Many countries, especially in Africa, lay claim to being football nations. Fans in such countries believe they have a divine right to win at all times. This is especially so if they have a rich history in the game.
Ghana is one of those.
The weight of expectation means that no matter who the coach is, a trophy must be delivered at the end of every African Cup. Since the last win in 1982, the wait continues. It’s been 37 years.
Great Black Stars teams have been assembled over the years. Some (notably the teams of Abedi Pele and Anthony Yeboah one hand, and the 2006 – 2010 sides led by Stephen Appiah) were filled with world class players in many positions.
There has not been a time, since the early 1980s that the Ghana national team has been filled with so many unrecognizable names, as we have now. Nor has there been a period when chopping and changing the starting lineup has become so normal.
Can you comfortably name a Ghana XI under the Kwesi Appiah regime? Chances are, you cannot.
And yet, it may not be his fault.
⚽ Checking the myth
A look at the three AFCON qualifiers Appiah has played lay bare the issues the Black Stars is grappling with. As a case study, the Joy Sports team took the very recent 24-man team named to face Kenya on Saturday.
The findings were summarized in the infographic, above.
The aim of this analysis is to
- Establish the fact that the Black Stars is flooded with benchwarmers
- Check which of our regular players feature in top flight leagues
- Find how many of Ghana’s non-top flight league players get called up if they get regular playing time
⚽ Key factors Appiah has had to weigh
It is all well and good to criticize the coach on whether he has called this player or not called that player. However, any national team coach of the Black Stars does not have an easy job. With so many Ghanaian players in every position at different levels of form, a balancing act must be done.
Certain players were having a good season until sudden injuries derailed their form. Case in point, Kassim Nuhu (Hoffenheim). The 23-year old was having his home debut on September 1 when he limped off with a torn ankle ligament, robbing him of the chance to honour a national team call up against Kenya. He was out for 42 days.
After returning from injury, Kassim has – to date – played just 13 of his team’s 34 matches played in all competitions or just 30%.
Indeed, he has had three separate injuries since September’s ankle injury, going out in January due to fitness issues (missing 14 days as a result) and then getting a thigh injury immediately he returned (missing a week for that).
For Kwesi Appiah, this has presented a dilemma: do you call up this prospect in the next game, or do you drop him due to a lack of minutes?
- Bit part regulars
How can a player be bit part and a regular at the same time? You only have to look at Jeffery Schlupp as an example.
One may be deceived if his season numbers are looked at face value. He has played 33 out of 37 matches Crystal Palace have had this season, which seems like a whole lot. However, a closer look exposes the fact that he is seldom used for the full duration of games; instead, he is very regularly employed as a squad player. Which is why despite what his numbers seem to be, he has actually played just 41.3% (1375 minutes) this season!
Considering Schlupp at least gets some time in a top league like the English PL, many would argue that the standard means Appiah must call him more. Yet, others insist that another 90-minute player in a slightly lower level league must be given priority. An example of such a player is 20-year old Gideon Mensah, a left back on loan at Sturm Graz in Austria’s top flight. He has played started 75% of his team’s games and has had 75% of game time in all competitions.
Now, if you are Kwesi Appiah, do you go for Schlupp, or for Mensah? As we speak, Mensah has been called up for Ghana’s U-23 side that plays Gabon on Saturday, meaning that he is definitely being watched. The U-23 team is coached by Ibrahim Tanko, who doubles as a Black Stars assistant coach.
You can add Christian Atsu to this category.
- Big game players, not enough time
It is a fact that Thomas Partey is not getting as much time as a man of his quality should, but he is currently one of the country’s best players, despite starting just 54% of all Atleti’s games this season. It will be madness for Appiah to drop him based on these figures, which goes to show: sometimes, these percentages do not tell the full story.
- Notorious players
Because of a photo that went viral during the 2014 World Cup that showed Boye kissing a wad of cash, the defender has become a pariah of sorts, since then. No matter how well he plays, there is an impression created that he is no good.
It is even more difficult to make a case now he plays in the French second tier. And yet, he has had a solid season, copping 2745 minutes. In 31 games (mostly as a starter) in 37 matches his team have played, Boye has been very good for the Ligue 2 table toppers.
- Big names, waning careers
In this category, we can only look at Asamoah Gyan as an example. His record is for Ghana untouchable, but the truth is that he is on the wane. What does Kwesi Appiah do? Tap into the striker’s wealth of experience one last time this AFCON, or call it a day and groom another name for the future?
⚽ Some considerations we made
In computing the figures for this infographic, the following considerations were made:
- Total number of matches a player has featured in throughout this season
- These matches comprise league, domestic cups, and where applicable, continental games
- Total matches (league, domestic cups, continental games) played by the team this season
- Total number of minutes the player has featured in all above competitions combined this season
- Resultant percentage of matches played by each player this season
- Because Asante Kotoko has had no league games, we could not establish a fair statistical base on which to analyse their three players called up (Felxi Annan, Amos Frimpong, and Kwame Bonsu)
⚽ What we found
Saturday’s qualifier against Kenya may be seen as a dead rubber, but it is not. Winning remains a priority as it means topping the group, and hence, being seeded – which is always a good thing at a major tournament.
Also, this game is the unofficial first high profile friendly game toward the AFCON in June. Every player is angling for a chance to cement a spot.
With all these in mind, Appiah would surely not have named a weakened team. Indeed, he called up Ghana’s best available players. Key findings include, that:
1. 79% of the players called up feature in top flight leagues
2. Only five players (21%) do not play in the top flight.
3. Only 17% of this Black Stars squad have played 80% or more of their team’s games.
4. 62.5% have played less than 60% of their club’s season games.
5. This trend, when extrapolated to their three previous qualifiers, tells a similar story.
The Ghana national team is seriously under-resourced. There are two possible reasons. It is either the nation simply does not have top-level talent featuring in the best clubs in the world, or, that these players exist, but the team handlers are not finding them to integrate into the side.
The evidence shows that Ghana have a team, now, that is largely short of club form. It is also clear that the practice of legacy call-ups is in play, where a few players get places because of what they’ve done in the past. This, in itself, is not a bad thing because as explained in the Schlupp example, some players are needed because of their experience and special circumstances.
It will be recalled that there was a lengthy period where Richard Kingson was Ghana’s number one goalkeeper, despite being unattached. Anytime he played, he largely did not disappoint.
The argument is also made that although Ghana may not have as many players featuring for Juventus, Lyon, Chelsea and clubs of that ilk, there is a sizeable chunk of players getting regular playing time in solid B-list teams across the world. The criticism of Appiah by some is that he barely looks at these players, such as Rahman Chibsah (28 appearances, all as a starter, for Frosinone in the Serie A), Enoch Adu Kofi, Nana Kwesi Asare, Majid Ashimeru, John Antwi of Al Ahly and so on.
Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that Ghana’s Black Stars is not as solid it could be. The team is heading into an AFCON of 24 teams, each – presumably – loaded with their most in-form
And with a record of six straight semifinal berths since 2008, the Black Stars will need more than luck to get to yet another final.
⚽ The raw data
Here is the data from which we made the analysis. Player information sourced from multiple places: official club websites, aggregators such as Transfermarkt, Soccerway and Flashscore. All 24 players are from Appiah’s most recent call-up.
Richard Ofori (Martizburg, South Africa) - played in 25 out of 28 matches, getting total of 2250 minutes. This means Ofori has played in 89.3% of his team’s total games.
Lawrence Ati Zigi (Sochaux, France) - 12/33 matches, 1080 minutes - 36.4%
Felix Annan (Asante Kotoko, Ghana) - Not rated because of league suspension
Kwadwo Asamoah (Inter Milan, Italy) - 29/40 matches, 2455 minutes - 68.2%
Lumor Agbenyenu ( Göztepe S.K, Turkey) - 6/33 matches, 496 minutes - 16.7%
Daniel Opare (Royal Antwerp, Belgium) - 14/31 matches, 1114 minutes - 39.9%
Amos Frimpong (Asante Kotoko, Ghana) - Not rated because of league suspension -
Nuhu Kassim (1899 Hoffenheim, Germany) - 13/34 matches, 925 minutes - 30%
Nicholas Opoku (Udinese, Italy) - 11/28 matches, 730 minutes - 29%
John Boye (Metz, France) - 31/37 matches, 2745 minutes - 82.4%
Joseph Aidoo (Genk, Belgium) - 35/41 matches, 3187 minutes - 86.3%
Andre Ayew (Fenerbahçe S.K, Turkey) - 32/40 matches, 2121 minutes - 59%
Mubarak Wakaso (Alaves, Spain) - 20/30 matches, 1272 minutes - 47.1%
Christian Atsu (Newcastle, England) - 24/35 matches, 1212 minutes - 38.5%
Kwame Bonsu (Asante Kotoko, Ghana) - Not rated because of league suspension
Ernest Asante ( Al Jazira, UAE) - 15/18 matches, 1189 minutes - 73.4%
Thomas Partey (Atlético Madrid) - 33/41 matches, 1958 minutes - 53%
Alhassan Wakaso (Vitoria G. S.C, Portugal) - 26/29 matches, 2160 minutes - 82.8%
Jeffery Schlupp (Crystal Palace, England) - 33/37 matches, 1375 minutes - 41.3%
Alfred Duncan (Sassuolo, Italy) - 21/31 matches, 1474 minutes - 56.5%
Caleb Ansah Ekuban (Trabzonspor, Turkey) - 28/43 matches, 1013 minutes - 26.2%
Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace) - 24/37 matches, 1097 minutes - 28.3%
Emmanuel Boateng (Dalian Yifang, China) - 18/27 matches, 785 minutes (stat before he Levante on February 20) - 32.3%
Kwasi Appiah (AFC Wimbledon, UK) - 26/46 matches, 1530 minutes
Here’s a presentation of our findings, as seen on JoyNews on Thursday evening.
Gary Al-Smith is assisting Joy Sports editor. Get him reached on Twitter: @garyalsmith