He has achieved a lot in his career as a coach both for club and country earning him the title “Sir” but Cecil Jones Attuquayefio faces a tough time in plotting Ghana’s qualification to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
With Ghana’s Olympic team about to commence preparations for the qualifiers, the 62-year-old technical brain tells ghanafa.org how the Black Meteors would be approaching the campaign, his style of play and explains why it has taken him so long to win a silverware with premiership side, Liberty Professionals.
Ghanafa.org: It’s been two months now since you edged out Nigeria to qualify for the All Africa Games as Ghana coach. How are you feeling?
Jones:Well, after qualifying against the Nigerians, we had more job to do than to jubilate over because we have the All African Games in our mind at the same time we have a round-robin in the Olympic qualifier which will start on June 2nd and we have to get ready for these competitions.
Ghanafa.org: Do you think you were excessively criticized prior to the game that saw the Black Meteors qualify for the All African Games? The local media, for example, made much of the lack of goals by your team.
Jones: The fact is that, the general impression of the Ghanaian public is that they want to judge when there is no need for it. For me, having accepted the job of coaching, I think such criticisms actually motivate me to carry on because I believe that when you are criticized and it makes sense, I do not see why I should not take it. However, if you criticize and it is not sensible, I will not even take it. So it balances our principal and that helps a lot to get the job going.
Ghanafa.org: But what accounted for the lack of goals?
Jones: It’s more technical. We play a game on the field that is not too good. When you play a match on not too good a field, it is the home team that suffers because they are been urged by their supporters to score goals. They are under pressure to score goals, the ground too would not permit smooth running. Now let me tell you honestly, I think this is why we brought in Sam Yeboah (a Black Meteors attacker), he plays very well but when he gets to the front of the goal scoring area he had difficulty because the ball will not be under good control and by slowing down to control it, the opponent would be there to clear the ball, you understand. So if the ground is not good, it affects the whole team and that creates a lack of goals. If you look at all the games that have been played in Sunyani, the highest goal that anybody has scored, you can talk about only two goals. So what accounted for that, one would tell you that what accounted for it is the nature of the field that we are using.
Ghanafa.org: Nonetheless, qualifying the Olympic team again for Beijing in a group which involves Nigeria again would be sweet. How would you sit through this qualifying campaign?
Jones: The fact is that Ghana against Nigeria is always a very difficult task. And it would be naïve for any one to underestimate the strength of either the Nigerians or the Ghanaians. In view of that, every body has to train very well and try very much to beat the Nigerians. If we are able to beat the Nigerians, that means we have not even won the battle, you see the point. It is only the battle but the war has not been won since you are going to play other games and if anybody qualifies for the round-robin then you have to respect all these teams, so we are getting ready knowing very well that Nigerian is a good team. We believe that the rest are also good, so if we want to say it is a league system, we need to beat everybody to able to be on top.
Ghanafa.org: Starting from 1992, Ghana has enjoyed some success at the Olympic Games, being the first African nation to win a medal in football – what plans do you have for the team?
Jones: Well, we want to build upon what the past Meteors teams did. First, we have to qualify; second we have to enter into the competition and to do well. I think I would also say that it is naïve once again for us to say we are going to win. But we believe that when we are able to get there we will be able to leave a good performance for everybody to see.
Ghanafa.org: What do you think are the major factors in Ghana qualifying for Beijing 2008?
Jones: Well the major factors in the first place would be motivation, training and then psychological tune up. We need to let players understand that they are mounting the platform for themselves and that is a big platform for any Ghanaian player whether you are playing your football in Europe or in Ghana and the other motivation is that you have a chance to play against some of the best in the world, so I think these are some the areas that would inspire us to be there.
Ghanafa.org:People have said that Ghana’s foreign-based players add more balance to the team, what is the situation for your team?
Jones: Yes, all over the world you cannot build a good national team without foreign players because the foreign player is more exposed, they have the opportunity to rock shoulders with big players and therefore I think if they balance with the local squad it is also part of the motivation for the local squad. I am sure that if we have a player like Asamoah Gyan who is a Black Stars material, if he will come to Ghana to play for the Meteors where we have a lot of local players, they would be inspired by the presence of this guy and they would play their heart out and therefore there is a need for us to balance the foreign and the local players. At the moment, I am getting about seven (7) of the foreign players and I have about eighteen (18) of the local materials and we are likely to be in camp as soon as possible and then we will start preparing for the match.
Ghanafa.org: How do you rate the performances of the locally-based players, who have remained the core of your team?
Jones: So far, they have shown a very good sign. I will say that they are quite promising and I think the more of these competitions like going to play for the All African Games, the Olympics qualifier and probably reaching the Olympics, I am sure we are going to have a good material that would be able to join the Black Stars in future.
Ghanafa.org: Sadat Bukari is a name that has hit the headlines after his brace got the Meteors into the last eight. As a coach, what are you doing to help him achieve more consistency?
Jones: Well the fact is that, here is a boy that really plays every well for everybody to admire him and I am very happy that he is enjoying a good performance this time around. Now, this season has just ended and we are going to be in camp as quickly as possible and I believe that this would let us continue to observe him and to train him and then to promote his interest.
Ghanafa.org: How difficult will it be for you in the months of June and July when you play in the Olympic qualifier and the All African Games competition?
Jones: I think the All African Games would be used as a training ground to prepare for the round-robin of the Olympic qualifiers and I think it is a good preparation for us. I think all the games would be very difficult but then I can say that we have at least one training section which is going to improve our performance and give us quite an exposure.
Ghanafa.org: Certainly, after the game against Nigeria in the Olympic qualifier, you would head straight to Algiers for the All African Games. How are you preparing the minds of the players for the difficult times?
Jones: I think we were all in Abuja and we were in Ghana as well. At Abuja, we saw the strength of the Nigerians. We need to prepare the minds of the players that we cannot underestimate anybody, we do not expect the Nigerians to underestimate us so the players should be reminded of these factors which always affects a player’s performance so the psychological preparation is every paramount and our training period would cover all these areas of tactics, technique, speed work and then psychological preparation.
Ghanafa.org: With the busy schedule, are you thinking about having a large squad to fall on for the two programmes that you are involved in?
Jones: Yes, at the moment I think I have about thirty-five players. But seven foreign and eighteen local players as I have mentioned already and I think that even there are more. But we cannot go to camp with a wide range of players. We need a number that can be controllable and at the same time we can be able to concentrate on them so for now twenty five is enough for us and we believe that as we play the competitions if anyone will come out we will not hesitate to bring them in.
Ghanafa.org: How are you preparing for the first Olympic qualifier against Nigeria?
Jones: Well yes, this is the immediate priority we have and our immediate priority is to move to camp as quickly as possible. Initially we scheduled on the 10th of May as the start of our training period but you know we are trying to move to Togo where we would have a lot of concentration and we believe that the FA would give the green light so that we are able to move to camp.
Ghanafa.org: You enjoyed success with Hearts of Oak but seem to be struggling to win anything with Liberty Professionals, what are you lacking to achieve something?
Jones: When Alex Ferguson was offered the job of Manchester United he asked for time. He asked for ten years and within five years he was able to reap what he sowed so the same can be said with me and Liberty. I am sure one day some day, we will be in the position to win honours.
Ghanafa.org: How soon do you think your Liberty team can march your success at Hearts of Oak?
Jones: It could be very close. You know the only thing that we probably lack is that we play most of the time with our players joining the junior national teams because our philosophy is to catch them young and to train them so while the games start, the players would not be consistent with us because of their engagement with the junior national teams and that is an area that is affecting us. But we also have it in mind that the player needs an exposure and it is a pride for a player to belong to a national team so we want to train players and if the nation needs them we don’t mind giving the players to them. These are few factors that affect us and this year in particular we can talk about few players in the Under-20, few players in the Under-23 with the two coaches also going away and taking two minds or two heads away, much as I think the one we left did quite well, we believe that if the three of us had been together, maybe we could have done better than what we did this year and it is very important that we mention this area as one of the problems that we had.
Ghanafa.org: What style of play do you want to see your team’s exhibit?
Jones: I believe that football is all about excitement. People want to enjoy the game apart from winning. People want to enjoy the game so I believe in free flowing football regardless of system of play whether you play eight in the defence or eight attack or what ever it is. The team would have to play and flow, you understand, so this is my type of system I would like to adopt.
Ghanafa.org: How does Jones Attuquayefio react to defeats?
Jones: Well to err is human and therefore I cannot say that everything I do is right but is necessary for me as a coach to accept my fault. When I play a match and things don’t go well, I have to trace why things didn’t go well. I think I deserve to be blamed. I blame myself and I get inside my mind and try to make corrections and so as a human being, I will make mistakes but the mistakes shouldn’t be many. I think things that go right should be many than the mistakes and that is where we can forge ahead. I am a very strong character and that is what urges me on to coach. Defeat hurts me a lot and sometimes I do not want defeat but it is one thing you cannot avoid. It is likely to happen and therefore when it happens it means that there is something you did not do well so you go back and check it so if I find myself to be blameable, I hate that day that I will commit any blunder for my team to lose.
Ghanafa.org: A very demanding career, what do you do during your spare time?
Jones: We should always be learning and therefore my spare time is devoted to watching tapes of matches and making notes and probably chatting over a bottle of beer especially in the evening. I find it very difficult to sleep and so in the evening I need to sit down with friends and chat over a bottle of beer and that is what I do during my leisure time other wise, I don’t have a leisure time at all, always on the move.
Ghanafa.org: And how soon would you quit sitting on the bench and if you should quit, what would you get your hands on?
Jones: I think the best thing I know I can do well is coaching. And it would be difficult for me to stay off the bench. The fact is that I would even like to train juveniles so that I will keep going with football and I like seeing boys develop their talents and playing so well. So I think if I have to quit then I will look at the juveniles that is developing them.
As I am saying, we cannot leave football for ever. I think there are other avenues that I think that we can work. I will rather be in administration; I can be in coaching with the juveniles and anything that will also assist in promoting football, I will be happy to get into it.
Ghanafa.org: Has the scope of the game changed within the past years and what does the future hold for Ghana football in the next fives years?
Jones: The qualification for the World Cup 2006 has been an inspiring factor for Ghanaian players and people like Essien, Appiah, Mensah and everybody who were part of the National team (Black Stars) has really encouraged these young boys to play like them and probably have the opportunity one day to be at the World Cup. Now much is also going to be done where we believe we have a team capable of winning the African Cup of Nations that would be staged in Ghana. With all this you see that we are going to have chain of operations going together and developing together and improving at the same time so I see five years to come to be a promising year for Ghana football.