Black Stars count on Barreto for double delight
Mariano Barreto has a difficult juggling act over the next two months. Ghana's new coach takes charge of both the senior national team and the U-23 side for important assignments. FIFA.com found out how he intends to handle 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers as well as an Olympic Football Tournament.
Portuguese-born Barreto, who worked in Germany and Russia before taking up his appointment with the Ghana Football Association, is acting as coach of both sides at a vital juncture for the West African country's football. Double trouble? This weekend, Barreto leads the national side, the Black Stars, in their quest to qualify for Germany 2006 with the first of three Africa group two qualifying matches in the next six weeks.
Ghana begin the group phase of their campaign away at northern neighbours Burkina Faso with a match in Ouagadougou on 5 June and then take on South Africa in Kumasi on 20 June in what could potentially turn out to be the key game of the group.
On 3 July, Ghana have another difficult away trip, this time to Kampala to face a Uganda side who proved difficult for the Black Stars to beat in the recent African Cup of Nations' qualifiers.
Immediately after the completion of the trio of FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Barreto then takes over the preparations of the Olympic team who are one of the four African representatives at the Athens Games in August.
There is no doubt in his own mind that Barreto is taking on two huge assignments but the 48-year-old believes he has the energy to sustain both tasks.
"I have been both a university lecturer (he is a specialist in physical training) and a football coach in my career so I know about taking on two jobs at the same time," he says confidently. "I believe I have the necessary discipline and when I studied the calendar of matches, I realised it was possible to do both jobs - although I acknowledge it won't be easy." Meteors head for Athens Barreto arrived in Ghana at the beginning of the year after working as the assistant coach at Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia and steered the Black Meteors, as Ghana's U-23 team are known, through the last vital qualifying matches for the Olympic Games Football Tournament.
"To go to the Olympic Games is the ambition of every sportsperson, so this is something I do not want to miss out on," says the coach.
But Barreto, who has also been assistant coach at Alverca in Portugal and a physical trainer at Borussia Dortmund in Germany, adds he is aware that Ghanaian football is even more desperate to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals.
Ghana have won a record-equaling four African Cup of Nations' titles but, surprisingly, never been to the FIFA World Cup finals. The quest to end this anomaly remains the single biggest ambition of Ghana football.
"This is the challenge I came to Ghana for and we all have to work hard to achieve. I know my players have confidence and belief in their own capacity and abilities," Barreto told FIFA.com. "I'm used to a big challenge, I have a need for a top level challenge so that is why I left Lokomotiv Moscow to take the head coach of Ghana job."
But the experience coach admits it has not been easy.
"I was sad to leave Russia but I saw that Ghana has great quality. The problem for the country is the relationships between the clubs and the federation and between the players and their clubs," he says frankly.
"I have had to learn about the players and teach tactics and impose discipline. The players have accepted what I have been trying to do and we have set about trying to create a team spirit in the squad, just by really talking with the players.
"Ghanaians are very skilful and they all want to play at the top level. They have to feel that the training and preparation we do with them is helping them move towards that goal."