Ghana are looking in good shape ahead of the World Cup qualifying.
Among the criticism and the displeased that’s been aimed at Avram Grant from portions of the Ghanaian media during his administration as national team coach, it’s often been forgotten just how many key players he’s had to do without during his reign to date.
It is continually overlooked just how much the makeup and the nature of the squad has changed in two years since the 2014 World Cup—when the nation’s football was shamed across the world.
Of the 14 players who featured in the Black Stars’ opener, five—Sulley Muntari, Daniel Opare, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Kwadwo Asamoah—have played no part under GrantAnother two—Albert Adomah and Adam Kwarasey—have started just one match each (the Aston Villa man also came on as a substitute against Togo in 2015), while Mohammed Rabiu has drifted out of the fold after playing a prominent role during the early portion of Grant’s reign.
For much of Grant’s reign, Asamoah Gyan has also struggled with injury and illness, concerns which are arguably robbing the Al-Ahli Dubai striker of some of the best years of his career.
The 30-year-old was affected with malaria ahead of the 2015 Nations Cup, and while he scored a valuable goal against Algeria and returned to play a peripheral role in the final, it is enticing to imagine what might have happened if he was fully fit and firing against the Elephants.
In the subsequent 21 months or so, he started just two matches and scored just once—in the demolition of Mauritius—and while Jordan Ayew remains effective as something of a flat-track bully, Gyan’s goals and his overall presence have proved hard to replace.
Just as Waris Majeed—still goalless under Grant—or David Accam, who has been overlooked completely for the upcoming Uganda match after scoring just once in eight appearances under the manager.
Grant will be desperate for Gyan to play a key role in both the World Cup qualifying campaign and the Nations Cup in Gabon at the beginning of next year, and his return to the squad—he’s not featured in the last five matches—has the potential to set the tone for a decisive 13 months.As well as Gyan, Enoch Kofi Adu and Gilbert Koomson have generated some interest with their inclusions in the squad—and their introductions into a midfield power struggle which already promises to be intensely competitive.
However, the most significant change to the Black Stars—of greater significance than the additions of Adu and Koomson or the return of Gyan in my opinion—is the return to prominence at club level of Christian Atsu, a transformation which should leave Ghana as major beneficiaries.
Grant has always kept faith with the 24-year-old despite his various struggles at club level.He made just five league appearances for Everton during the 2014-15 campaign, zero for Bournemouth and 12 for Malaga last term and by and large, he’s been repaid.
However, latterly, Atsu finally appears to have found an environment where he can flourish, after moving on loan from Chelsea to Newcastle United.
He’s been integrated into the Magpies’ starting XI slowly and steadily by Rafael Benitez, but a series of eye-catching cameos and a wondergoal winner against Rotherham earlier in the month have already hinted that Atsu’s fortunes are changing and the player is slowly returning to his best.
With Benitez coaxing some excellent performances out of the attacker,he expect Atsu to step into an even more influential role with the national side.
If he can avoid the injury curses of Dede and Gyan,Atsu can become—once again—the face of this Black Stars side as they look to reach their fourth World Cup.