Avram Grant expected to make immediate impact with Ghana
If there’s one thing Avram Grant is used to, then it’s a demanding boss. John Terry’s slip while taking a penalty in the 2008 Champions League final shoot-out in Moscow effectively cost him his job as Chelsea coach.
Having been one of many managers hired and fired by Blues backer Roman Abramovich, newly-appointed Grant is charged with taking Ghana as far as he can at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.
The Black Stars hierarchy have been frank with their new team boss, named just six weeks prior to the continental competition kicking off. “It would be unfair to ask a coach appointed [around] only one month before a tournament to win a trophy,” said Ghanaian FA president Kewsi Nyantekyie.
“But he must do well and then the FA will assess his performance after the Nations Cup and determine whether he has or not.” There’s gratitude for stepping in at the 11th hour for you.
And yet, the Black Stars should always be making the business end of tournaments, because they have a number of players plying their trade in top European leagues, or that are proven in them, but now elsewhere.
Skipper and record scorer Asamoah Gyan continues to enjoy big pay-days in the Gulf region with United Arab Emirates outfit Al-Ain, where he has netted more than a goal per game. It’s often forgotten that only Steven Fletcher has achieved double figures for Premier League strikes over a season in a Sunderland shirt since.
This motivation to play professional sport is probably the wrong reason, which is no better evidenced than by the behaviour of this country and other African nations’ big names in regard to World Cup bonuses.
We had everything from squads refusing to board the plane bound for Brazil to reported fights between players and officials. Two of those that are alleged to have been involved in unsavoury spats are Sulley Muntari and another former Portsmouth player, though from Grant’s stint in charge at Fratton Park, Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Such disputes have left this key midfield pair in disgrace. Boateng, in particular, will be a miss for Grant, as the player was an important cog of his struggling, cash-strapped Pompey side, which defied all odds to reach the FA Cup final in 2010.
At least faithful Chelsea retainer Michael Essien, now at AC Milan alongside Muntari, is available for selection, but at 32 this could be his international swansong. It’s more likely, then, there will be new blood manning Ghana’s engine room.
Udinese’s Emmanuel Ageymang-Badu and Parma midfield general Afriyie Acquah both made the World Cup squad, but were not first-choice selections for Grant’s predecessor James Kewsi Appiah until Boateng and Muntari had their falling out with the FA.
In attack, the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, remain essential supply-lines for Gyan, who was joint top-scorer alongside surprise source Badu in qualifying. Wide threat will be plentiful to boot, so much so that Grant will have to disappoint someone.
Middlesbrough winger Albert Adomah, Leicester City’s Jeff Schlupp, Celtic loanee Wakaso Mubarak, Juventus left-footer Kwadwo Asamoah, and Christian Atsu, whose lack of playing time at Everton is cause for concern, are all options open to the new Ghana gaffer.
Chelsea loaned one of their bright prospects to the Toffees in the hope he would feature regularly when fit, in a similar vein to how Roberto Martinez used Barcelona academy graduate Gerard Deulofeu (now at Sevilla) last term. Atsu’s direct wingplay was an attractive aspect of the Black Stars’ showing in Brazil.
Harrison Afful, of Tunisian outfit Esperance, also caught the eye at the World Cup with his crossing up from right back. There is plenty for Grant to work with, then, but he faces a real ‘group of death’ in Equatorial Guinea.
Also drawn in Ghana’s pool are Algeria, Senegal and South Africa. On their day, any of these sides could be the other, so Group C is likely to give viewers and punters alike the most compelling viewing come January.