Mr. Hughton, really?
In January 2022, Chris Hughton’s interest in the Black Stars job was well known.
He held separate meetings with GFA President Kurt Okraku and his number two, Mark Addo, to serve notice of his interest.
I would like to think that at the time, he had a plan in mind to rid the team, of its bad technical habits if handed the reigns. However, he did not get the job. Otto Addo did.
Chris got another job though; Technical Advisor. Whatever that means. But whatever it was, the role gave Chris unmediated knowledge about the Black Stars; knowledge that would become useful in the future. As it turned out, Otto Addo had said he would not continue as Black Stars coach after the World Cup. Although Hughton had no guarantees he would be given the job, he knew he would at least be considered.
Whatever plan Hughton had, he had a year to tweak it to fit his, now intimate knowledge of the team.
So when fans and journalists say they expect better from Mr. Hughton, they are within reasonable limits of expectations.
Instead, Hughton’s Black Stars have produced some of the most disfigured, confusing football Ghanaians have ever seen.
Coaching in football, like boxing, is defined by styles. Think of any coach you know and I guarantee you that they are wedded to a set of principles that define their style. You would find they all have a preference for unique profiles in every team they assemble, transmitting an easily distinguishable playing style.
To this rule, Chris Hughton is no exception.
A cursory look at Hughton’s time across his Brighton, Newcastle United, Norwich, and Nottingham Forrest teams would reveal a compact, defense-oriented brand of football.
For whatever reason, there has been no evidence of an attempt to build a compact team. What we have seen is a completely disfigured team that crumbles at the first sign of trouble.
Against the USA in Nashville, Ghanaians witnessed a capitulation of gigantic proportions as the Black Stars shipped in three goals in 25 first-half minutes. 15 minutes later, the four-time African Champions had been spanked for four.
It was the most damning verdict yet of ‘‘Project Hughton’’.
What was confusing about today’s performance, was the attempt to pass the ball from the back.
Jerome Opoku and Nicholas Opoku tried without success, to find teammates in space as Ghana’s plan fell apart.
Against Mexico, there was a similar attempt but it was abandoned after repeated failures.
In every other match, Ghana has attempted a half-hearted pressing scheme that often leaves Inaki Williams and Kudus Mohammed throwing their hands in despair after opponents draw rings around them.
For a man who made his name building compact, low blocks that break with lightning speed, it is puzzling to see his team attempt principles far removed from what underpins his style.
Is this some mid-life identity crisis, Mr. Hughton?
Hughton and his assistants, George Boateng and Didi Dramani
Coaches earn their money because they are able to influence a team to play football that makes sense and deliver contextual success.
Chris Hughton was hired because he presumably had the capacity to influence this group. Thus far, we have yet to see evidence of actual coaching.
Hughton needs time, I agree. But in this business, time is earned, and at this moment, Hughton’s methods have done little to resuscitate a dismembered team on life support. He needs to turn the corner before he gets turned over.
In the meantime, there are low-hanging fruits.
The left-back conundrum.
I was at the Al Ajanoub Stadium in Qatar to watch Ghana play Uruguay. I saw first-hand the flotsam and jetsam performance of Baba Rahman.
On Saturday, I saw Gideon Mensah too, against Mexico.
For years, these two have taken turns selling stinkers in Black Stars jerseys. In any competitive environment, they should be yanked and never called again. If Chris Hughton wants to find any kind of success, he need not tolerate the mediocrity of these two. It would be better to try other settle on different options and persist with them. Even if it is Alexander Djiku, it cannot be any worse than the horrible performances Mensah and Rahman have served repeatedly.
If Chris is not cut from the same cloak as his predecessors, this inexplicable tolerance for mediocrity needs to cease now.
Why does he bother turning up? I am curious.
When Partey plays for Ghana, he is either playing within himself or getting yanked at halftime because coaches do not want to risk upsetting his employers at Arsenal.
Partey will prioritize his career at Arsenal. That much is understandable. But every player who pulls on the Ghana shirt is expected to give 100% and that includes Partey.
The current situation does not help the Black Stars, Arsenal, or Partey.
If the exertions of representing Ghana are getting in the way of his fitness, a candid conversation needs to be had to end this torturous experience of knowing he is capable of far more than he is delivering.
There is a certain disconnect between the attitude of the current generation of Black Stars players and what came before. And why not? For many in the current team, they were not called because they were exceptional. They were called because there were no real alternatives. Or because there is a lazy, incompetent recruitment setup at the GFA.
So players who have previously sworn never to play for Ghana because they did not ‘feel Ghanaian enough’, in the case of Inaki Williams, are now bona fide starters for us.
“I admire and love Ghana, the food, tradition. My parents are from Accra, and I really enjoy going. Ghana tried to convince me, but I was born in Spain, in Bilbao. I won’t ever forget my family roots, but I feel Basque and can’t con anyone. I would be comfortable with Ghana, I’m sure, but I shouldn’t be there.’’ Inaki told the Guardian in a 2021 interview.
Yet, the ever-paranoid-sounding, Kurt Okraku, and his incompetent lot at the GFA practically begged Inaki to play for Ghana as though he was some prime Asamoah Gyan.
They did not stop there. Salisu Mohammed, who felt wronged by past executives of the GFA and for that matter, decided not to play for Ghana, was also begged to rescind his decision. Salisu had been approached by former Black Stars coaches C.K Akonnor and Milovan Rajevac. In February 2022, coach Otto Addo made a public call for Salisu to rescind his decision. Still, Salisu, then at Southampton, refused to come. After Ghana secured qualification, Kurt Okraku jetted off to the UK and made sure the cameras followed him to capture the moments.
It did not matter that Salisu had turned his back on his country when Ghana needed him. Instead, we waited for him to make up his mind and when he did, we rolled out the red carpet for him.
In doing this, what Kurt Okraku communicated, without realizing, was that there were no standards that govern admission into the team or values and principles that shape conduct in the team.
That is why when Tim Weah pulled off the wonderful sombrero over Alidu Seidu, the ClermontFoot right back just stood and watched as though he had swapped places with a Ghanaian fan in the stadium. A micro-second later, Thomas Partey sprinted all of 40 yards to catch up with the American and ensured there was no further damage.
Tim Weah left the defender stunned 😮💨
Watch USA vs. Ghana live on TNT or Max 📺 pic.twitter.com/ZWG56p9px2
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 18, 2023
Partey understood the essence of giving his all even if it looked like he was beaten. He understood that giving up is not an option when you pull on the red, gold, and greed to represent the Black Star of Africa. Alidu did not.
And that is where you see the contagiously rotten culture in the team. When Alidu first came, fans loved him not because of any special technical attributes.
He does not have them.
He is known to take a heavy touch occasionally. He is known to choose the safe pass rather than attempt to be adventurous if he raises his head and sees more than one opponent within fifteen yards. He is nothing like Aziz Ansah or Yaw Amankwaah Mireku.
But Ghanaians respect him because, in his first few months in the Black Stars, he played with the determination and pride that have become an endangered species.
On Tuesday, we saw exactly the nonchalant attitude that has characterized Black Stars’ performances over the years.
That is the same attitude that produced Ghana’s worst AFCON performance in Cameroun last year. It partly explains their spectacular choking when it mattered most against Uruguay at the World Cup.
Before the World Cup last year, Ghana’s scorecard read;
Algeria 3-0 Ghana, Morocco 1-0 Ghana, Gabon 1-1 Ghana, Ghana 2-3 Comoros, Ghana 0-0 Nigeria, Nigeria 1-1 Ghana, Ghana 3-0 Madagascar, CAR 1-1 Ghana, Japan 4-1 Ghana, Ghana 0-0 Chile, Brazil 3-0 Ghana
11 games (1W, 5L,5D)
Yet, there is no humility or seriousness about the current group of players or the men who manage the team. They strut around with the pomposity of serial winners when they are serial chokers, wannabes at best.
More worryingly, the current group does not understand the ethos of the team.
Against the United States, the Black Stars turned up as though it was just another friendly. Except it was not. At full-time, Greg Berhaltar and his backroom staff congratulated each other as though it was an important match. Of course, it was.
Before that, the celebrations that greeted every goal said enough about the occasion.
Perhaps it is because, from the GFA, journalists to Ghanaians, we have elevated these players beyond their true status. I apologize to you for my part in creating this monster; this cancer that is fast eating away what we once held dear.
We have nurtured the rotten culture we see today.
But all of that protection from any scrutiny of rubbish conduct and performances by the team needs to stop. There is a need to make the team more accessible to Ghanaians. After all, their taxes fund the extravagant culture around the team. It would not hurt for Inaki or any of the ‘Year of Return Boys’ to hear a few ‘kpa nakai hiɛshishwiemɔ shwɛmɔ ni oshwɛ) l3 ni otswa k3 hi3 d)).’ Which loosely translates to ‘stop that disgraceful performance and play like you mean it.’
Nothing communicates the expected standards better than the raw, unadulterated passion of fans. Now more than ever, it is important to expose the team to the disappointment of its true owners.
While we’re at it, the Jubilee House visits need to stop too. In the past six years, two sitting Presidents have begged different players to come out of retirement after they had turned their backs on the country.
In June 2013, Andre Ayew had petulantly decided not to play for Ghana again.
A report by Ghanasoccernet.com said; ‘‘The 23-year-old was axed from Ghana’s 2013 Africa Cup of Nations squad after failing to report in time for the pre-tournament camping base in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
His brother Jordan simultaneously rendered his resignation insisting he wants to be guaranteed first-team place after being excluded from the squad.’’
Yet, President John Mahama flew to France and convinced Andre and his brother to come out of their self-imposed exile.
Six years later, it was the turn of the legendary Asamoah Gyan.
Ghana’s record goal scorer retired because he had been stripped of the captaincy ahead of the AFCON.
As for Kwasi Appiah’s reasons, that is a matter for another day. Once again, Ghana’s presidency rolled out the red carpet. This time, the Black Stars coach was summoned to the seat of the Presidency after which a phone call was placed to Gyan to persuade him.
Over time, we have subtly created the impression that the players and their feelings are what matters. Not the previously set standards in the dressing room. Not the fans whose taxes fund the team. Not anybody.
This is not how organizations are run. Not in Ghana. Not in the countries where these players work.