Ghanean mational football team coach Milovan Rajevac speaks to journalists on June 7, 2010 upon his squad's arrival at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg ahead of the June 11 to July 11 FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa. AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images)
AFCON GLORY/QATAR 2022: Which Should Rajevac Prioritise?
In football, second-comings do not always guarantee success, and Milovan Rajevac’s return to Ghana will not be the last managerial appointment to divide opinion.
What’s hardly arguable, however, is that the Serbian still ranks as the Black Stars’ best coach in the last four decades, and that sterling past record appears to be what made him so appealing to the Ghana Football Association (GFA) as a quick-fix, following the recent sacking of CK Akonnor.
The 67-year-old’s KPIs have been clearly laid out, namely, winning next year’s AFCON and qualifying Ghana for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with a juicy $300,000 bonus tied to each.
The truth, though, is that the Black Stars are currently a pale shadow of the dominant side they once were and Rajevac would do himself a world of good to tread cautiously by strategically homing in on just one of those targets rather than risk missing out on both.
For all that a fifth Africa Cup of Nations title would mean to Ghanaians, nothing beats the feeling of seeing the Black Stars take on the world and make a statement.
That yearning had always been strong even before Ghana enjoyed its debut at the 2006 World Cup, but it has only grown stronger ever since that milestone was achieved.
There has been a sense of unfinished business after each appearance, as Ghana bettered their Round of 16 place in Germany by exiting at the quarter-final stage four years later, with a little more left in the tank.
But all that good progress was reversed spectacularly last time out, at Brazil 2014, when Ghana suffered a first-round elimination. That brought with it, on top of the yearning described earlier, an itch to go back and set things right — and, if possible, raise the bar once more.
A failure to make it to the last Mundial robbed the Black Stars of a chance to do so, but the next, in Qatar, is a shot at redemption Ghanaians would rather not miss.
The team might be seven years removed from that humiliation in Brazil, but the experience stings and stinks still, remaining a blot on the country’s image (and, no, not just in a sporting context, given the circumstances).
If anyone can deliver that long-awaited opportunity, though, it’s Rajevac, the man who steered the Black Stars to their best-ever performance at the finals; should that happen, there are more than a few Ghanaians who’d be willing to celebrate it as much as any AFCON triumph.
And come to think of it: is it really for nothing that Rajevac’s prospects of an extended stay as Ghana boss is tied, not to winning the AFCON, but to reaching Qatar?
To many a Black Stars fan, there is little doubt about what matters most — glory at Cameroon 2021, nothing less.
For a country that has not won any major piece of silverware in nearly four decades, a trophy is what Ghana desperately craves, and it’s not too difficult to tell just which tournament — between the World Cup and the AFCON — offers the greater guarantee of satisfying that craving.
It is not just the World Cup itself that’s beyond Ghana’s reach; even a merely impressive showing seems too much of an ask for a team that’s currently a work in progress and far from the finished article, even if the Black Stars managed to get to Qatar. Narrow the field down to the African terrain, though, and Ghana stands a much better chance.
And that could even be, ultimately, to Rajevac’s own benefit. The extension of his initial one-year contract might hinge squarely on Ghana’s qualification to the next World Cup, according to the GFA, but it’s just as likely — inevitable, really — that clause would be triggered if Rajevac manages to win the AFCON.
As an extra incentive — as though he didn’t have enough already — such a feat would certainly make Rajevac a far more popular figure in these parts than he’s ever been, and he’d be wise to put that at the top of his to-do list.