Common sense, a full year later, has prevailed.
It always does, doesn’t it?
About this time in 2022, the mind-boggling decision to choose a rookie, Otto Addo, over the far more experienced and accomplished Chris Hughton, as head coach of Ghana’s senior national team, was made, after the competing interests of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and the Government of Ghana reached boiling point.
With Addo installed, albeit in an interim capacity, it appeared the GFA had had the last laugh, a feeling certainly reinforced by the immediate success their man enjoyed.
Ghana had just returned from a chastening Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) campaign — the country’s worst-ever, by many metrics — and the next assignment, a 2022 Fifa World Cup playoff clash over two legs against archrivals Nigeria, seemed even more daunting than it might have ordinarily been.
That test fell to Addo, and he passed it by the narrowest of margins.
The Black Stars failed to win either game, but avoiding defeat on both occasions and securing a vital away goal sufficed. The team Addo put together for that double-header didn’t have much of an attacking edge, but it did set up in a shape that was maintained remarkably well throughout those 180-odd minutes.
Some doubting Thomases — including top government officials whose opinions carry weight on the matter of who coaches the Black Stars — were won over, and the nod was given for Addo to remain in charge of the team until the World Cup; a call that, in hindsight, has proved very flawed and rather costly.
Perhaps blinded by the euphoria of the triumph over Nigeria, sight was lost of just what Addo, a former Ghana international, was — or, rather, just what he wasn’t.
Yes, he was passionate and zealous, and probably deserved to lead the team out at an edition of the World Cup he had qualified for, but Addo still hadn’t satisfactorily demonstrated the standard of nous required to excel at any competitive level, let alone on the biggest stage of them all.
And those shortcomings were exposed in brutal detail when the Black Stars went to Qatar for the Mundial in November.
The first two games saw Ghana finish at either end of a 3-2 score-line, lacking nothing in fight and character, much like Addo himself. In the third group game, against Uruguay, however, it all fell apart for the Ghanaians, succumbing tamely to a 2-0 loss when even a draw might have sealed a place in the second round.
Ghana bowed out bottom of its group (as they did at the Afcon earlier in the year), which also included Portugal and South Korea, and Addo almost immediately served notice of his exit, opting to focus instead on his coaching/scouting role at German club Borussia Dortmund.
His record as Ghana boss was anything but sparkling; of the dozen games he had overseen, only a third was won. Not many, needless to say, were sad to see Addo gone.
He had all along appeared to be keeping the seat warm for Hughton — who’d served as technical advisor to Addo — anyway, and, surely, now that he was out, it was only a matter of time before the former Tottenham Hotspur full-back’s long-awaited upgrade.
But the GFA — who had never really rooted for Hughton — weren’t going to keep the process straightforward, keen to make a show of how far and wide they had to search to come up with a suitable name.
They weren’t fooling anyone, though, as almost everyone knew the position was as good as Hughton’s. And now — little more than a month before Ghana’s first post-World Cup games, in the 2023 Afcon qualification series, are played — the needful has been done, with the GFA announcing his appointment Sunday evening.
The 64-year-old, who has hitherto spent his entire working life in England, is unarguably the most high-profile head coach Ghana has had in years.
He hasn’t had any of English football’s biggest jobs thus far in his modest career — not counting caretaker roles at Spurs, where he cut his teeth as a tactician — yet Hughton has earned for himself a reputation for shattering barriers and defying the odds with what few resources he is handed.
Impressively, in 2009/10, he returned relegated Newcastle United to the Premier League during his debut season as the Magpies’ boss, and was also responsible for securing Brighton & Hove Albion’s 2017 promotion to the English top-flight, as well as for guiding Championship outfit and then League Cup holders Birmingham City into the group stage of the Uefa Europa League just over a decade ago.
There is a case to be made that Hughton doesn’t have much previous experience training a national team, aside from a two-year stint spent assisting Brian Kerr at the helm of the Republic of Ireland side, whom Hughton — born to a Ghanaian father — represented in his playing days.
Still, we’ve seen coaches make an almost seamless switch from club football to the international game, and Hughton’s own transition should be eased by his presence on the Black Stars’ bench over the last 12 months.
He has been around long enough to see the foundation his predecessor sought to lay, and the presumed familiarity with the players and the assistant coaches — whom he inherits — brings an air of continuity to the new era.
The team has targets and Ghanaians have expectations, and Hughton would have to keep all those in mind as he works to revive the Black Stars’ fortunes following an absolutely horrendous 2022.
His résumé certainly suggests he’s got the skillset to achieve just that — and then some.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks