When the dust finally settles, it will be said that one of the toughest decisions Kwesi Appiah took in his reign as Ghana coach was to resist the temptation of handing Kevin-Prince Boateng a recall to the Black Stars.
The 31-year-old completed a dream loan move to Barcelona last week, with the Spanish giants having an option to make the move permanent at the end of the season.
It is a transfer that has opened a whole new debate over whether Boateng deserves a recall into the Ghana national team. Ordinarily, not many footballers can boast of playing in the English, Italian, German and Spanish top-flight. At 31, Boateng has already done that.
The former AC Milan star is also not short on trophies at all, having won the Carling Cup, German Cup, the Italian Super Cup and the Serie A title in his journeyman career.
All the aforementioned are boxes that every international footballer should tick. In Boateng’s own case, he ticks all those boxes, yet he hasn’t played an international game in nearly five years. Not since the 2014 World Cup – hosted by Brazil – has the newly-signed Barcelona forward donned the Ghana jersey.
But by now it should be evident that his exclusion from the national team is not performance-based. Rather, it is the culmination of the player’s own unruly behaviour that has forced Appiah into this decision.
When Boateng, along with Sulley Muntari, decided to disrespect their teammates and coaches during the 2014 World Cup, they shut themselves out of the doors of the national team. It’s been four and a half years since both players were indefinitely suspended from the Black Stars, yet only Muntari has officially written to apologise for his actions.
Boateng may have joined Barcelona, but it doesn’t change the fact that he used the F-word twice on Appiah. It doesn’t change the fact that he picked and chose which games to play when he was with the Black Stars. And, it certainly doesn’t change the fact that he has had commitment issues when it comes to playing for the national team.
What sort of example would Appiah be setting, should he invite a player who has neither taken responsibility nor shown any remorse of his actions?
There is no doubt that the 31-year-old is very talented, but there’s a reason why he was suspended at Schalke 04. At AC Milan, he had a series of bust-ups with manager Max Allegri, and the situation was no different during his stints with Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund.
Football is a team sport. No matter how talented a player is, he cannot do it all alone. Boateng has moved on from Ghana and so must the Black Stars. He has worked hard and he deserves his move to Barcelona. But that changes nothing.
The Black Stars may be currently short on quality but bringing in Boateng doesn’t guarantee the team winning the next Africa Cup of Nations. Ghana has had better teams in the past and still bottled it. The Black Stars squad of 2008 was one of the strongest in recent memory. But even the prime Michael Essien’s and Stephen Appiah’s couldn’t win us the AFCON. Bizarrely, the inexperienced Agyemang-Badu’s and Andre Ayews of 2010 exceeded expectation and got us to the final.
That is why all this talk of calling up Boateng seems a bit hypocritical, especially when the player himself has never prioritised playing for the Black Stars. In 2013, Boateng opted out of Ghana’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Zambia. In the aftermath, he told reporters that the Kumasi pitch was “a bit hard” so he didn’t feel right to play.
In 2011, Boateng again skipped an AFCON qualifier against Congo only to show up two days later, putting himself up for selection in a high-profile friendly game against England at Wembley.
Again, he may have joined Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean all these documented cases of poor behaviour and lack of respect have been forgotten. In terms of performance, this is not even his best campaign. In the 2016/17 season, Boateng netted 10 goals while playing for Las Palmas. Why were there no calls for him to be invited into the Black Stars?
That season, he enjoyed his best ever goal return as a player, yet no noise was made about a return to the Black Stars. If merely joining Barcelona gives him a ticket back into the national team, then what about the numerous other players who play for the Blaugrana but are not full internationals?
Last week, Coach Appiah opened his doors to Boateng, insisting an apology could change things.
“Kevin-Prince Boateng is a Ghanaian and currently he is playing very well and if you look at our striking options we have always relied on Gyan so is about time we all check and get at least four strikers that we can always rely on,” the Black Stars coach told Asempa FM.
“Kevin is one of the good strikers as I have said, but in Brazil, he[Kevin] and Sulley were suspended by the FA for their unruly behaviours and I think Sulley has written a letter to apologise and looking at how Kevin is playing now, if he should write a letter to apologise, I will invite him because it is about the country not about any individual.”
So, it’s clear that Boateng’s omission from the national team is not performance-based. If he really values playing for the Black Stars – or he really wants to return – he knows what to do.
There is no way he would dare disrespect Ernesto Valverde in training. Appiah deserves that sort of respect too and that is why the Black Stars coach is 100% right to stick to his guns in snubbing the on-loan Barca forward.