Ghana’s Black Stars strode to an easy 3-0 win against the Sihlangu Semnikati (King’s Shield) of Swaziland Sunday. The victory has since been overshadowed by uncertainty surrounding coach Milovan Rajevac’s stay as Ghana’s manager.
While the Ghana Football Association are ready to consummate a deal there are a few hitches. The latest hold up is a dispute between Rajevac and his manager. It is unclear how any disagreement with his manager is an impediment to him remaining as Ghana’s coach. Adding more fuel to the fire has been the story of ‘Milo’ bolting to Saudi Arabia to coach Al-Ahly football club. Through all of this Rajevac’s public posture has not changed. He wants to remain Ghana coach. In the next week we will know whether he stays or goes.
Despite the success of the Stars over the last two years, one of the recurring criticisms against Rajevac has been that he is too defensive so if he leaves a cross section of fans may well be happy to see him go. But the Swazi match shows that the Stars can still bury weak teams with multiple goals and should comfort those fans. Yet it is my guess that Milo could care less whether it was 1-0 or 2-0. All he cares about is the W and the clean sheet. And who can begrudge a man when all he does is win?
The Swaziland game though was a good reminder of what the Black Stars have become under ‘Milo’ and what FIFA’s technical committee during the World Cup recognized. They are stingy defensively, well organized and opportunistic. In modern football, you are never guaranteed a win but that formula combined with the strength and skills of the Ghanaian player could form the basis of a winning tradition for the next few years.
Sunday’s match was a clear example in showing how he manages like he is playing chess. He plans for the opposition in front of him but in the process thinks a number of steps ahead. This is clear in how he varied tactics throughout the game and in the way he used his substitutions. After eschewing the 4-4-2 for the World Cup, at times in this game he played with Prince Tagoe and Asamoah Gyan as out and out strikers. That combination led to the second goal. It is a permutation the public has clamored for. But Rajevac, did not do it to satisfy the public. My guess is that he was keen to see how his team adapts to a 4-4-2 and among the things he was looking for was how vulnerable the Stars would become defensively with that adjustment. Also he would have wanted to see what personnel he can rely on to play that system. Rajevac has shown that he is not afraid to bring in new blood and he did it again by bringing Jordan Ayew on. At first Ayew played on the right but after a few minutes he was shifted to a more central striking role to support Tagoe. In 15 minutes Rajevac assessed Ayew in two positions, something he can draw on in the future.
It is this sort of thinking, in-game management and forward thinking that makes Rajevac one of the better coaches we’ve had in recent memory and why it would be disappointing if he does not return. Still not convinced? Let me recap. First African country to qualify for 2010 World Cup finals. Only African country to go past first round at 2010. African Cup of Nations final – something Ghana have not done since 1992 and all with a squad at times devoid of stars like Michael Essien.
Finally and just as important is that to Rajevac’s credit, he has embraced Ghana as much as we’ve embraced the team he has assembled. How many times have coaches left as soon as they preside over modest success? Too many. ‘Milo’ though has shown unusual patience and commitment, even working beyond the stated terms of his previous contract and without a new one.
Now how is that for a winning attitude?