So finally, Ghana’s provisional World Cup squad has been named. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t surprised with most of the names on the list and indeed, even though in my last few articles, I had indicated why I thought certain players should not be in the team, checks carried out clearly indicated that most of such players would make the squad. As usual, I will attempt to provide a critique of the squad.
Before I go on to the squad, player for player, it is time to make some observations and ask some tough questions. It would appear that some of the players selected made it into the squad based on past achievements more that anything else. There is no doubt that the likes of Stephen Appiah, Richard Kingston, Laryea Kingston, John Mensah and Michael Essien are great players in their pomp, but are they in their pomp? The records speak for themselves. I know I might be sounding like a broken record, but full fitness and regular playing time are to very important factors that should go into selecting a good World Cup squad, unless the team in question is travelling to make up the numbers.
To cite a few examples, England coach Fabio Capello is considering leaving Rio Ferdinand out of the English World Cup squad if he fails to prove his fitness and is indeed trying to convince Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher to come out of retirement. Ferdinand happens to be England captain and if Capello is considering dropping him on grounds of fitness, then it is a measure of how serious most of the competing nations are. Ronaldo is the all-time World Cup top scorer and even though he is regularly banging in the goals for Corinthians in Brazil (12 in 20 games as of last month), he has admitted that he might not make it into the Selecao on grounds of a comparative lack of playing time. Remember that he single handedly won the World Cup in 2002 by scoring eight goals. Rene Adler was to have been Germany’s number one goalie in South Africa and indeed after suffering his shoulder injury, he is quoted as saying that he could play through the pain barrier but head coach Joachim Loew decided not to risk him, a decision Adler agreed with. Adler has since been left out and on the basis of consistency, veteran keeper Hans Joerg Butt, who has been ever present for Bayern Munich this season, has been called up in Adler’s place. These are just a few examples of the sort of barometers several coaches are using to pick squads capable of competing at the highest levels.
This brings me to the afore-mentioned players as per the Black Stars. I am currently getting conflicting reports about whether Michael Essien will be fit in time for the World Cup. On one hand, I am told that his participation in South Africa is looking extremely doubtful; on the other, I am getting reports that he is finally over his injury problems and will be available to play in Ghana’s pre-World Cup matches. There is no doubt that he is by far Ghana’s best player and if there is any chance that he can play, it would be a major boost to the Black Stars, but the Chelsea midfielder has been quoted as saying that he would prefer to compete at the World Cup fully fit and that he might be forced to miss the trip to South Africa to save his long-term career. Add that to the fact that he was recovering from an injury when he travelled to Angola and after 45 minutes against Ivory Coast, he suffered the knee injury that has kept him out since then, and surely the conclusion is that if he is not fully fit, then perhaps it is time to plan for the World Cup without him!
The whole world and his wife know that Stephen Appiah has not played competitive club football for close to two years. His displays for the Black Stars during the World Cup qualifiers clearly reflect that fact and whilst he was instrumental in Ghana’s blaze of glory four years ago in Germany, it would be counter-productive to include him in Ghana’s final squad because he is not match-fit! The World Cup is a competition that leaves no room for error, much less lack of match fitness and whilst we all applaud Appiah’s exploits over the years, his selection into the team smacks of an attempt to reward him for past service to the Black Stars, a move that could blow up in the face of the selectors.
In my last piece, I included John Mensah in my opinionated World Cup squad. However, since that time, he returned to Sunderland’s starting line up against Manchester United and limped off after 18 minutes. I still maintain that he is one of the best in the business when fit, but will he be fit, when corrective surgery is clearly needed for his back problems? Do not forget that former Italy defender Alessandro Nesta had the same issues and had to stay out of football for over a year after surgery and now, Marcelo Lippi is still making overtures to convince Nesta to return to the national fold. Perhaps it is time for Mensah himself to bite the bullet and admit that he will not be fit enough for South Africa, otherwise he could put his entire career at risk, which would be a pity because at 27, his best years are ahead of him and perhaps the 2014 World Cup would be a good time for him to show his full fitness after undergoing surgery and playing for some time.
My stance on Richard Kingston has generated a lot of debate, with some arguing that he is very experienced and it would be catastrophic to leave him out. Well for me, what is good for the goose should also be good for the gander and if I am arguing that Appiah should be left out on the basis of lack of playing time, then the same argument should apply to ‘Olele’, who has not played a competitive match for Wigan this season. He clearly has fitness issues which were evident in Angola and even though he played through the pain barrier, it ultimately cost him the chance to represent Ghana against Bosnia a few months back. I am sure that Black Stars coach Milovan Rajevac also has doubts about Kingston’s fitness and that is why he has called up four goalkeepers in the provisional squad. For me, I believe that Stephen Ahorlu, Daniel Agyei and Stephen Adams have all been in good form and should go to South Africa as Ghana’s three goalkeepers.
Laryea Kingston has had a mixed season for Heart of Midlothian. Fitness issues, a run in with the former coach and lack of playing time amongst other things have conspired to lower his performance levels and only 9 starts for the Scottish club tells the story. His omission from Heart of Midlothian’s 0-0 draw with Dundee United last week would suggest that new manager Jim Jeffries also has doubts over his fitness. I remember including him in my ‘stand-by’ seven, but I do not think he should travel to South Africa.
Eric Addo made it into Ghana’s provisional squad and whilst he is one of Ghana’s most experienced players, 12 starts in the Dutch Eredivisie out of 34 is a less than satisfactory output for Roda JC and an extended period on the bench does not bode well for the defensive midfielder turned central defender. His tactical awareness has been blunted by a lack of pace and in his last few games for Ghana, it was evident. Poor positioning on his part led to Bosnia’s equalizer against Ghana and for me, he should also miss the trip.
I maintained last time out that Haminu Draman should not make the trip and my stance remains unchanged because he has not played this season. He has been on the bench only once this season and his penchant for taking the wrong option at times is a mark against him. He might have scored in Germany, but that was then. This is now.
I am also concerned about Rahim Ayew’s inclusion into the squad because he has been in and out of the Zamalek team, and even though he has the ability to play in different positions and so will provide options, I am just wondering whether he is well-conditioned to play in South Africa. I reckon the jury is out on that one. How Dominic Adiyiah, who has yet to break into the AC Milan first team was chosen ahead of Eric Bekoe, who has had a prolific season with Petrojet in Egypt I will never know and at any World Cup, firepower is very important.
I omitted Derek Boateng from my list the last time out, but I will wholeheartedly agree with the decision to include him. He has had a consistent season with Getafe and with Emmanuel Agyemang Badu set to recover just in time for the World Cup, perhaps he might get a starting place alongside Anthony Annan in midfield. I am also delighted to see that Bernard Yao Kumordji’s consistency in the Greek Super Liga has been rewarded with a call up and he remains a useful option.
I was also surprised to see Jonathan Mensah’s name in the list. He was a regular for Free State Stars before a failed move to Udinese. He has been out of the reckoning for the South African side since then and I would have thought that some of our locally based central defenders like Karim Alhassan, Awudu Nafiu and John Kuffuor would have been picked as cover for Lee Addy and Isaac Vorsah.
With all this to chew on, one cannot help but ask the following questions; what target have we set for ourselves in South Africa? (GFA President Kwasi Nyantakyi believes Ghana can win the World Cup whilst Rajevac is targeting a second round place) What are the criteria for selection into the team? Have past accomplishments and experience become more important than full match fitness and consistency? Indeed, are e going to South Africa just to make up the numbers or are we bent on achieving anything all? Are we still being sentimental instead of wearing a cloak of realism? I guess we all have to wait until the final 23 is named and Ghana plays in the pre-World Cup friendlies. Whilst I would be happy to be proved wrong as per fitness issues of certain players, for now the above remains my opinion on the matter and only time will tell whether the Black Stars are being prepared adequately for the World Cup or whether this is a rerun of the mythical soap opera entitled , ‘He has done it before in the past, so…….’.