2017 AFCON: Ghana coach Avram Grant demonstrates exactly how international management must be done

Avram Grant is the coach of Ghana

The former Chelsea coach continued to demonstrate his aptitude for international management in a superb week for the Black Stars

EDITORIAL? ? By Ed Dove?? ? Follow on Twitter

It was a fantastic week for Ghanaian football.?Not only did the Black Stars dispatch Togo in an international friendly, they also made a convincing start to their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign by crushing Mauritius 7-1.

The inadequacy of the opposition means that we can?t read all too much into the latter victory. Admittedly, various continental giants struggled against supposed inferior opposition this weekend, but one or two of Africa?s heavyweights could be made to look like world-beaters when pitched against the Dodos.

What the game did affirm, however, is that Avram Grant is going about international management exactly how it should be done and is beginning to fully maximise the Black Stars? options.

What is he doing right?

To begin with, he has fostered something of a meritocracy, an intelligent, sensitive one that doesn?t ignore club performance, but doesn?t make it the sole factor in his selection policy either.

Grant |?Kept faith with his key men despite troubled campaigns at club level

Jonathan Mensah and Wakaso Mubarak, for example, might have felt vulnerable heading into this international break.

The former featured only twice in the league for relegated Evian Thonon Gaillard since the end of October, and headed into this match as the controversial subject of a three-month ban from club football. Other managers might have looked elsewhere.

Similarly, Wakaso has endured a torrid spell on loan at Celtic this season. All in all, he managed only 13 appearances in all competitions during the 2014-15 season?for both the Buoys and for Rubin Kazan?and has played only once at club level since the Afcon.

It would have been understandable had either, or both, been jettisoned by the coach. However, Grant is aware of their qualities, understands what they offer (particularly Wakaso) and has stuck by them.

Christian Atsu, the Afcon star despite a miserable campaign at Everton, is another such example.

Conversely, however, he has also rewarded some of those players to have impressed with their clubs over the last 12 to six months.

Adomah | Grant has rewarded the most impressive?Black Stars performers around the world

Take Albert Adomah for example.

An unfortunate pariah among some Ghana fans, the right winger may not be the ?sexiest? option for the Black Stars, but his performances for unfashionable Middlesbrough this season demanded that Grant paid him attention.

Adomah may have missed out on promotion to the Premier League, but he returned to the national side for the victory over Togo (his first appearance since the World Cup) and demonstrated that he at least deserves to be involved in the conversation.

Similarly, Bernard Mensah?the subject of transfer interest from Manchester United, no less?received a call-up after his excellent outings in the Portuguese top flight for Vitoria Guimaraes. He may only be 20, but Grant believed he warranted a call-up, and eschewed any doubts about the player?s age to hand him a start against Togo.

The decision was vindicated when Bernard scored the only goal of the game on 31 minutes. He may well prove to be a valuable elite central creator?something of a rarity in African football.

Another player brought to the fore following his superb performances at club level is Jeffrey Schlupp.

It has become impossible to ignore the Leicester City man following his contribution to the Foxes? Premier League revival, but the 22-year-old had looked destined to play a supporting role for Ghana as backup to first-choice left-back Abdul Rahman Baba.

Grant had other ideas, and opted to employ both Schlupp and Baba?the former in an advanced role?for the Mauritius match. It was the first time the two had started a game together for the national side, and Schlupp?s goal and Baba?s assists demonstrate that it might be a plan worth pursuing.

Baba & Schlupp |?Grant refused to choose just one

It?s little wonder that many were purring about the impact the Black Stars? widemen had against the Dodos!

Grant?s policy reassures the regulars?guys like Jonathan, Wakaso, John Boye and Atsu?that he will retain them if they continue to perform for him, creates a stability of selection and encourages those guys to play with confidence. It also fosters loyalty to the coach.

His meritocracy opens the door to players of any age and from any league (Kwesi Appiah) that a national-team berth can be theirs if they perform consistently at club level.

It?s exactly how international management?particularly in Africa, with such disparate qualities across squads?should be done.

Finally, Grant has also demonstrated a willingness to rotate his options and to assess different players in different positions and varied tactical approaches.

Having covered Nigeria?s Super Eagles extensively, one of Stephen Keshi?s great failings was his inability to assess his options ahead of crunch fixtures or competitions. At the 2014 World Cup, the likes of Joseph Yobo, Juwon Oshaniwa and Michael Babatunde were shoehorned into the side having not started a single game in the previous 18 months.

Naturally, the defence was underprepared and the team lacked cohesion.

Keshi |?Could learn a lot from Grant’s squad rotation and consistency of selection

There is little danger of this with Ghana.

If Baba is injured, Schlupp will step into left-back. If he?s not available either, then Grant has already seen what a player like Frank Acheampong?nominally a winger?can do in this role.

If one of his small, driving midfielders (Wakaso or Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu) takes a knock, then the other can step in, while it?s a similar story for the two bigger units of the midfield?Afriyie Acquah and Mohammed Rabiu.

Players such as David Accam, Waris Majeed and Daniel Amartey may not be first choice right now, but they are regularly used by Grant and given enough minutes to develop a rapport with their teammates and to demonstrate that they can be trusted if called upon.

Grant is showing exactly how international management ought to be done, and Ghana are much the stronger for it.


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