Didi Dramani: Silent tactician

Didi Dramani: Silent tactician

Black Stars assistant coach, Mas-Ud Didi Dramani (DD), is an accomplished technical brain who has seen it all in Ghana Football as a player, coach, coaching instructor and a scout.

The 56-year-old CAF Elite Coaching Instructor and Assessor made history by winning Ghana's first ever World Cup medal when he led the Black Maidens to win bronze at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan in 2012, earning him the SWAG Coach of the Year prize. He went on to win the Ghana Premier League back-to-back with Asante Kotoko in his first attempt in the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 seasons and capped it with the FA Cup and Super Cup trophies. No wonder he crowned those seasons with the Coach of the Year awards.

Before then, Dramani, who was named after Brazilian legend Didi, had handled all the female national teams, as well as the national U-20 male side, Black Satellites, before sojourning in Denmark for a stint with top flight Danish side, FC Nordsjaelland, owned by Tom Vernon, in 2019.

His illustrious playing career as a right back spanned 15 years from 1985 to 2000 and saw him featuring for Real Tamale United and Ebusua Dwarfs alongside senior players such as Clifford Addae, Tamimu Adams, Abedi Pele, Ahmed Dauda, Anane Kobo and Mohammed Choo. His contemporaries included Joe Debrah, Shamo Quaye, Michael Osei, Isaac Kwakye, Thomas Boakye, Robert Eshun, Ben Adjei, Ezekiel Alamu, Abedi Tugah, Foster Bastios, Justice Abban, Eric Appiah, Moro Issah, Issaka Sulemana and Nelson Mensah, among others.

Daily Graphic's Samuel Ebo Kwaitoo (SEK) caught up with him for an exclusive interview at his Right To Dream Academy base at Old Akrade, near Akosombo, where he shed light on Black Stars' preparation for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, player selection, his playing and coaching career, his achievements so far and his role as the technical director of the Right To Dream (RTD) Academy. Below are excerpts:

Samuel Ebo Kwaitoo (SEK): Hello coach, I believe you and your colleagues in the Black Stars technical team are under a lot of pressure with a few days to the World Cup. How are you coping with it?

Didi Dramani (DD): This is something we have been doing for some time now so we are used to the pressure. The most important thing is that we are focusing on what we are doing and we are working very hard at it.

SEK: The expectation of Ghanaians is naturally high. Are the Black Stars ready for the Group H challenge against Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay?

DD: I think the Switzerland game in Abu-Dhabi on November 17 will really tell what we are going to do in Qatar. By then the final squad would have been submitted to FIFA so we will have a fair idea of the players who are going for the tournament. I strongly believe the team will be ready. We're very positive in what we are doing and we only have control over what we can do.

SEK: Ghanaians were generally not impressed with the two international friendlies against Brazil and Nicaragua in September. What lessons did you learn from those games at close range?

DD: We learnt a lot of lessons from the game against Brazil and we thank the Ghana Football Association (GFA) for arranging that match for the Black Stars. Despite the defeat, playing against the best team in the world gave the players the needed exposure ahead of the World Cup. And against Nicaragua, we also learnt how to play against a team which can sit back and soak pressure from the opponent.

SEK: It’s obvious that the technical team does not have the luxury of time to prepare adequately for the tournament. How are you handling that?

DD: This is a special World Cup because there is not much preparation time. But we will make the most out of what we have to get the team ready for every challenge. Our team will begin camping in Abu-Dhabi on November 14 and play Switzerland three days later, before flying to Doha for the World Cup the following day to finalise our preparation for the opening group match against Portugal on November 24.

SEK: As you know, there is a lot of buzz around the selection of Ghana’s final 26-man squad for the tournament. Can you tell us the criteria you used to arrive at the preliminary 55-man FIFA list, which was sent to FIFA a few weeks ago?

DD: The 55-man preliminary squad, which FIFA refers to as the list, was picked from a database of 500 players. We have opened up our scouting network and currently have about 500 Ghanaian players in our database, whom we are monitoring. We see them all from across the globe but we need some in the short-term, some the medium-term and others for the long-term. The provisional squad of 30 out of the 55 players was submitted to FIFA on November 2 and the final 26 players came out of the same database.

SEK: It is rumoured that national team coaches, especially those of you in charge of the senior national team, face a lot of interference from GFA officials when it comes to player selection. How true is that?

DD: I must confess that we have not experienced any player imposition from President Kurt (GFA President) or any official since we assumed duty last February. He (Kurt) can only share his opinion like anybody else but he has never imposed any player on the technical team. The technical team is fully in charge of player selection.

SEK: How has the experience been like working with the head coach, Otto Addo, George Boateng and the technical advisor, Chris Hughton?

DD: I must say it has been a smooth journey so far and the relationship has been very cordial. I worked together with Otto Addo during my stint with FC Nordsjaelland in Denmark and we again worked closely as scouts for the Black Stars at the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup. We have been good pals for some time now and the telepathy among the technical team is wonderful. We usually have long online technical meetings to plan for the team, which usually run deep into the night.

SEK: Apart from the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualification, what legacy does the Black Stars technical team hope to leave behind?

DD: I think the best thing we've been able to do is to put up a structure, which will trickle down to the other national teams. We want to have an identity in our style of play, and in view of that, we talk a lot to the other national teams. Aside from that, the President has trust in the team and positively we will develop the squad and hope to achieve something great in the near future.

SEK: Your appointment as the second assistant coach for the Black Stars came as a surprise to many. Tell us how it happened.

DD: I think it happened as a matter of course because I have gone through the mill by way of preparation at all levels to deserve it. Apart from that, the GFA President knew my capabilities way back and I must say that he recommended me to Dr K.K. Sarpong to be given the Asante Kotoko coaching job in 2012. In fact, I was in the process of lecturing at a CAF coaching course at the Ghanaman Soccer Centre of Excellence in Prampram when Dr Sarpong arrived in the company of the GFA President to offer me my first male coaching job at that level. That was after I had led the Black Maidens to win bronze at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan. I readily accepted the Kotoko challenge and Dr Sarpong was surprised at my confidence level. I went on to win the Premier League back-to-back for Kotoko, as well as the FA Cup and the rest is history.

SEK: Give us a brief background of your coaching career.

DD: I am currently a CAF Elite Coaching Instructor and Assessor. After my playing career with Real Tamale United and Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs from 1985 to 2000, I enrolled in the University of Education, Winneba and pursued Physical Education, Health and Sports (HPERS). My aim was that I wanted to be in this position. I just thought that I needed a scientific background to know how the body works. I'm sure it was the conversations I had with my dad (George Dramani who was an astute coach) which influenced my thinking.

At the university, I played and coached as well. I had my first coaching badge (introductory) during Ben Koufie’s Five-year Development Plan, which took place in Tamale when I was on a semester vacation. I went there to do administration because they were doing Administration, Sports Science, Refereeing and setting up the junior structures, which is the foundation of football but the late George Dasoberi, who was my father’s contemporary, said, "no, you belong to coaching so go and do coaching." In the class, Ben Koufie was the one lecturing and anytime he asked a question my hand was up. So one day in their conversation he asked, "Ah there's a guy in my class, he is always answering all the questions," and Mr Dasoberi told him, "Ah! that's the son of George (Dramani)." So when it came to the practicals, they saw that with practical coaching, my participation was top class. So in the whole of Ghana I was adjudged the best coach in the introductory course.

I was excellent in everything so when the elite coaching course was going to take place in Winneba, my colleagues were in school but I was among the elites who were already coaching such as the late Herbert Addo. During the course, I realised that I was already up there. That was how my trajectory took and how I really moved faster within the shortest time. I have engaged in so many coaching courses. In 2007, the first CAF licence course was organised and I participated in it. We were just 40 and I excelled again in the CS level, which was the first of its kind in Africa because Ben Koufie was an elite instructor who had been running courses all over the place for FIFA. Fred Osam-Duodu was also a UEFA instructor so we were given the chance to organise courses and I was among the group.

In 2004, I founded Guan United, which later became Lepo Stars and now Tamale City. I founded this club on the basics and then I did it with Lepowura Alhaji Jawula. I founded it on the basis of having players to coach always so I coached at the community level and they used to call my team Gomashie Stars. My football name in those days was Gomashie, which I inherited from George Gomashie of Hearts of Oak fame because I was playing as an attacker in those days before I became a defender later on. Anytime there was a political game, I will pick players and we come out to play good football. I also coached Vittim Senior High School and we participated in a lot of Milo games where I met Sulley Muntari and goalkeeper Sani Mohammed of Hearts of Oak fame.

SEK: Before venturing into coaching the male teams, you had a long spell with the women’s national teams. What was your experience with female football and what do you think can be done to improve it?

DD: My experience with women’s football started from 2007-2009 when I assisted Coach A.K. Edusei in the Black Queens. When I finally took over the team I had to scout for more young players because I realised that some players were being recycled without getting the required results.

I remember I suggested Evans Adotey as head coach when I left the U-17 team for Kotoko. In the Black Queens, I was the head coach and Mercy Tagoe was my assistant. And before joining FC Norsjaelland in 2018, I left the Queens for Mercy Tagoe. I remember I scouted a lot of female players over six years. There is a problem if players are stuck at one point for a long time.
When you scout the right players, the rest will be the monitoring of the players. We need to be deliberate and patient but consistent with scouting to get the needed results.

SEK: You have been the technical director of the Right To Dream (RTD) Academy since 2010. What does your role entail?

DD: I'm the coaching director at Right To Dream (RTD) Academy which means everything about coaching falls under me, including the video analysts. I recruit all the coaches for the U-10, U-12, U-13 and the IA (U-18) teams and supervise them. I also draw the programme for them and ensure they follow it to the letter. In Right To Dream, we have a style of play which is our identity, so I teach the coaches our philosophy so they can also impart the same knowledge to the players. Every morning each group undertakes a football class where the players are taken through the theoretical aspect of the game before they go for the practical training on the field. What makes Right To Dream unique is that we do the same things our counterparts in FC Nordsjaelland of Denmark do. That was how come I went to FC Nordsjaelland in 2019 to understudy the coaches there and also have a fair idea of the entire set-up so I could return home and implement whatever I learnt in RTD Ghana. So any player who excels here is sent to FC Nordsjaelland for a further development of his career.

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