FEATURE: Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah's goalkeeping dilemma for the World Cup
By Okine Godwin Nii-Armah (Student Ghana Institute of Journalism)
I recently read an article concerning the fact that there is a loophole in Fatau Dauda’s Orlando Pirates contract, which allows him to walk away, no strings attached, at the end of the season if he fails to appear in a certain proportion of Pirates’ games during the season.
My initial reaction to this was ‘how did it come to this for Dauda?’ Here was a goalkeeper who was number one for AshantiGold and the senior national team, The Black Stars.
Get this, he was a local player, entrusted with one of the most crucial roles in the Stars, yet he somehow decided that moving to South Africa to warm the bench was a good idea with a World Cup so close!
He certainly couldn’t have believed that he was going to supplant Senzo Meyiwa as Pirates number one? To begin with, there’s the not so minuscule fact that he’s a foreigner; and let’s be honest, Fatau Dauda is hardly Gigi Buffon, Iker Cassilas, or even ‘Olele’ in his prime to warrant benching a local star who has been making waves and has a spot in the national side.
Whichever way you look at it, it was a bad move, and a lot of people said it even before he left for South Africa, so this is hardly a case of hindsight bias.
All these does, is leave Kwesi Appiah with one big dilemma barely three months from the mundial. The importance of a decent goalkeeper for any team is one that can hardly be overestimated.
Great goalkeepers win games single-handedly, as any Dutch fan can attest to after their heartbreak in the 2010 World Cup final. In fact you do not have to go any further back than a fortnight ago for a classic example of this axiom; Thibaut Courtouis kept Atheletico Madrid in the game (Champions league round of 16; Milan vs Athletico Madrid) long enough for Diego Costa to deliver the killer blow, with Abbiati serving as the proof for the other side of that argument; average goalkeepers get you nowhere.
And that is a problem Kwesi Appiah would have to deal with regardless of Dauda’s position, as the current crop of goalkeepers for the Stars have no particular stand-out.
It’s a problem we haven’t had to deal with for a while now; with our two immediate past number ones both being world class on their day. Who can forget Sammy Adjei, that ostentatious shot stopper who delighted Ghanaian audiences for a long time with his catlike reflexes and flashy goalkeeping style, or how he kept Ghana alive in countless games during our first World Cup qualification campaign.
Or Richard ‘Olele’ Kingson, the much maligned but absolute beast of a goalkeeper who led Ghana through not one, but two highly memorable World Cup campaigns; who can forget that game against USA where he made save after save to keep the Stars in the game.
Both goalkeepers assured stability, but that is something missing now, as even during Dauda’s time playing regularly in the local league, he was never that flawless world class talent the Stars require to hang in there with the best the world has to offer.
And make no mistake; we would need that sort of goalkeeping talent, because that is exactly what we would be competing against.
Let’s take a look at just our group; the Stars are paired against Germany, Portugal, and The USA.
Germany have Manuel Neuer. Top class. One of the best in the world, and so do the United States in Tim Howard; who’s one of the better talents in the English Premier League’s goalkeeping ranks.
Portugal have always been a side with a dodgy goalkeeper, finding no one capable of filling those big boots left behind by Vitor Baia, but so far Eduardo seems to be doing a good job; and with these three men poised to give off their best for their respective nations, Ghana’s number one slot seems up in the air at such a crucial time.
The case for Dauda is that he has been a faithful servant during the time he has been handed the reins as the Stars number one goalkeeper.
He has been consistent without being spectacular, and whilst errors continue to show in his keeping; particularly that maddening penchant to rush after every, single, aerial ball, often to comical results- he’s paid his dues, and there is that old adage about the ‘devil you know’ to consider.
For a goalkeeper with such shaky ground upon which his position is built, he took a very foolish decision and now his inactivity might just cost him a memorable World Cup and the chance to showcase his talent to a much bigger audience.
The problem for Kwarasey though, is that whilst he remains imperious for his club and continues to silence a lot of his critics week-in, week-out, Kwesi Appiah is not a big fan.
How do I know this, he hasn’t started a single competitive fixture since he took over, yes, not even one.
If you’re still in doubt, this run includes a dead rubber against Egypt, in which the Stars were leading 6-1, in which Dauda hadn’t played a game for months, during a period in which Kwarasey had lead his side to the Norwegian league title and been voted the best goalkeeper in that league; but Dauda started anyway.
Barring a huge change in perception from Kwesi Appiah, Kwarasey’s prospects aren’t looking too good either.
‘Olele’, the immortal highlander, might still have a part to play for this team. Personally I was one of those who clamored for his retirement during the period of that whole furore over his age, and within the intervening period I do not think much has changed.
Nostalgia is a powerful feeling though, and I do not think it far-fetched that when the world cup rolls around and Kwesi Appiah surveys his options, he might just recall the past exploits of ‘Olele’ and hand him the number one role!
It is a far from ideal situation, but one which Kwesi Appiah must make the best of. With the group we have and the quality of opponents, it’s highly likely games would come down to fine margins; with victory going to the teams that take their chances when presented, and who has a tower of Babel in their post keeping out extraordinary efforts.
At the moment the Stars do not have that, and it is the unenviable task Kwesi and his staff would have to tackle if we are to make anything out of this Group of death.