In just a few hours from now, the 2019 edition of the African Cup of Nations would kick off in Egypt, as Ghana once again makes an attempt to win our 5th Afcon trophy.
It has now become almost a national obsession for the Stars to win the Afcon, especially after recent disappointments going all the way back to 2008, when our famed ‘host and win’ attempt became ‘host and third’.
Since then, Ghana has made six consecutive semi final appearances, two in the final, without ever lifting the trophy.
Our beloved Black Stars have been turned into perennial also-rans!
On Tuesday night, another attempt at the trophy will begin with a Group game against Benin. Whilst support among Ghanaians look muted this time, everything would change once the tournament starts and the Stars step onto the field for their first game.
Ghanaians will once again demand nothing less than the trophy and for it to be delivered, one man and only one man has to step up and be counted, and that is James Kwesi Appiah.
Full disclosure, I do not much like Kwesi Appiah. He does not look like a leader and neither does he act like one. His tactical know how looks shallow and his press conferences are cringy to listen to. His Black Star teams are always filled with drama due to the leadership vacuum created by his lack of authority.
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was the best example of that, with behind the scenes drama leading to the team descending into chaos which affected the Star’s on-pitch performances. A few weeks ago, another drama engulfed the team after his decision to strip Gyan of the captaincy and hand it to Dede, mere weeks to the kickoff of the Afcon.
That decision is bound to have repercussions we cannot see now, but would surely come to play at some time during the tourney.
There are many coaches who can have the character flaws Kwesi Appiah has and still be successful. Italy’s Carlo Ancelotti is notorious for being buddies with his players and pathologically incapable of enforcing discipline but has turned into one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Appiah’s main problems lie on the pitch and his inability to motivate a team or build a coherent game plan against opponents. He has twice taken the Black Stars to the African Cup of Nations and both times has lost semifinal games in dubious circumstances.
In 2013, Ghana were heavy favourites against Burkina Faso, who to this day remain one of the poorest teams to reach an Afcon final. Kwesi Appiah somehow found a way to botch that match, with the Stars falling to the Burkinabe, in the first portend of the embarrassment in store for us at the then upcoming world cup.
He is the coach behind Ghana’s poorest World Cup performance and lost to the U.S.A in Brazil, a team Ghana had comfortably beaten twice in the two previous world cups. After taking over an admittedly difficult qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup, he dropped inexplicable points to Congo and Uganda which eventually cost Ghana a place at the 2018 World Cup.
Appiah has had his successes with the team, comfortably qualifying Ghana to the 2014 World Cup and this Afcon, but they are few and far between and remain dwarfed by his failures.
Ghana does not have the same quality team we had a decade and a half ago when our dominant run began, that would be disingenuous to say. Asamoah Gyan has diminished with age, our midfield is far from the days of the Essien-Appiah-Muntari trio and there is no great goalie like ‘Olele’ in the team these days. But we still have one of the most talented squads on the continent and deserve to be in the running for the trophy.
Despite the clear gap in quality between the two countries, Ghana endured a laboured qualifying run during which we battled tenuously with Kenya (Kenya!) for top spot. The team looked disjointed every time they took the field with no discernible pattern of play, a problem that has beleaguered Kwesi Appiah’s Ghana teams in his second spell.
These are all issues which need solving if Ghana is not to have another disappointing Afcon appearance. An easy group and the 24 team format make it all but certain that Ghana would reach the second round, but it is from then onwards that the real challenge begins.
Kwesi Appiah is a quiet man who lucked into the Ghana job on the back of a long apprenticeship as an assistant, his past as a decorated footballer and his ability to play ball with his bosses. In Egypt, he needs to turn into a general marshalling his forces into battle who does not back down for anyone or anything.
We cannot afford a breakdown in camp discipline like happened in Brazil or an off night at a crucial moment as happened in Gabon. The team has to be locked and loaded at all times and if they lose, it should never be for a lack of effort.
There are a lot of detractors to prove wrong for Kwesi Appiah, and if he’s able to do so I’ll gladly eat humble pie. But right now, from where I sit, James Kwesi Appiah remains Ghana’s biggest obstacle to success at Afcon 2019.
The 2019 African Cup of Nations kicks off tonight at 20 00 UTC. Ghana plays our first game on Tuesday at the same time against Benin.