Black Stars Head Coach Milovan Rajevac led Ghana to two wins against the Warriors of Zimbabwe in this month’s FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers. Before his appointment, the Black Stars won one and lost one in the previous round of the qualifiers but the 6 points have changed the dynamics in Group G as Ghana are within one point of the top spot ahead of the final round of games in November.
The 67-year-old Serbian trainer beat Zimbabwe 3-1 on his second bow and led the team to record a 1-0 win against the Warriors in the reverse fixture in Harare.
In this Interview, Milovan Rajevac shares his thoughts on the doubleheader against Zimbabwe, player quality, the future of the team, African football and the difference between the 2010 squad and the current team.
Read on for the full transcript:
On reflections 48 hours after the games against Zimbabwe
Yeah definitely it was a relief because we managed to achieve our target. The last few weeks were very hard, I didn’t sleep well because there were too many things to be done and after that period, now it is a relief so we can focus on our next challenge.
On thoughts after accepting to come back to Ghana
I was aware of the challenge and the task because nobody was more motivated than me to go to the World Cup especially to take Ghana because this was the biggest success in my career in Ghana and we have a history. Very often I rewind in my mind the match against Uruguay and the famous penalty so this is something that drives me forward and I believe we can achieve even more so the motivation is high and nobody wants this more than me.
On relationship with players he coached 11 years ago
We really had a great relationship, mutual understanding and a very nice communication. I managed to set up the team with big stars playing in big teams and also some young promising talents who proved themselves, some were good at the U-20 and won the World Cup and later introduced into the first team so many players really made their name Kwadwo Asamoah, Vorsah, Dede Ayew, Samuel Inkoom, Opoku Agyemang. Kelvin Prince Boateng joined us for the World Cup so definitely I managed to set up a mixture of experienced and young players and this was the perfect combination for the success. This made the team ready for the next World Cup after 2010. This was a beautiful generation of players and I was privileged to have the ability to work with them in the past.
On knowledge about African football then and now
The most important period for getting this experience was my period in Ghana. During the past two years, I get to know the mentality of the people and players. I was a perfect match for them and they were a perfect match for me. They were having local black stars at the same time as the senior team and many matches around gave me so much experience and knowledge about everything here so this is the key thing that I still have in my mind. Although I worked in Algeria for some time, even when I was with Thailand, I played friendly matches against Kenya, Gabon so I am still in the loop regarding African football so I think I have what it takes and this new generation of players have immense talent and I believe they can achieve great things in the future.
On difference between the previous generation and the current squad
It is not easy to compare but definitely, the last generation was very strong and successful and in this generation, I can see a lot of talents, many beautiful talents for the future so Ghanaians shouldn’t worry about the future of Ghana football. It is important to develop them well and as I said, this is just the beginning and it takes time to set up everything and to correct something’s and to make Ghana okay competitive football at the highest level. This is something that is my job and luckily in this last camp, the atmosphere was amazing among everybody and as I said earlier, I am really grateful for the opportunity work in this condition, I have people around me who are very dedicated to their work, my technical team, medical department, equipment officers and President of the GFA was very supportive and all members of the committee including the Ministry and president of the contra so we all have the same goal and this is the only way we can achieve great success. I can see so many good comments from the media and the fans so they are equally important in this process so the only way we can achieve great things is if we think the same way and know what is our primary target and do everything in our power to achieve that together and I think we are on the right path.
On Hugo Broos’ comment that South Africa will fight to the end
This is normal because everybody wants to win so statements are statements and pitch is a pitch. We feel the same motivation and I think we are even hungrier for success so we have strong faith in our capabilities and in our unity and know what is at stake so we will do anything in our power to win these matches and go to the next stage.
On whether he placed emphasis on the game between South Africa and Ethiopia after Ghana beat Zimbabwe in Harare
We were monitoring the situation of course but we are thinking primarily of ourselves because everything is in our hands and we depend on ourselves so the moment we win successfully, we don’t focus on the other team. We are not concerned about the other result, the matches will be good for us and we can analyse them and see the good and bad points of both teams so these matches will be good for us to analyse and prepare our game plan but we focus on our self and it is a good thing we have everything in our hands.
On message to players before they departed Accra for their respective clubs
Players got the message and they delivered and this is what makes me happy. They understand the importance of going to the World Cup, which is the highest level of football and who doesn’t want to qualify for the World Cup. There is no bigger motivation for ourselves than going to the World Cup so we are all aware of that and players showed their desire and determination, they fulfil their task and managed to complete our target in the previous task and this makes me very happy so I am positive and looking forward to the next challenge.
On team Ghana before taking over and after the matches against Zimbabwe
Meeting with the players was very important to get to know them and to understand how they feel and how they can react in certain circumstances. I believe we manage to make some progress in terms of performance but we still have a lot of improvement to do in the future especially we play with less touches, we didn’t hold the ball for too long so I am satisfied with this aspect of the game. There are other things that must improve in the next period and I am quite positive with the way the players are responding and understanding my requirement and the task I am giving to them so I believe we are on the right path and everything will be better the next time.
On possible new faces in the team for Ethiopia and South Africa
Definitely, If you look at my previous spell here, you’ll know it is important every department of the team is strong as possible so for the next period, we are monitoring every Ghanaian home and abroad and the league will start soon so definitely there will be some talents from here and players abroad trying to prove themselves so it is a chance for everybody to prove themselves and if they get to come play for Ghana, they have to prove it. This is a process you’re trying to establish the team that can be competitive at the highest level and can play against any team in the world.
On the strength of the team
We need to improve everything to be at the highest level for sure but I am quite happy with the atmosphere and the unity of the team. They support each other, captain is also great in terms of leadership and we have to improve mentally, we are mentally good but we have to be even stronger and also in tactical knowledge, discipline and in a matter of playing competitively, there is always room for improvement so this is our task in the next period to make this team even stronger and to reach their potential.
On style and philosophy as a Coach
I am a very democratic person. I am open to hearing people’s opinion because it is important but in the end, I am the one who is making the decision because it is my job at stake and I am responsible after all. First of all, I am professional and I expect a professional approach from everybody. Nobody can mean better to the players than I can mean good for them so I expect a professional approach towards me and I am trying to be professional towards everyone around. This is what I had in Ghana but unfortunately, in other places, this wasn’t the case so that’s why some jobs ended earlier than it is supposed to be because I didn’t have that kind of approach. That is why coming here, I knew what to expect and this is the environment that I really enjoy and the people I work with so I am quite positive in terms of making good things. I am not an autocratic person, I am open to opinions. I think people who cannot work with me cannot work with many other people. I believe I am good for team work but in the end, I make the tough decisions and suffer the consequences of things go wrong.
On decision to start Wollacott, Ishahaku, Andre Ayew in midfield and Amartey at right-back against Zimbabwe in Cape Coast
Joseph Wollacott: It was the work of Richard Kingston because he did the scouting work and he suggested this goalkeeper to me and I watched many videos of him and the decision was made to include him in the squad and when he came, he proved himself and got the chance which he used very well.
Fataw Issahaku: He recommended himself with his performance for U-20 team and when he came to the camp, he proved himself at the training sessions and the training match so he showed me he has to get the chance and I am quite satisfied with the way he is developing and he is a beautiful talent and a player with a great future in professional football.
On Andre Ayew in holding midfield
Andre was used as a holding midfielder because I know him very well and I know his abilities, experience and knowledge. He is very intelligent player and a great leader so in that match, we wanted to play offensively and I needed him because of his passing and decision and because we didn’t have Wakaso, I had faith in him that he can deliver which he proved he can. His fighting and determination is great so I took the decision and I am quite satisfied with his performance.
On Daniel Amartey at right back
We couldn’t get Andy Yiadom to camp due to injury and when I was making a game plan for Zimbabwe, because I wanted a very offensive midfield and attack, I decided to put some players in defence and have others in the back so we protect ourselves for an important result so that is why our defence was pretty tall. Daniel has played that in the past, he even played in a defensive midfield position so he is a versatile player and he is a player I can trust and I knew he is up to the task so he delivered excellent performance and he said also he is ready to do whatever it takes to take Ghana to the World Cup and follow my instructions so everything went well.
On plans for Ethiopia and South Africa next month
Now our complete focus is on our next two matches which is very important and as I say, every next match is the most important one. These two victories will mean nothing if we don’t deliver good performance and results in the next match. Our focus is completely on those matches and it is going to be a short time in camp but we will prepare well and we are in the process of preparing the camp and we have the support from everyone around and we hope everything goes well and achieve our target which is winning the next two matches and qualify for the final round.
On qualifying for the next round and facing the best teams in Africa
Of course, but I always say let’s take it one step at a time. Let’s complete our challenges first because after that, we will have the AFCON and we will have more time to improve our performance. At the AFCON, we will have the ability to play against some of these teams and definitely have the opportunity to get to know the teams even better. But time is on our side for more matches and we will do much better than now. It is not a concern at this moment because as I said time is on our side so we have many things to be done before that time.
Message to Ghanaians
I must say that I am happy because I am getting lots of support and one of my goals is to make people of Ghana happy because football is life here and for Ghana to qualify to the World Cup, it is something that the whole country will be extremely happy and ecstatic about that. As I have managed to do that in the past, I hope we will be able to do this again so I will do everything I can to make the whole nation happy, this Is my target and mission so nothing else matters and the only way we can succeed is if we do this together. Government, GFA, players, technical team, fans and media, we all have the same agenda and want the same thing so if we support each other as we did in the past, I feel we are on the right path and if we manage to do that in the last, why can’t we do that again. Everything is in our hands and with the support and unity, desire and determination and the fact that we are ready to fight and give our best for this country, I think we can achieve great things in the future.