New Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic believes that his side will continue to not only be the top ranked country in Africa on paper, but that they can transform that promise into silverware during his reign.
“This is a tough job,” he said exclusively ahead of his first game in charge of the Black Stars on home soil. “It’s one of the toughest jobs in Africa at the moment. There are lot of expectations on someone who coaches Ghana. But I understand that people want to see results. What is important for us now is to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations then take it from there.”
The Black Stars will resume their qualification campaign for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, when Congo are the visitors on Friday. Their flimsy lead in Group I - where they are on par with Sudan on seven points but enjoy a superior goal difference - will be tested this weekend as the Congolese fight for survival and the Sudanese take a trip to minnows Swaziland. However, Ghana will be comforted by the fact that they easily defeated the Congolese 3-0 in their backyard three months ago under Stevanovic's guidance.
Although careful not to many any bold predictions and romantic promises that might put him under undue pressure in the future, the new Black Stars manager has been quick to assert his authority on a side that has shown a lot of promise and yet has not delivered trophies. “Ghana is now associated with success in Africa,” Stevanovic said. “We are now regarded as one of the best sides in the world, and we need to ensure that we don’t lose that momentum. Everyone expects this team to play well. Of course, [this match] is special because it’s my first playing in front of our home supporters, so it should be a good one. We have an idea what to expect from our opponents.”
There is a culture of winning in Ghana, he notes, but probably it needs some nurturing. Talent, undoubtedly, is in abundance with the emergence of some youngsters who have stolen glory from some the country’s most celebrated figures. But Stevanovic is keen to remind observers that he needs both youth and experience in his side in order to keep the team growing. He has been handed a two-year contract that will end after the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, but even though it’s in small fine print, that contract comes with expectation that his team will deliver in big matches.
Replacing Rajevac and courting Essien
Even after four months in the job, one gets the feeling that Stevanovic still feels a need to prove his worth not only to his detractors and doubters – and there were many of those when he arrived – but to those who put confidence in him to bring back the glory days in Accra. As such, his primary objective is not only to qualify Ghana for the upcoming continental championships, but also to end the trophy drought of three decades that has seen the Black Stars not win major silverware since the Cup of Nations in 1982. With pressure so high, it would seem that the coach will not be able to afford too many slip-ups.
Stevanovic replaced countryman, Milovan Rajevac, a man who endeared himself to the hearts of the Ghanaian population following the transformation of the side that culminated in the Black Stars being a kick away from the FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals. Rajevac, and his predecessors Claude Le Roy and Ratomir Dujkovic, helped usher Ghana into a new era that which saw them achieve unprecedented global success in the last decade. In an unfair way, comparison between the two Serbs is almost inevitable, and in that case, Stevanovic is the unknown face who is trying to create his own legacy. Rajevac had a relaxed style of management that led the players to compete with both fluidity and solidity, while with Stevanovic the players have not reached that level of trust as yet. What is apparent though is that he wants to leave his mark even though the immediate past will be hard to equal or surpass.
One of Stevanovic’s main tasks in this regard is to engage midfield maestro, Michael Essien, and convince him that there is a sterling future for him under his reign. The inspirational player is in line to make a comeback against Congo, but in the long run, how Stevanovic incorporates the Chelsea man’s experience into an already loaded midfield could define his reign in Ghana.