Gary Al-Smith is an African football specialist who is covering the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea for the Guardian. In this piece, he talks to Ghana head coach Avram Grant about, amongst other things, how to pull a ‘chick’.
You’ve probably been asked a lot of times but what’s the secret to bagging an ambitious, beautiful, and glamorous woman like your wife, Tzufit? Five things: Be yourself. Be confident. Be honest. Appeal to her brains and not what you see outside. And then … if all these fail, give me a call!
She has always sworn that you are more charismatic than José Mourinho. A lot of football fans won’t believe that. What I believe is that charisma is the ability to influence people to do what you want. There is no one template for that. My wife probably digs my style better, you know?
Speaking of José, how do you rate his second spell at Chelsea so far? He is great coach and no one should be surprised at the team he has built. It won’t be like the first time he was at the Bridge but I’m sure he will do well.
While Mourinho is having his second chance in England, your coaching debut in Africa begins at such a high level with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations. Are you: a) scared b) excited or c) all of the above?The last time I was asked this kind of question with multiple choice answers was for my Bagrut, the high school exams in Israel! [Laughs] But, seriously, I am none of what you ask. I am simply curious.
Curious? As in to learn more about the African Cup? Not just that. I want to soak it all in. My whole life has been about learning and this a new learning environment. I want to learn everything I can to add to my existing knowledge.
You’ve not been with the Ghana team for long – just a few weeks. What have you learned? A lot. I have a group of very willing players who look at the collective instead of themselves. They understand the need to lower their individual goals for the sake of the team. And that is what I want.
How did that last point – the collective – feature in your selecting a team for the tournament, especially as you didn’t know them personally? Coaching is like fatherhood. After doing it for a long time, you notice patterns. One of the reasons I chose 31 players initially, before selecting 26 and then 23 was that I needed to establish those who understood the need for the team to win first.
Is that why Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari were not named? No, no. You know their situation with the Ghana FA [Boateng and Muntari are on indefinite suspension] and everything else that happened in Brazil has not really been sorted out so I think this is best for the collective.
You use the word “collective” a lot… Yes. Because as much as individual quality is important, even an averagely-talented team can achieve wonders with the right mindset.
That sounds like something Arrigo Sacchi would say… Yes! Actually, Sacchi is one of the coaches who really inspires me. He and [Johan] Cruyff. Amazing minds.
Those two were masters of the pressing game. Are we then going to see a lot of that in the Ghana team?We strive to be hard to break down. We strive to be organized. We strive to change our style quickly – and all this needs mentally and physically sharp players.
You also flew in physical trainers. Was the team not in the shape you wanted when you came in? Ghana has very good players but due to injury and other things, some had not been very active so yes we needed to work on their conditioning.
To be a great manager, Roots Manuva says a man must be “All Things To All Men.” How do you want the Ghana players to see you? As Avram Grant! [Laughs] I want them to see me as a guide who will help them reach a goal. They should approach me also as a friend. All players I have coached know that is my style.
If you won the African Cup, and Ghanaians proposed that you stay long after your 27-month contract, would you? [Laughs. Then a long pause] If I win this African Cup, that would mean ending 30-something years of waiting. In the immediate happiness of success, fans say things. But like a woman who is surprised with a proposal, I would ask Ghanaians to think carefully about this. I would love to stay if I am wanted, but first, let’s build the team, see through my current deal and take it from there.
You were said to have been courted by Premier League clubs. Why Ghana? Look at the profile of Ghana. If it were a club team we will say they’ve consistently gotten to the semi-final of the Champions League since, what, 2008? They want to go to the next level. For me, the people want a new foundation built for a winning team of the future. That is why I am here. At the time I was approached, this was the lure that clinched it for me.
You were approached? Did you not apply? Not personally. He [Avram gestures to his agent, Saif Rubie, standing nearby] told me about the job and if I would like it. I said yes, immediately. He contacted the GFA, I came for the interview and I got it.