Coach Otto Addo is rebuilding the national team around young talents such as Ernest Nuamah of French Ligue I stride, Olympique Lyon
Coach Otto Addo is rebuilding the national team around young talents such as Ernest Nuamah of French Ligue I stride, Olympique Lyon
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Otto Addo's youthful revolution: Black Stars' squad overhaul signals new era

BLACK Stars Coach Otto Addo has caused a stir with his daring decision to rejuvenate his squad, opting to sideline veteran skipper André Morgan Rami Ayew and introduce a fresh crop of young, dynamic talent.

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While the inclusion of youthful prospects, such as Mohammed Kudus and Antoine Semenyo, was not entirely unexpected given the team's recent transitional phase, the omission of Ayew, who enjoyed a stellar season with six goals in 20 games for Le Havre in the French Ligue 1, has sparked debate about the coach's surprising and strategic shift.

Admittedly, the coach's decision to rely on youth in his latest 27-man squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR) would not have caused much of a ripple, as the team has been in transition over the past two years with new names such as West Ham United's Mohammed Kudus, Antoine Semenyo, and Inaki Williams coming to the fore.

However, his decision to leave out Ayew, who enjoyed a resurgence in club football in the just-ended season after scoring six goals in 20 games across all competitions with an assist for Le Havre in the French Ligue 1, set tongues wagging and divided opinion. Addressing this contentious choice, Addo emphasised that 34-year-old Ayew's exclusion did not mark the end of his

international career, acknowledging the veteran's significant contributions to the national team in a career spanning 17 years and a record 120 appearances for Ghana since his international debut in August 2007.

The decision marks a departure from the traditional reliance on experience to guide young players, reflecting the coach's vision for the team's future as he embarks on a second stint as national coach under a 34-month contract. 

But what drives Addo's preference for younger players, and what potential do these emerging talents hold for the national team? 

Potential of young players

The current Black Stars squad boasts an average age of 24.35 years, notably younger than the lineup fielded by former Coach Chris Hughton at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

Highlighting this shift, Crystal Palace's Jordan Ayew, at 32, and Arsenal's Thomas Partey, at 30, stand as the team's elder statesmen, expected to provide guidance amidst a sea of youthful exuberance.

Indeed, this current squad would have been the youngest at that tournament, behind the Tanzanians who had the youngest team with an average age of 24.64 years.

The influx of youth into the squad brings a blend of energy, versatility and raw talent, epitomised by players such as Kudus, Semenyo and Abdul Fatawu Issahaku. Kudus, in particular, has garnered attention with his playmaking abilities, while Issahaku and Semenyo have showcased their prowess in attack, bringing a level of technical skill and agility that is crucial for modern football.

Kudus, at 23, has already made a name for himself at   international level and this past season at West Ham United with his playmaking abilities and eye for goal, scoring 14 goals in all competitions. Deployed as a forward at the club level, he was interestingly named in midfield by Otto Addo, who will be relying on him for creativity in a team that has often struggled to create chances.

Just like Kudus, Addo's youthful brigade has several players, especially in attack, who are pacey and comfortable playing across the forward line. Leicester's Issahaku, 20, was a menace for defences in the Championship last season with his trickery, creating 13 assists and scoring six goals as his side qualified for the English Premier League.

Similarly, Antoine Semenyo, 24, found his scoring boots for Bournemouth despite a disappointing AFCON, scoring eight goals and grabbing two assists in an impressive campaign.

Osman Bukari, 25, also continued to showcase remarkable pace and finishing prowess, making him a constant threat on the wings for RS Belgrade and earning a transfer to FC Austin in Major League Soccer.

Moreover, the inclusion of another 20-year-old, Ibrahim Osman, signifies a forward-thinking approach. Osman’s performances at FC Nordsjaelland highlight his potential as a member of the Black Stars' future striking force.

The youthful theme runs through the entire team, with AJ Auxerre's Elisha Owusu being the second-oldest player in midfield at age 26. In defence, Fenerbahce's Alexander Djiku, 29, will be acting as the elder statesman in the absence of the injured Daniel Amartey.

The defence has perhaps some of the most experienced players in the team, with the likes of Mohammed Salisu, Gideon Mensah, Alidu Seidu, and goalie Lawrence Ati-Zigi having World Cup and AFCON games behind them.

Coach Addo's vision

Coach Addo's focus on younger players aligns seamlessly with his long-term vision for the Black Stars—to play exciting football and hopefully qualify for the World Cup. His strategy revolves around building a cohesive unit that can develop chemistry and understanding over time, ensuring sustained success on the international stage.

By integrating younger players, Addo aims to establish a core group that can grow together, adapt to his tactical philosophies, and ultimately bring stability and consistency to the team.

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His approach is not just about immediate results; it's about laying a solid foundation for the future. Young players tend to be more adaptable and open to new ideas, which is crucial for implementing modern tactical systems.

Additionally, their longer career spans mean that the team can rely on a stable core for upcoming international competitions, reducing the need for constant overhauls.

Coach Otto Addo's decision to revamp the Black Stars with a focus on youth is a bold and calculated move that could redefine the future of Ghanaian football.

The qualities these young players bring—energy, adaptability and technical prowess—are in perfect alignment with Addo's long-term vision of creating a cohesive, forward-thinking team. As these players continue to develop and integrate into the squad, the Black Stars are poised to not only reclaim their dominance in African football but also make a significant impact on the global stage.

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