Local or Foreign Coach – Does it Really Matter?

The Black Stars of Ghana have once again gained relevance in international soccer circles particularly following its performances in the ’06 and ’10 World Cup games, and highly pertinent that we take positive steps forward to become the pacesetters we’re accustomed to being by winning the ultimate or at worse maintaining the status quo. It therefore behoves on us all (administrators, coaches, players, fans) to gird our loins and put in motion effective mechanisms to ensure the realization of this goal. Personally I thought Milovan Rajevac was an excellent fit for the Black Stars but for reasons best known to him and the powers that be that marriage encountered an unforeseen and untimely divorce thereby thrusting us into the dungeons of having to search for a new coach, and consequently resuscitating the never ending debate on whether Ghana needs a local or foreign coach to lead the Black Stars to the Promise land.

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Much argument have been expounded in support of local coaches, and rightfully so, because all our African conquests and most of our World Youth Championships have come under the able leadership and steerage of Ghanaian coaches. On the flip side our first World Youth Championship was spearheaded by Otto Pfister and our qualifications and participations in the two World Cup appearances have been mostly ably manned by foreign coaches. So the question remains: which matters most to Ghanaians – the achievement of a goal or the one who leads in the process of achieving a goal? This hypothetical question could be argued in concrete ways and I believe intellectually stimulating arguments or theories could be propounded in support of each assertion, but let’s get academics out of the way and dissect this issue from a layman’s perspective. Am not intent on supporting or lambasting any group but aiming at eschewing prejudice and critically reviewing certain salient issues worth considering in this all important issue.

One argument expressed in support of local coaches borders on sentiments of nationalism. Yes in an ideal setting having a Ghanaian coach would make for a happy story but we shouldn’t be blinded by nationalistic tendencies to the extent that it bedims our sense of judgment in choosing the most qualified and best suited candidate for the job. Candidates should be judged based on their skill set, knowledge, credentials, vision, work ethics etc. and not upon ones race, color, nationality or whatever inhibitions one decides to impose. We cannot engage in selective nationalism whereby we hypocritically seek help in certain facets of our endeavors but make others the exclusive and sole preserve of a selected few. We live in a modern dispensation whereby results should supersede any parochial interest and such thoughts should not override our common sense judgment on selection criteria. Honestly I wouldn’t care if a terrestrial being coaches the Black Stars insofar as it will command respect, stay true to its visions and convictions, put bodies on the field who will ensure our success devoid of bias or manipulation, and ultimately produce results. What benefit will it serve us if a Ghanaian coach takes us to a tournament and we lose when a foreign coach could have won the Cup and vice versa? My point here is that the best soccer mind should be employed without any artificial or self restricting barriers which have nothing to do with the game but predicated on sheer sentimentalism.

Another issue of concern is the presupposition that success at the Junior Championship levels by the local coaches could be easily duplicated at the Black Star level. This is what my A’level General Paper teacher will excitedly term ‘fallacy of hasty generalization’. If one thinks there’s an automatic positive correlation between success at the U-17 level and the Black Stars then Otto Pfister and Sam Arday’s numbers should be dialed up for a serious reality check. Does anyone remember what happened with Sam Arday’s “multi-system” when he tried implementing that at the Black Star level? Please let’s stop comparing apples to oranges because even the Big Man upstairs knows that we know that He knows that there are some serious integrity flaws (guess I don’t have to be specific) with the junior levels that will skew any meaningful comparism between the two. Handling young local players who are hungry for stardom and a future is different from dealing with supposed superstars whose mental psyche and pride requires tact to put in check. If there’s a Ghanaian coach out there that will not kowtow to the celebrity or image of these boys, not seek favors from them and will be able to maintain discipline and command the needed respect that coach will have my unflinching support, other variables withstanding.

Also Ghanaian coaches should be abreast with changing times and act in highly professional ways. How many of these coaches have agents? If they do then they should be fired because they’re not marketing their clients appropriately and relying on public opinion and pressure to speak for them. If they don’t have any then the question remains: why? Without one the coaches put themselves at a disadvantage at the negotiating table and could find themselves entangled by certain verbiage and clauses in their contracts that could have debilitating consequences on their effective functioning. With a good agent a coach would be properly marketed, bargaining terms could be enhanced, termination clauses better framed with favorable terms thereby assuring the coach of tenure of service, rights and responsibilities and the peace of mind and freedom to concentrate on his duties. Let me take this opportunity to debunk this preposterous idea being bandied around that the Ghanaian coach could be paid five times less what the foreign coaches command and produce same or better results. Unless for possibly charity or goodwill purposes why should any local coach worth his sort devalue his worth. What signal is he sending his would be employer and players he would be coaching? This is one of the cardinal flaws a good agent would be able to avert and ‘package’ his client in a better light.

Furthermore, will the local coach be able to withstand the pressures, influence and coercion from the GFA and Sports Ministry gurus without crumbling? Or will the coach be able to hold his own against the teeming supporters who have a gazillion different line ups they will like to have a coach present? Any surprise that caretaker coach Akwesi Appiah is already being maligned over Ghana’s drawn game with Sudan for poor player selection and utilization? We’ve been down this road many times and wondering if anything has changed to convince me that a local coach will not act in docility and succumb to pressure. I can assuredly say that if a local coach is at the helm, contract natheless, the usual Ghanaian employer character trait of “Master says” or “Do as I say” will likely rear its ugly head, and will the coach be able to remain bold and resolute and stave off interference which will undermine cohesion, unity and progress.

Also what immediate and future steps are the local coaches embarking upon to make themselves more marketable, learn the nuances of the game and the art of player management? The game of soccer has evolved to a point whereby it’s no more just about formations, strategies and tactics but also getting players psyche and outlook in consonance with the coach’s vision. How many of these local coaches personally take time and effort to enhance themselves other than the occasional refresher courses that the GFA organizes? How much assess do they have to watching tapes, breaking down games of the opposition and strategizing for the opposition and/or individual players? Times are changing, coaching not excluded, and imperative the local coaches take proactive steps to better themselves for future enhanced opportunities.

This article is in no way suggesting that a foreign coach is better suited for Ghana Black Stars as opposed to a local coach. We’ve had foreign coaches who have left indelible imprints on our minds like Burkhard Zeise and others whose efforts could best be erased from our memories. For e.g. even though we did presumably well in the ‘06 World Cup I couldn’t believe that coach Radomir Dujkovic in the game against Brazil was so tactically naive as to employ the offside trap 30-40 ft away from the goal post against a very nimble footed Brazilian team that could break open any trap with one genius of a display.

In essence a coach’s philosophy, vision, resume, credentials and other important variables should be the criteria for hiring and maybe when there are two equally qualified candidates then we could possibly play the nationalism card but when there’s a luculent distinction between candidates it should be a no brainer that the best qualified candidate regardless of color or nationality should be hired.

Carl Owusu-Barnes
(Maryland, USA)