago. Toure’s presence became more influential, to the extent that — as skipper — he led Les Elephants to a first Nations Cup title in 23 years at Equatorial Guinea 2015. And while shining for club and country, Toure has been busy stocking his cabinet for personal laurels, too, being crowned Africa’s best footballer officially for four consecutive years — a feat hitherto unprecedented — among others. Best of all, even on the wrong side of 30, it seemed Toure wasn’t slowing down yet and had more coming his way.

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Suddenly, though, that bubble of bliss has been popped — and with very little warning. Toure’s golden world began to crumble early this year when Gabon and Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claimed the Confederation of African Football’s top individual honour, one which Toure had monopolised since 2011. The Ivorian, feeling wronged by a process that had seemingly rubbished his continental conquest with Ivory Coast last year, launched into a tirade which earned him little sympathy and painted an image of a desperate man who’d began to lose his grip at the top.

City’s poor league form in 2015/16 compounded Toure’s misery somewhat, but the wind of change that blew over Eastlands in the summer that followed would do him even greater harm. In came Pep Guardiola, the former Barca boss who pushed Toure off to City rather harshly some six years prior — though unwittingly ushering the best years of the player’s career — and with whom the latter hasn’t had the warmest relations with since. Indeed, it was a surprise that Toure survived the overhaul Guardiola inspired in pre-season but, dropping the ex-Olympiacos man from City’s squad for the ongoing Uefa Champions League campaign and denying him even a minute of play-time in the Premier League thus far this term, the new manager has hardly been subtle in expressing his disregard for Toure. Toure’s prospects have been helped little by his outspoken agent Dmitri Seluk’s attacks on Guardiola, prompting the 45-year-old’s vow on Tuesday that “Yaya is out [of consideration for selection]” until Seluk apologises. If that sounded the death knell for Toure’s City career, the player’s own decision — publicized moments before Guardiola’s proclamation — to retire from international football marked the end to any dreams of further success he had with Ivory Coast. Toure would have no more part in the team’s pursuit of a ticket to a fourth successive Fifa World Cup, neither would he be involved in the quest to defend their Afcon diadem in Gabon next year.

The resulting picture?

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A pretty gloomy one, as things stand. While Toure — should he remain exiled from Guardiola’s Champions League plans till January — would be an experienced target for many an elite European club seeking to boost their own push for glory in said competition, his huge wages (supposedly the reason why no suitors were bold enough to grab him in the summer) as well as ageing and subsequently decreased performance levels would present genuine obstacles. Seluk would have a hard time selling his client as a profitable investment to any ambitious club that wants their money’s worth.

In the end, Toure’s brightest hopes may lie at some big-spending Chinese club, an obscure destination in the Gulf, in the States, or Down Under where he could earn a significant pension. Guardiola’s rejection of Toure in the past saw the player take a giant step up; the latest instance, though, almost certainly sends him the other way.

All this, of course, is good news for an entire generation of younger, foreign-based African stars (led by Aubameyang and Co.) who’ve largely lurked in Toure’s shadow till now. For the man himself, however, it’s a huge blow — one he’d probably never recover from.

CARTOON OF THE DAY: GYAN TO THE RESCUE!

It has been revealed that Ghana skipper Asamoah Gyan gifted a loaded financial package to players of Liberty Professionals — the club from which he made his big jump to Europe many years ago — ahead of the Dansoman-based outfit’s crunch, final 2016 Premier League game.
The offer — reportedly comprising one month’s salary for all the players as well as winning bonuses — must have inspired Liberty’s fine performance against Bechem United that ultimately saved the club from relegation.
KickerGH‘s Makaveli dips his brush into the matter.
Enjoy!

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2015/16 GHANA PREMIER LEAGUE: END-OF-SEASON AWARDS

The 2015/16 Ghana Premier League ended last Sunday, bringing to a conclusion seven months of thrills during which certain clubs, games and individuals stood out for a variety of reasons. It’s these notable ‘feats’ that KickerGH recognises below:

SCANDAL OF THE SEASON: ALL STARS-EDUBIASE MATCH-FIXING CLAIMS

It was huge, still is, and could be huger still: oh, the brewing match-fixing scandal which could well blow Wa All Stars’ Premier League conquest into smithereens, we mean. The only party that couldn’t care less, really, are the other team fingered in the mess: blissfully relegated New Edubiase.

GAFFE OF THE SEASON: ABDOULAYE SOULAMA (HEARTS v KOTOKO)

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It’s hard finding a better candidate for this award than Abdoulaye Soulama’s moment of ease horror when playing for Hearts of Oak against his former employers, Asante Kotoko, in the league’s first round. The Burkinabe shot-stopper got a bit too comfortable on the ball and let in the game’s only goal. Following that howler up with a red card?

Classy!

MYSTERY OF THE SEASON: TECHIMAN CITY

That ‘almighty’ Techiman City were relegated is quite mysterious, wasn’t it?

The club got relegated despite being one of the best at home in the league, picking 34 points out of an available 45 at the Nana Ameyaw Park over the course of the season; to put that into context, champions Wa All Stars managed 37. The Real Citizens, however, garnered only three points on the road. Call it a tale of two cities, but it sure is a mystery even the great Sherlock Holmes would lose several nights’ sleep over.

GAME OF THE SEASON: ASHGOLD v KOTOKO

At KickerGH, we have a love for things that make our eyes pop. You know the stuff that leave you tongue-tied and doubting if any of it is real?

Well, that’s exactly why Ashgold hosting Kotoko was our game of the season. The Miners had really struggled to score goals before that fixture late in the season, averaging less than a goal-a-game throughout the season (24 in 28 at that stage). They did find their scoring boots in one of the most ‘entertaining’ matches we saw this season, though, putting five past Kotoko in that game alone. For sheer jaw-dropping value, this — doubling as our favourite result overall — was our game of the season.

‘OMG!’ RESULT OF THE SEASON: (ASHGOLD 5-3 KOTOKO)

Now there were a number of contenders for this one, but the best of the bunch, it seems, was literally reserved for last. Fast-forward to match-day 29, when Kotoko travelled to Ashantigold to play their [losing] part in an eight-goal thriller which had a fair few fans hissing contemptuously in the end. ‘Wind-assisted’, perhaps?

SACKING OF THE SEASON: DAVID DUNCAN (KOTOKO)

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It wasn’t too long into the season when troubled, fidgety clubs got into trigger-happy mood, and one of the earliest to strike struck hardest. The victim in that instance, David Duncan, always had it coming after the embarrassing start the Kotoko side he trained endured. To Duncan’s credit, though, Kotoko lacked the guts to sack him outright, merely asking him to step aside“. Anyway, that particular episode dragged on a couple of months (during which Duncan’s assistant, Michael Osei, stepped in tentatively and struggled, too) till, in June, Duncan finally got his sack — and one fat ‘take-away’ for consolation.

ENDANGERED SPECIES OF THE SEASON: GREAT COACHES

This was a season in which coaches weren’t particularly brilliant, guys. No club won more than half of all games it contested. The best in that regard were champions Wa All Stars — and they had a sizable chunk of their 15 wins at home (sorry, Enos Adepa!). Sacking of coaches wasn’t too rare and, had clubs not been a tad cautious with respect to chopping and changing, there would have been far more casualties.

FAN OF THE SEASON: AVRAM GRANT

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Ghana boss Avram Grant never saw many Premier League games, but no individual was as sought-after for a seat at stadia nationwide than the Israeli, resulting in him being dragged all over the country — almost like he was wanted everywhere at once. It would have been fun if Grant had actually enjoyed a single minute of it all. Or did you, sir?