Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Controversy over Ghanaian Sulley Muntari’s row with Coach Milovan Rajevac.
Sulley Muntari is a man blessed with a larger-than-life ego. Muntari’s latest tantrum, though, could be as symptomatic of Ghana’s inter-generational conflict as the mid-fielder’s exaggerated sense of self-worth.
There’s life after a foul-mouthed tirade against one’s coach after all. Just days after France’s Nicolas Anelka was kicked out of the World Cup for an expletive-laden attack on Raymond Domenech, Ghana’s Sulley Muntari survived a similar fate thanks to dramatic, late-night interventions from senior players and the national Football Association’s (FA) boss. The Inter Milan forward seemed on the verge of being ejected for a shocking outburst against Coach Milovan Rajevac after Ghana’s 1-all draw against Australia. But, fearful of disrupting team harmony, influential captain Stephen Appiah and Ghana’s FA president Kwasi Nyantakyi interceded on Muntari’s behalf to avert what was shaping up to be a full-blown crisis.
A vague statement from the GFA stated that while, “Muntari reacted angrily and in a manner that was offensive to the team’s code of conduct, he is still a member of the Black Stars team at the World Cup”. But according to Ale Aeinafe, a Ghanaian radio journalist, Muntari remains in South Africa only due to acts of diplomacy and politicking from the biggest players in Ghanaian football.
“It all came down to the GFA boss and Appiah,” Aeinafe revealed. “By Monday evening, it seemed like Muntari’s fate was sealed. Rajevac wanted nothing to do with him. He even asked team manager Opoku Afriyie to throw Muntari out. But the captain and the GFA boss were determined to change the coach’s mind.”
Aeinafe disclosed that the entire Muntari-Rajevac saga started soon after Saturday’s draw when an incensed Muntari dared to challenge the Serb’s authority and the abilities of a number of his team mates: “According to my sources in the squad, Muntari entered the dressing room after the match in absolute fury. He slammed the door, kicked the lockers and started insulting Rajevac in a local dialect. Muntari was furious that the coach had apparently sidelined him in South Africa. The coach was then made aware of Muntari’s exact words by a member of the backroom staff after the star stormed out of the dressing room.”
Aeinafe added that while the lion’s share of Muntari’s rant was aimed at Rajevac, he also fired irate broadsides at some junior players who he felt were being favoured by the coach at the expense of the more experienced stars: “Basically, Muntari thinks that he and Appiah should be central to Ghana’s plans here. He’s annoyed that youngsters like Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah seem to have become more important players in the team.”
Ayew, former captain of Ghana’s triumphant U-20 team, has been preferred to Muntari since he helped the Black Stars to the Nations Cup final last January. Muntari missed that tournament after another disciplinary run-in led to his omission from the squad. “It all comes down to ego,” Aeinafe insisted. “Muntari has the biggest ego in the team. Appiah and other senior players have been affected as well but you haven’t seen them attack the coach. When he was excluded from the Nations Cup, it was because he refused to apologize for indiscipline. That time, [Michael] Essien, who’s an even bigger player, had apologized for a similar problem. Muntari’s success at Inter has gone to his head and he has no respect for Rajevac. Muntari came off the bench at Inter the whole of last season but he wouldn’t insult [Jose] Mourinho like he did Rajevac. The mood among the fans is that he should have been ejected. Rajevac has done wonders with the team, a young team. If Muntari’s ego wants to spoil that, he should leave.”
Aeinafe is fully confident the shaky ceasefire brokered by Appiah and Nyantakyi won’t last.
“The feeling is that this was only successful because no one wanted Ghana to be like France before such a crucial match against Germany. There are also fears that Rajevac might have had his hand forced because he didn’t want to alienate senior players like Appiah and John Mensah, who are friends with Muntari and pleaded his case. But everyone knows that the relationship between Muntari and the coach has totally broken down. Nothing can save it now.”
It’s public knowledge back in Accra that Rajevac intended to omit Muntari from Ghana’s final 23-man squad prior to the commencement of the tournament, but was again dissuaded by his bosses at the GFA.
Aeinafe revealed that the extent of the coach-player fallout was evident in the aftermath of Muntari’s attack. Not only did Rajevac refuse to attend a scheduled clear-the-air meeting thereafter in which Muntari apologized to his team mates and the technical staff, but the Serb rejected a hand-shake from the midfielder on the team bus en-route to training the following morning: “He might have been asked or forced to compromise with Muntari by circumstances, but Rajevac has clearly lost patience,” Aeinafe remarked. “When he met Muntari before the World Cup, both agreed to put the troubles that saw Muntari miss the Nations Cup behind them. Muntari apologized and seemed delighted to start afresh. But he was back to his old ways in pre-World Cup training. Then, Muntari refused to share a hotel room with a team mate, demanding to sleep alone since Essien, the player he always shares rooms with, had withdrawn from the World Cup party injured.
“I think his latest attack just made Rajevac give up,” Aeinafe concluded. “I think Muntari overestimates his status in the team. He’s no longer as influential as the boys from the U-20 team.” Aeinafe even contended that, despite the peace deal between Rajevac and Muntari, the tension in the camp won’t be fully alleviated unless the old guard is let go and fully replaced by the U-20 starlets.
“Muntari attacked some of these young players as well and they are not happy. Muntari insulted some of the youngsters on the team bus on their way to the team hotel and was actually confronted by team-mate Derek Boateng over the continuing insults. There is extreme tension in the air and some players were apparently threatening mutiny if Muntari was forgiven.”
It’s doubtful such a threat will be seen through, but at the end of it all, the total cost of this sorry episode will only truly be audited after Ghana’s make-or-break tie against Germany. Ghana, top of Group D with four points, needs a draw with Germany to guarantee progress to the knockout rounds. Even a loss against the Germans would still suffice provided Serbia doesn’t defeat Australia. But with such permutations to calculate and tactics to formulate, it’s a safe bet that the Muntari circus is one headache Rajevac could have done happily without.