Once upon a time, it looked as though Kwesi Appiah was primed to usher in a bright new era for the Black Stars, but the 1-0 defeat by Kenya last month has prompted the coach to return to some familiar faces.
The pinnacle of Appiah’s second tenure as Ghana head coach was his first competitive game in charge, the 5-0 victory over Ethiopia in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in June 2017.
It was a magnificent, vibrant display of attacking football—admittedly against a limited side—as the Black Stars kicked on from the unhappy final days of Avram Grant’s tenure.
Despite a wealth of options, and players in some of the major leagues of the world game, Ghana lost three of their last four games at the Afcon in 2017, and there were no guarantees that Appiah would be able to pick them up so quickly.
Yet he did exactly that, as Ghana blitzed the Walias at the Baba Yara Stadium to kick-start their qualifying campaign and begin the new man’s tenure in some style.
However, that’s as good as things have ever been for Appiah during his second stint in charge.
Ghana missed out on qualification for the World Cup, where Appiah—who oversaw draws at home against Congo-Brazzaville and away in Uganda—was unable to wholly pass the blame to Grant.
The nadir was reached, he hopes, last month away in Kenya, when the Harambee Stars secured a 1-0 victory in front of their own fans to expose Ghana’s limitations.
Despite having a man advantage following Joash Onyango’s dismissal, the Black Stars weren’t able to translate their advantage into goals and were left watching on as Sebastien Migne began his time as Kenya boss with a statement win.
Gone was the panache and the clinical finishing of that triumph against Ethiopia, replaced with lethargy and indecision.
Beginning with the Ethiopia game, Appiah steadily moved away from the personnel and the formula that had been employed by his predecessor Grant.
Lumor Agbenyenu, Thomas Agyepong and Raphael Dwamena were all handed starts despite being overlooked from the Afcon squad only months before, while Richard Ofori and Ebenezer Ofori were promoted to the starting XI.
Thomas Partey also began his tenure as the key figure in the Ghana midfield, having been in and out of the side under Grant.
Subsequently, Andre Ayew, Harrison Afful, John Boye and Asamoah Gyan would also be drafted out of the side, as were substitutes Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah and Waris Majeed.
Of the 23-man squad that Grant took to the 2017 Afcon, eight haven’t featured under Appiah, while a further two—Jordan and Wakaso—have played just once.
However, things have begun to change again.
The latter’s return to the squad for the double-header against Sierra Leone is indicative of Appiah’s steady pull back to the players who served Grant and who had earlier been discarded in his tenure.
Of the team that took to the field against Kenya, Andre Yiadom, Afful, Atsu and Acquah had sat out matches under Appiah before returning to the side.
In the squad named for the Sierra Leone double-header, the coach has again turned back to a series of players who had previously been discarded.
Jonathan Mensah returns having not been seen since the matches against Congo-Brazzaville, John Boye hasn’t played since a friendly defeat by the United States in 2017, while Wakaso has also returned.
Richmond Boakye, now back in Europe with Red Star Belgrade, returns to the fold, as does Thomas Agyepong, who was an early flavour of the month under Appiah.
The most high-profile returnee for the Sierra Leone double-header, of course, is Gyan, with Appiah finally ending speculation that he was phasing the nation’s record goalscorer out of his plans by calling him up for next week’s match.
When Gyan was overlooked for the Kenya game—albeit amidst claims from Appiah that he remained the nation’s captain—there was genuine expectation among Ghana supporters that the end was nigh for Baby Jet.
After being omitted from Kwesi Appiah's latest @ghanafaofficial squad, @ASAMOAH_GYAN3's hopes of a final Black Stars swansong at the Africa Cup of Nations may be dwindling...https://t.co/0QTffBjFqR pic.twitter.com/I3cx56yOCV — Ed Dove (@EddyDove) August 27, 2018
After all, now 32, and with playing time hard to come by at Kayserispor, it remains to be seen exactly what Gyan still has to offer.
The forward’s contribution to Ghana’s last two Afcon campaigns were undermined by injury and illness, while the forward’s goal return isn’t as steady as it once was.
If anyone represents the face of the Black Stars’ recent past, it’s Gyan, but any prospects Appiah head of ushering in a clean break with the skipper appear to have been ended by the Kenya defeat.
Now Gyan returns, although he’s done little on the pitch to justify his inclusion, making it hard to understand why he has a part to play now, but he didn’t against the Harambee Stars.
It paints something of a confused picture of Appiah’s tenure.
Ahead of the Harambee Stars match, he revealed that it was “the time for other young players to show what they can do,” yet one bad result has seemingly dented his faith in the squad’s newer faces.
Despite being nominated for New York City FC’s Player of the Month award, Ebenezer Ofori has been cut despite starting against Kenya, while three other players who featured in that match—Edwin Gyasi, Daniel Opare and Raphael Dwamena—all miss out.
Two good results against Sierra Leone will help to restore the faith in Appiah’s stewardship, but even they—with or without Gyan’s contribution—can’t help but shake the sense that the coach’s Black Stars vision is becoming obscured.