A Year of Avram Grant: Is Grant really an improvement on what came before him?

By Theo Sakyi

A year ago Avram Grant was hired as coach of Ghana’s national football team, the Black Stars. After a short time in charge Grant managed to guide past through a tricky Africa Cup of Nations group stage which included Senegal, Algeria and South Africa. Ghana then went on to finish in second place after losing a penalty shootout to the Ivory Coast.

Yet, all things considered, it’s actually hard to give him much credit. It isn’t actually that hard for a Ghana coach in this era to get to an Africa Cup of Nations final. If it wasn’t for losing on penalties against Burkina Faso in a semi-final, Grant’s predecessor Kwesi Appiah also would have made it to the final. Even though Appiah’s side conceded a ridiculous amount of clear shots on goal and he almost gave the game away by taking off a midfielder when Ghana were already under duress because of a poorly organised defence, his side almost stumbled into the final.  

It’s almost the same with Appiah’s predecessor, Goran Stevanovic. If Asamoah Gyan didn’t miss an early penalty in the semi-final the Black Stars probably would have made it to the final. The point here is, Ghana already have one of the better, more experienced squads in Africa and tournament football is often about luck. If Kwesi Appiah can almost chance it to a continental final, can we give Grant much credit for doing the same?

Grant is easily the highest profile name to manage Ghana in the last ten years. Surely we would expect improved coaching?  The defending isn’t as bad as in the Appiah days, which wasn’t going to be a difficult achievement to attain from the off.

But apart from that there hasn’t been much improvement. The team are still good on the break – for example, in the AFCON semi-final against Equatorial Guinea – but they remain poor at breaking teams down, the case in point here being the recent away draw against Rwanda.

Grant hasn’t experimented much to solve this problem. We can’t even be sure he’s identified the problem because he rarely talks tactics and I doubt this is because he has special plans under his sleeve. Ratomir Dujkovic, Claude Le Roy and Milovan Rajevac all implemented the counter attacking style that Ghana still use today (with slight differences) with a far more limited pool of players than Grant has now. They are also, less esteemed coaches.

Dujkovic last managed Syria while Rajevac’s most recent coaching post was with Qatar while Le Roy’s has just resigned as Congo’s manager. Stevanovic has even gotten a Chinese team relegated, but it’s hard to argue Grant is a better coach than any of these mediocre names.

The Ghana Football Association have simply hired a bigger name for a lot more money who doesn’t bring anything different to the table.  Grant is not a manager who makes a team play greater than the sum its parts like in the way that Vahid Halilhodzic did for Algeria, or Jorge Luis Pinto did for Costa Rica.

However we can’t be upset with Grant. He’s a symptom of the GFA’s competence. They were taken in by promises to “develop” Ghanaian football. This was even endorsed by their technical director, the person who is actually paid to do so. Who would be silly enough to think Grant can systematically improve grassroots football? Where has he shown this expertise? Come to think of it, both parties deserve each other.

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