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Africa Cup of Nations

Rajevac exit: Ghana should have sipped Milo a little longer

15:28 EAT 28/01/2022
Milovan Rajevac Ghana
Have the Black Stars moved prematurely on their Serbian coach’s exit?

By the time the Ghana FA parted ways with Milovan Rajevac on Thursday, few were surprised by their final decision.

The Serbian coach’s position had become untenable in the eyes of the decision makers in the federation following the national team’s underperformance in Cameroon.

Certainly, the Black Stars endured a humiliating campaign at the Africa Cup of Nations.

After losing to Morocco in their opening match—following Sofiane Boufal’s late goal—they were held 1-1 by Gabon when Jim Allevinah struck late on, and in controversial circumstances.

They were then defeated 3-2 by the Comoros—one of the fairytale stories of this Nations Cup—after losing Andre Ayew to a first-half red card.

There’s no doubt it was a miserable return, and Ghana have rarely felt further away from ending their 40-year wait for a continental crown.

Of course, there should have been an inquest after their poor performance, there needed to be an examination of why a team ranked 132nd in the world were able to dispatch the Black Stars and end their Nations Cup campaign prematurely.

However, for the GFA to conclude that Rajevac is the cause, and to cut him loose less than two months before the World Cup qualifying double-header against Nigeria is a risky move.

Have the federation correctly diagnosed the problem?

Don’t forget, that Rajevac, who was only appointed four months ago, ended 2021 with back-to-back wins over Zimbabwe, the vital away draw against Ethiopia, and then that infamous victory over South Africa as the Black Stars progressed to the World Cup playoffs.

Would they have done that under CK Akonnor, had the West Africans continued on the same trajectory?

Rajevac, the mastermind of Ghana’s run to the 2010 World Cup quarter-final—perhaps the country’s greatest footballing achievement—had immediately overseen an upturn in fortunes at the tournament, and had secured his primary aim; progression to the March 2022 Qatar playoffs.

In the build-up to the tournament—with the exception of their friendly defeat by Algeria for a Stars B team—Rajevac did little wrong.

There are mitigating circumstances around each of Ghana’s results.

They lacked control and a cutting edge against Morocco, perhaps, but this is a decent Atlas Lions team—one of the tournament favourites—with thrust from full-back and creativity at No. 10 that Ghana cannot match.

A narrow, late defeat by them is no shame.

Then there’s the Gabon draw, again, in itself, not a dreadful result.

The Panthers, driven by a perceived sense of injustice by losing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang only hours before the game, and consolidating a siege mentality as a result, were underestimated during the early days of the tournament, but proved their mettle with that late comeback against Ghana.

The circumstances of that comeback—Ghana’s accusation that Gabon played on despite a player being injured—cannot be ignored either, even if the manner with which Dede went about his complaints left a sour taste.

Even the defeat by the Comoros has some mitigating circumstances, with Ghana left chasing the game for an hour with ten men following the early dismissal of Ayew.

Would that have been a red card in the Premier League? In the Championship? It left Ghana with too much to do, left them too open, and despite their heroic comeback, they ultimately fell short.

It could have been a different story for Ghana and Rajevac had Mohammed Kudus been present as well, with the Ajax man a rare source of midfield creativity, and someone who could have got the best out of the players around him.

It’s a similar story for Wakaso Mubarak, whose presence could have liberated Partey to have more influence over proceedings.

To what extent is Rajevac to blame for Partey’s indifferent showings, where he contributed two assists but struggled to truly exert control?

Should the coach also carry the can for Dede’s behaviour—unbecoming of a Ghana captain—and which filtered through into the rest of the squad’s comportement?

The injuries? The suspensions?

Some things could have been better; the under-use of Richmond Boakye when Ghana so needed a focal point, the persistency with using Ayew as the main creative output when he was clearly not at the races, but how much else did Rajevac truly get wrong during the course of the competition?

In the end, the GFA have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

The work of the Serbian and his team during the course of this competition, when they’ve had intensive access to the squad, now counts for naught as the squad look to pick themselves up for the double-header against Nigeria.

Where do Ghana go from here, and would they really have been stronger had Rajevac been at the helm?