Milovan Rajevac’s departure has touched a nerve among many Ghanaians. It is difficult to put a finger on it but my sense is that the main source of frustration is with the manner in which this departure or non-departure is playing out. We all want to scream “Just leave already” even as we prefer he remains.
The last time a coach garnered such a cult was when the German Otto Pfister came through in the 1990s. But while he will be remembered for coaching the Stars to the final of the 1992 African Cup of Nations, he mainly occupied our minds for the way he wore his jeans – even inspiring a fad in Ghana where young people sagged their jeans. Rajevac is different though. Here is a man who doesn’t speak directly to the Ghanaian public. He speaks through an interpreter. His words are always filtered. He is like a chief in Ghanaian culture who speaks through a linguist in that sense. He seems detached from us and moreso on the bench; his shrugging-off of assistant Kwesi Appiah after beating Serbia this summer an example of that. Yet, if he seems inaccessible to us, he is tied to the national identity which is the Black Stars.
And he wanted to stay. Rajevac was probably the first foreign coach in the last decade who seemed ready to remain for a prolonged period. His assurances after the World Cup that he was committed to coaching the Black Stars were unusual in that often the coaches remain non-committal. They repeat variations of the phrase ‘I don’t know what the future holds but my people will meet with your people and see whether we can come to an agreement’. Typically, these statements are uttered knowing full well that there are lucrative offers they are likely to accept. The other tactic is to say after a campaign that they will go on holiday and will weigh their options. The final one is when there is silence.
But Rajevac was different. His public pronouncements were firm and they were music to our ears. He was not after money. He enjoyed working with the boys and wanted to continue and we felt his sincerity. Even as we thought his conflict with his manager was strange, we wanted to believe him.
The dance with a coach is akin to a romantic exercise. Our relationship with some coaches in the past has been either like casual relationships where both parties knew it was going to be short term or serious dating where the parties grow apart. Milo seemed ready to make that leap. He had found the one. And it made sense. He would have the opportunity to coach a young team for the next four years, earn some good money compared to other national team coaches (based on reported salaries of coaches at World Cup),have some stability and probable success. On Ghana’s end, Ghanaians liked the success at the Cup of Nations and World Cup and had warmed to his team even as they expressed frustration at times with his tactics. His team building approach, injection of youth and discipline won general support. The GFA would avoid the thankless job of looking for a new coach with no guarantee of finding one who worked as well with this team as Milo did.
So in many ways he has left us at the altar. At the point of saying ‘I do’ he ran out of church to check on the damsel he saw on his way in, whose dashing smile and gorgeous eyes made him pause and think of what could be elsewhere.
Like the jilted lover at the altar we are in shock, confused. We cannot believe he would take us for a ride in this manner and worse prolong our agony in an endless ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ routine. In addition, Rajevac would join the legion of foreign coaches who have used Ghana as a stepping-stone on the way to riches. Ultimately, some of that backlash among fans has been because no one likes being used time and again. But it is worse this time because we thought this was a different man.
Placed in a larger context, our history has suggested that the relationship with foreigners can be exploitative, and these developments may feed into that narrative. But one must not overreact.
It will be a pity if the recent developments reinforce this thinking because it need not be. For there are areas where through joint cooperation and mutually beneficial partnerships, local capacity can be built and national objectives achieved. After all, many local coaches will acknowledge that there are benefits from their exposure to foreign expertise and ideas.
In the search for a new coach, we must not make a decision on the rebound.