Feature Muntari takes proven path in sorry episode

"... There are a few conjectures. One is that despite his fine CV, Muntari still needs international games," Pulse Sports writer Michael Oti Adjei writes.

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play Black Stars midfielder Sulley Muntari
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Finally the dreaded word ‘sorry’ arrived. Some two years after Sulley Ali Muntari reduced one of the meeting rooms at Hotel in Brasillia to brawl room, he has uttered the words that should have been said long ago.

In football we have come to expect anything and accept everything. In Ghana football, we have also come to understand that things are never as straight forward as they seem.  And history has taught us that an apology in Ghana football is never out of vacuum. It is always a calculated attempt to clear the path to something, something a lot more grand. And often that something is deeply personal.

Some ten years ago, as host of TalkSports on TV3 I was caught in the middle of one of those that somehow addressed another of those that an interview I had conducted with the then Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic had created.

The Serbian had told me in a hotel in Kishasha that unless Samuel Osei Kuffour apologised for comments he had made about him and the team in a separate interview, there was no way back into national team football for him. Ghana was looking good for a first ever world cup appearance. It was the one thing missing from Kuffour’s CV. He had spent more than a decade at Bayern Munich where he won trophies including the ultimate at club level, the Champions League. He had represented Ghana many times at U-17, U-20, Olympic and Nations Cup level. But not the senior World Cup. He needed it.

As Dujkovic reiterated his point about Kuffuor on TalkSports, a call came into the studio; Kuffour wanted to talk live on air. The journalist in the producer said fantastic. I pumped my fist because after all it was an exclusive; a real one, not the kind littered all over the place these days. Kuffuor got on the line, said his sorry and effectively cleared the path to an appearance at the 2006 world cup.

Dujkovic was furious because he suspected an ambush. Our relationship suffered a permanent blow but those words on live TV had removed the one significant barrier to Kuffuor achieving a supremely selfish aim; to play at the World Cup.

It is not quiet in the same zone as the Muntari story. He, after all has played in three World Cups, he has played in AFCONS, he is a Champions League winner, has a league title from Italy. And he has a lot of money. So what could be missing? We would never know given that he has done a remarkable job of saying nothing.

There are a few conjectures. One is that despite his fine CV, Muntari still needs international games. He is at the twilight of his career and earning a lot of money in Saudi Arabia but Muntari no longer has the adulation that comes with playing in a full stadium, being around his mates, being boss in a national team. Football players know as Mubarak Wakaso said that international football comes with respect. You need that even more if you play in a league nobody cares about.

It could also be that Muntari wants Nations Cup glory before he calls it a day. And that he senses after the final in Equatorial Guinea last year that this could be the year. So it helps that he puts himself in frame for selection.

That is why besides his sorry, the most significant thing he said in that statement was that he is still available for national team selection. He wants to play again, he wants to be involved. And everything points to the fact that he would be involved.

Those with inside knowledge of the process that led to the issuance of the apology say it was issued because there was a measure of assurance that he would be back to national team duty shortly. It is Avram Grant’s call to make and apparently like most coaches he values experience. Muntari has a lot of it. Grant would be oblivious to the baggage that comes with it because Muntari’s ill deeds in Brazil didn’t happen under his watch. He can even buy into the sad narrative that Muntari’s action which included hitting another man in a shameful fit of rage was a legitimate reaction to a rotten system. Like the coach Kwesi Appiah at the time he Grant can simply make the call that on the balance of it, Muntari’s talent trumps his troubles.

It would be his call but it would be a fantastic subject for debate. And that is something we do fabulously well in Ghana football. Does this team still need Muntari even with central midfielders Mubarak Wakaso, Agyemang Badu, Afriyie Acquah, Thomas Partey, Alfred Duncan and left footers Christian Atsu and Dede Ayew all viable options?

Asamoah Gyan thinks so. He claims Muntari gives his all, is dedicated and committed to a cause and has a whole hearted approach that would be of great benefit to the present Ghana team in Gabon and later when the World Cup qualifiers get underway.

What he doesn’t add is the level of chaos this could cause if Muntari does not start games on his return. There is history with Muntari himself and many other players from the World Cup in Brazil to back that.

In 2010 when Milvan Rajevac ordered Muntari to be sent home because of his negative attitude in camp, it was because he was sulking at losing his starting place in the side. He just could not deal with it. Kwesi Appiah’s problems, aside the money induced drama that he had no control over was largely down to having too many prima donnas in Brazil who thought they had to play and who reacted badly  and emitted negative energy when they didn’t. Michael Essien was permanently unhappy, Kevin Prince Boateng confronted him in training and used the infamous F word that got him thrown out. Kwesi Appiah created a monster, it ate him in Brazil.

There is a legitimate fear that if Grant allows Muntari back, he could be creating another kind of monster who would eat him up. History is a powerful teacher. When the big boys are around, they expect to play. Nothing else makes sense to them.

There is also something about the events in Brasillia that didn’t make sense. The rage, the anger, the embarrassment to country. Then there was Muntari’s reaction after all that. Life went on for him, he went back to Milan and was happy, sealed a big money move to Saudi Arabia until now. In all those moments he didn’t feel like saying sorry. Maybe the benefit of doing that was not obvious. He played hide and seek with the commission of inquiry that looked into issues in Brazil and has refused to answer to anyone afterwards.

Now he clearly by that apology is a changed man who still doesn’t think that in addition to apologising to the nation he needs to say sorry to the man he hit Moses Parker. The statement is silent on that. But it is clear on one thing; he wants to play for the Black Stars again. Like Kuffuor he has picked a moment that suits him. Like Kuffuor he might get in.

And one day we would repeat the story and the lessons when we speak of a similar situation. The cycle would go on, the lessons would be documented but never applied.

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