Ambrose Jusu

The Leone Stars beat Liberia yesterday in a friendly match in Antalya, Turkey. Amadu Bakayoko, the big and powerful striker from Bolton Wanderers in England, scored his debut goal with a header. The game was the second friendly match played in preparation for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that commence in June. Would the Leone Stars build on this win to make a fourth appearance at the Nations Cup tournament?

Coach John Keister has recruited new talent from the European leagues and the domestic league in Sierra Leone. This is a process designed to inject vigor and spunk into an aging national team. The new talent includes Amadu Bakayoko ( Bolton Wanders, England), Kamil Conteh (Watford FC, England), Kallum Ceesay ( Tottenham Hotspurs, England), Jonathan Morsay (Panetoikos FC, Greece), Alex Bangura (SC Cambuur, Holland), and Ali Conteh (East End Lions, Sierra Leone).

Although the team that competed in Cameroon earlier this year showed promise, it was sometimes lethargic and incapable of matching the physicality of its opponents. This was especially palpable in the games against Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea. Kei Kamara (37), Umaru Bangura (34), John Kamara (33), and others were a step behind their opponents. In America, aging sportsmen are said to be approaching what is referred to as Father Time. This means that it is time to say goodbye to the game. Along the same line, a prominent Ghanaian football administrator once observed that when a footballer attains the age of 31, he ceases to be a footballer and becomes a politician in the team. This, according to him, has the capacity to fragment the team.

Thus, it was not lost on football stakeholders in Freetown that the Leone Stars needed younger and faster legs. In fact, football administrators the world over are attracted to younger players that they would mold and keep productive for many years. In this respect, Bakayoko (26), would be a good replacement for Kei Kamara. He is younger, bigger and stronger. In the same vein, teenagers, Kamil Conteh and Kallum Ceesay would replace Umaru Bangura and John Kamara.

It follows that a fundamental challenge for coach Keister lies in how fast he can mold the disparate parts of his team into a cohesive system that is capable of being successful. If anything, the coach understands that winning in Africa’s rugged football environment requires team cohesion, grit, scrappiness and opportunism.

The friendlies against Togo and Liberia presented the opportunity to watch the new players and to see how they could blend with the old. While there were impressive moments, in general, the team lacked cohesion and was too prone to losing possession of the ball. In particular, in the match against Togo on Friday, in addition to the lack of creativity in midfield, AFCON hero, Mohamed Kamara showed a lot of rust in goal. He failed to make two saves that resulted in goals in a 3-0 rout. The third goal came because of a defensive blunder by debutant Winston Ceesay.

In the game against Liberia, Jonathan Morsay appeared to be lost in the offense. He failed to reproduce his club form probably due to the difficulties that Europe-born players, in general, experience in adapting to African football. With June just around the corner, time may not be on the side of coach Keister. Nonetheless, with the hiring of a technical assistant, it is hoped that better days lie ahead of the Leone Stars. Ajet Shehu, the new assistant, brings to the Leone Stars a vast experience in English premiership football.

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