Part of Appiah’s strategy to make his team more effective is to widen the talent pool.
He has been here before. It was 2012 and the nation was in foul mood after the 2012 Nations Cup when nothing went wrong. Ghana lost to Zambia in a semi-final game they should have won, the post mortern nearly got physical and accusations of players imploring juju against each other were rife. Appiah’s job that day in 2012 was to convince the nation he could heal the wounds, unify a team ripped apart by the divisions and get them winning again.
The setting was not exactly the same on Tuesday but there were similarities. The questions centred on how this team can become dominant again. It evolved around how a team he left in 37th position on the world ranking has slipped to 45th and retrogressed in the eyes of many. There were the key questions about captaincy too; a throwback to the subject of disunity that so dominated his first introduction as Black Stars coach.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the attendance,” he said. “It says just how much people care about the Black Stars but I also think how everyone is pleased to see a Ghanaian in charge of the Black Stars. I will work hard not to fail them.”
Appiah actively played the nationalism card. He suggested while he understood why he is still not everyone’s cup of tea, there are a lot more people willing him to succeed. “Ghanaians wanted me back with the intention that one of our own should do something for the country.”
From June 11th though, all that will be rhetoric and Appiah will be judged in the same way that Avram Grant was judged; by result, by the quality of football, by whether he would not be another coach who wins in qualifying and then gets to the Nations Cup only to stumble in the last four. The GFA cranked up that pressure when they said he must win the Nations Cup and try his best to qualify for Russia 2018. Some say with the sort of team in place now, that is asking too much.
Having spent literally his whole adult life in the Black Stars, Appiah understands that kind of pressure even though he would rather think long term.
“Sometimes you ask yourself, what we are looking for. That is where I think sometimes we are not learning,” he says when the question of the targets come up. “It is always important to build a team, have a succession plan and have long term plans. In that aspect putting pressure on getting results won’t be great but I understand the pressure. Even if I am here for one month, I should leave a telling legacy.”
Legacy is a theme that runs through but in truth, no one will care. Football is a NOW business. In the eyes of most football fans, coaches claim to be rebuilding because it buys them a bit of time, and insulates them from regular match day criticisms. So the obvious question remains if Appiah can achieve those targets.
On the World Cup where Ghana must make up a five-point deficit against Egypt, he says “there is nothing impossible in football so you never know. The most important thing is that we take care of our end by winning games and then see what happens but we simply can’t give up.”
There is no ifs and buts with the Nations Cup though. Appiah himself reached the semi-final in 2013 when everyone expected him to win. Ghana has been to that stage every tournament since 2008. “Every coach goes to the Nations Cup with an ambition to win. We've been to the semi-final and finals several times so I want to win it with Ghana. Once that winning mentality is there, it is my duty to impose it on the players and let them buy into how we would do it.”
Part of Appiah’s strategy to make his team more effective is to widen the talent pool. He may be the man in charge of the local Black Stars too but he does not make any promises that they will get into the main side simply because they are locals. He says like all others, they must work for their place.
The same principle goes for players based abroad but Appiah has already submitted about ten names to the Ghana Football Association of players with Ghanaian roots who can make the team stronger. It is an approach that has worked for Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Appiah is hoping it works for Ghana especially given the quality of the likes of Inaki Williams, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Gideon Jung at Hamburg.
Given Appiah’s struggles in managing Kevin-Prince Boateng and Adam Kwarasey, there will be those surprised he is interested in players of similar backgrounds. His answer is he bares no grudges, that he has become a better manager, coach and man. One thing will not change though. He says he will remain the calm character he has always been even if people judge you wrongly on that.
“People assume you are weak because you are quiet which is wrong. You need to give the players the respect required and the players will reciprocate. You can’t come in and bulldoze your way through otherwise it won’t work. Everyone, of course, knows who the boss is.