Sports Features of Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Source: Christopher Opoku
Initially, when reports emerged that former Ghana head coach Milovan Rajevac watched the Black Stars in their 2013 AFCON semifinal loss to Burkina Faso, speculation was rife as to whether he was being primed for a return to the team he remodeled three years ago.
At the time, the Ghana Football Association dismissed the speculation, stating that no such plans were in place, but a few weeks later, with the impending departure of Kwasi Appiah after Ghana’s game with Sudan this month, his name has indeed come up as one of the likely candidates to replace his former assistant.
Indeed, Burkina Faso head coach Paul Put is reported to have made third party enquiries about the job, and Mariano Barreto, who began Ghana’s 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, is also subtly eyeing a return.
This piece will however take a look at the life and times of Milovan Rajevac from when we all got to know him.
Memories of Milo’s decisions in Ghana
I remember that initially we all struggled to pronounce his surname and my mind goes back to a meeting the GFA President Kwasi Nyantakyi held with various sports editors of various media houses.
I was there as the then Asempa FM head of Sports. I remember Nyantakyi telling us that his English was passable and that the GFA thought he was the best candidate to replace Claude Le Roy. I have to admit that I was initially a sceptic, even though eventually Rajevac proved me wrong and his appointment was indeed an inspired choice by the GFA.
Introduction of newer players into the team
When our senior players were either injured or unavailable, Rajevac simply promoted a few young players into the team. Who can forget the performance of the likes of Opoku Agyemang and Kwadwo Asamoah in Ghana’s 2-0 win over Mali in Bamako? Again, before Angola 2010, there were real concerns as to how the Black Stars would do since several senior players were unavailable.
Again, he simply gave younger players the chance.The likes of Andre Ayew, Samuel Inkoom, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Opoku Agyemang and indeed Kwadwo Asamoah became men during Ghana’s run to the final, before a late goal by Gedo stopped Ghana from getting a fifth AFCON trophy. Three teams from Africa might have made the World Cup quarterfinals, but Ghana was indeed the closest to a debut semifinal berth, indeed only a penalty kick away.
The lure of Saudi Arabian money
All that is history now, but I remember being amongst the many who called for the GFA to do everything to keep him. Unfortunately, despite the fact that a new offer of $66,000 a month was put on the table (an increase from the $45,000 he was on at the time) he decided to follow the money and landed a $110,000-a-month deal with Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia.
A stint in charge of the Qatar national team followed but Rajevac is currently out of work and has been for the last 18 months at least. So the question is that assuming without admitting that he does return, would it be the key that gets Ghana to Brazil?
Ziese’s failed return; an example in context
I remember how Burkhard Ziese was adored during his first spell with the Black Stars. Under him Ghana returned to African Nations Cup competition after an eight-year absence. He made the Black Stars one of the best teams in Africa and his exit was bemoaned by many fans at the time.
He returned in 2003 and completely messed up Ghana’s qualification hopes for the 2004 African Nations Cup in Tunisia. His decision to hand Edward Ansah a return to the team after a nine-year absence was bizarre, especially since Ansah was the Black Stars’ goalkeeper’s trainer at the time. That seems to prove that not all second comings are happy ones.
Challenges waiting for Milo should he return?
With that example, the question will have to be asked as to whether Milovan Rajevac can do what he did three years ago with the team. Should he turn out to be the GFA’s choice to replace Appiah, he will have a number of issues to deal with.
For starters, he will have to deal with the temporary withdrawals of the Ayew brothers, as well as possible unrest within the team.
He would also have to make a choice between continuing what Appiah started, in terms of building a new team or ripping everything up and starting all over again, and he would probably have to decide whether or not to end what looks like many futile attempts to get Kevin Prince Boateng back into the team (I understand a senior official visited Kevin in Milan very recently and was given short thrift by the player).
Milo: the tactical innovator
For those who would argue for his return, they would point out that Milo was responsible for the evolution of team tactics from a straight 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 which every coach has used since he left. Under him, the Black Stars were defensively very strong but were not scoring enough goals within 90 minutes.
Indeed, the Black Stars were tagged the ‘One-goal project’ because of the 1-0 wins racked up under him; almost akin to the Arsenal that was led by George Graham from the late eighties to the early nineties. Clearly, Ghana has not been too strong defensively of late and Milo supporters will no doubt argue that his return would resolve that particular issue.
Will Milo take strong decisions again?
Milo has a known reputation of bringing young talent through and he showed in his stint with the Black Stars that he is not afraid of taking strong decisions. Should he return, he will also be confronted with the question of whether to leave the team as it is now, or further introduce newer and younger players.
Of course, there is the danger that he might do what Ziese did and bring back players who delivered for him back then, even if they are now out of the team due to lack of playing time and form.
Indeed the GFA seems to have backed itself into a corner after taking the unofficial decision to redeploy Kwasi Appiah. An emerging battle-royale is beginning to emerge over the soon-to-be-vacant post and only time will tell if the GFA makes the right choice, whoever is appointed.
Indeed time will also tell whether Milo does make a return or not. For now, the Sudan game has taken on real significance with victory the only option for the Black Stars, but beyond the public eye, lobbying for one of the hottest jobs in African football still goes on.