The Black Stars Is In Crisis: We need to fix it before November!
I will present some basic views about strategic and tactical gaps in the current national team ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
The Black Stars have veered from the traditional model that brought us success in the two World Cups between 2005 and 2010.
From 2011 to date, the team has made serious mistakes that must be corrected. I will enumerate a few below that we need to fix to avoid an all-out disgrace similar to our elimination by Comoros in the AFCON tournament earlier this year. They are:
1. A SHIFT FROM OUR TRADITIONAL STABLE STYLE OF PLAY TO AN INEFFICIENT OFFENSIVE PLAY
In our first two World Cup tournaments, the Black Stars managed to emerge from their groups. Our philosophy was simple – “it is more important to avoid conceding goals than score”. Ghana used a 4-2-3-1 strategy in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, which ensured that every player was put to the most efficient use in the team.
Since 2011, we have moved towards a 4-4-2 model, which is highly inefficient. Even the French national team, known to have been one of the pioneers of this model, abandoned it in 1998 to win the World Cup.
So we need to focus on consolidating our defensive midfield before moving to the World Cup. The 4-4-2 is so archaic because it creates enormous gaps between the defence and midfield, which the opponents can quickly capitalise on to score goals. Furthermore, it under-utilises the extra wingers and strikers who will usually be forced to fall back to defend. We see that repeatedly in some of our forwards.
2. USING PLAYERS IN THEIR NATURAL AND PROFESSIONAL ROLES
To the credit of the Black Stars management team of 2005-2010, they placed players in the natural roles that they play in their respective clubs. The World Cup is not a tournament you can experiment in. It would be best if you had experienced and competent players in their respective roles.
Since 2011, a trend of experimentation has caused the team to deteriorate progressively. Some players have been tagged as “utility players” and used in roles they hate. Kwadwo Asamoah repeatedly stated that he was not delighted in playing left-back. However, he was used in that position repeatedly until he was forced into a premature retirement.
The same trend plays out with Baba Rahman, who is made for a forward position. This creates an imbalance in the team and only causes us to underperform. We need to fix that and assign players to roles that they are highly gifted in.
3. TAKING THE DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD SERIOUSLY
Since 2011, the Black Stars have underplayed the importance of the midfield. The “utility player” ideology misled us to use many players who were not cut out for the defensive midfield role.
However, there are two facts we overlook. First, our most successful strategy, which involves stable play, requires two defensive midfielders. In 2006, the GFA scouted for players in different leagues and found Eric Addo, who combined very well with Michael Essien in holding the defensive midfield. In 2010, Anthony Annan combined with Muntari, Boateng, and Kwadwo Asamoah to hold the defensive midfield exceptionally well.
In the current Black Stars, it is not clear which players are tasked with the defensive midfield. In professional life, Djiku and Amartey are both defensive midfielders. However, they have been converted into defenders because of the lack of defenders in the Nigeria game. That is problematic.
There must be two professional central defenders to play the role Kuffuor and Mensah played in 2006 and what John Mensah and Jonathan Mensah did in 2010. We can think of Mohammed Salisu and Jonathan Mensah as central defenders and move the true defensive midfielders up front.
With Partey, Djiku, Idrissu Baba, and Amartey as defensive midfielders, it is hard to imagine any balls of the opponents getting through. These four players are also great at supporting the buildups and can change the team’s destiny.
4. MAKING THE FORWARD LINE EFFICIENT
In the 4-2-3-1 model used between 2005 and 2010, there were three offensive midfielders and one clinical striker, Gyan. Since we were committing a few offensive midfielders at any point in time, each one of them was given a role. There were no extras. Today’s Black Stars has too many offensive players, many of them claim to be wingers, and there is no known expert striker. Committing so many forwards will be a recipe for disaster. Nowhere was it more apparent than the match between Ghana and Comoros, where we had too many forwards who could not score.
The old 4-2-3-1 meant that by convention, the more senior and matured midfielder (Appiah in 2010) was the centre-half-forward who played directly behind the key striker (Gyan). At his relatively advanced age of 30 in South Africa in 2010, Appiah had a lot of wisdom and could not be easily dispossessed. However, he was not fast enough.
Therefore, the hard runs and juggling were handled by KP Boateng, Andre Ayew, and Kwadwo Asamoah, who were younger and more efficient. In today’s terms, the centre-half-forward role naturally reverts to Andre Ayew. And on his right and left (right-half-forward and left-half-forward) should be roles opened to players who are young, fast and competent.
One will think of Kudus, Kyereh, Williams, Isshaku, Jordan Ayew and others to compete for these roles. This will help define clear roles for each individual forward, who will have accountability requirements they must meet.
5. RESOLVING THE STRIKING NEXUS
The current Black Stars need to take a clear and direct decision on who to strike as a centre-forward. Ghana cannot afford to field two strikers. The main reason is that it is costly for any reputable club to train a Ghanaian striker. That is why our strength is in playing a defensive-oriented 4-2-3-1 strategy. That is because, at any point, Ghana can name four efficient defensive midfielders playing in the top European leagues but struggle to name one excellent striker.
European clubs will instead want to train a local to achieve their goals. An African striker will only get a chance if he is fast and alert. We all know that Ghana has not produced a striker like Eto’o or Sadio Mane in many years.
Therefore, we will have to make a trade-off, choose the most efficient striker, and instruct him on what to do. It might take time for an efficient striker to emerge. However, we will need to set benchmarks for potential strikers and observe them while we match them with our opponents’ weaknesses.
In conclusion, the current Black Stars is far from what we would expect from previous successful Black Stars squads before a World Cup. The team is a shadow of its former self, and until we fix issues, we will repeat the mistakes of the AFCON earlier this year. First, we need to be more conservative and stable as a team by building the team around a solid defensive midfield. We need to use players in the natural roles they have played at their clubs for a few years. The concept of “utility player”, which causes us to use great forwards like Baba Rahaman in defence, must end.
Players must play in positions they have played in their professional careers. Finally, we need to build an efficient forward line with three offensive midfielders and one efficient striker. Each offensive midfielder must be given a role that they will have to meet. In the absence of these recommendations, we will revert to random role assignments and inefficient use of players that will cause our streak of poor results to continue.
CREDIT: Kwabena Owusu
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