Olympic Triumph Cuts Barreto As a Man Worth a Chance
It was quite an occasion in Kumasi last Sunday. The sight of national Olympic captain Yussif Chibsah doing a lap of honour, Ghanaian players milking the applause whiles national team coach Mariano Barreto made his way straight into the dressing room in typical fashion after a hugely significant day for Ghana.
The Portuguese later told the media that: "I a very happy, my family is happy, Ghanaians are happy and the Portuguese people are happy too."
And why shouldn't he be? From the very day his name came up as the man to lead Ghana football, questions were asked about his credentials and his suitability to act in a capacity he had not held before in twenty years of coaching.
It's no shame to admit even now that Barreto is flying high that in one such article, I asked if Ghana was prepare to be used as a guinea pig for the Portuguese. The answer from Ghanaian officials was an emphatic yes. And after barely three months, it seems the decision was not particularly bad.
There is quite a long way to go before Barreto would attain hero status in Ghana. But after helping Ghana fetch the ticket to the Olympics, he has made an emphatic point that he can have a decent crack at making Ghana formidable.
The game against the Zambians was in itself scrappy sometimes. There were too many nervous moments for the Ghanaians but in truth, the Black Meteors were always in charge of affairs.
In the end, two goals by the King Faisal pair of Abubakari Yahuza and Kwadwo Poku in each half gave Ghana the three points it needed to overhaul Zambia at the top of group D and take one of the four places available to Africa in the men's division of the football competition.
Barreto though was spot on with his assessment of the game afterwards. "This is the end of the first half of the game, now the second half is the Olympics. We didn't play as well as other days because the Zambians created difficulties for us.
In the second half we became so nervous because we had two, three chances to wrap up the game but we weren't lucky. After that the players began to think with their hearts and not their heads and made so many mistakes.
"The players became calm after the changes and the second goal. This is like a cup final and as you know, cup finals are not always good and beautiful. No one can say anything about the way we won and I think that these players can go on to make Ghana great again", he said.
Afterwards, Barreto seized the moment to get back at all those who questioned his competence when he was in negotiations with the GFA for the Ghana job.
Asked if the criticisms made qualification a bit more special, he said: "No, not special. Everybody knows that there are some guys working in Ghana who want their personal interest and were prepared to damn me to get that. This is not my problem; this is the problem for Ghanaians. I think that next time, another foreign coach is coming, don't do what you did to me to them."
How nice it would be that we don't keep going back to the past. But it seems that with Barreto that is not just possible. In one interview I personally did for TV 3, he ripped into the critics one after the other.
Last Sunday's victory was hugely significant for Ghana and Barreto. It was significant too for second goal scorer Kwadwo Poku who only played after issuing an apology for deserting the team in the run up to the qualifier against South Africa.
That game was what many think turned Ghana's dream into reality. Beating the South Africans in their own backyard was a masterstroke.
And then after the victory over Zambia, Barreto might have sensed there was no better moment to get back at everyone who dared raise questions about his credentials.
His suggestions that the questioning and inquisition were motivated by self-interest and cynicism though begs the point. There were grounds to raise those questions, period.
Now as he himself says, the second half is yet to come.
That is the Olympics in August and another good showing there would surely add to his growing stock.
Thankfully, Ghana as a nation has good standards to measure him against. The Black Meteors picked up Africa's first football medal in 1992 when they won bronze in Barcelona and were quarter finalists.
Whiles few would expect the current team to go to Athens and return with the gold medal, there would be many who watch closely for signs of progress and ask questions, some of which would give help the Portuguese, others which would irritate him.
To this day, he has taken his job in his stride. When he appeared in the Talk Sports studios of TV3, he carried a file that contained details about every player, how many minutes they play for club, who reported when to camp and of course bits and pieces of press cuttings that apparently keeps him in touch with his critics.
All well and good but for a man gradually warming his way into the hearts of Ghanaians, the best way to shame those of us who asked questions would be to deliver the one thing Ghana has struggled to get: world cup qualification.
That exercise begins someway in Metz, France tomorrow. Ghana play French division one side FC Metz in a game that would allow Barreto a good look at his European based players many of whom would form the back bone of the team that would be seeking to earn world cup qualification.
The result won't matter much to Barreto. Ghanaians, he says think by the day and hour but he wants to change that at least with regards to football. All what that means is that making Ghana football think again would take some time.
After the Olympic triumph and the manner it was achieved however, Ghana would surely go into the world cup qualifiers in June confident that it has a competent physician to sort out its ailments.