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EDITORIAL: Indiscipline Liberia Deserve No Place in Afcon Or World Cup

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WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE of a place in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, Liberia’s Lone Star needed just a draw on its home soil against its next-door neighbors Ghana, to book its first World Cup berth. 

ON THE NIGHT before the July 1, 2001 game, however, most of the players partied the night away, boozing and dancing cha-cha slide- at what used to be Bacardi’s Disco and Night Club, until the wee-wee hours of the morning.

ACCORDING TO one former player, when the game finally came to life, fatigue had set in from the night before. Goals from Charles Amoah in the 32nd minute and Isaac Boakye in the 58th was enough to see the Black Stars through. Even a Kelvin Sebwe’s 44th-minute goal did little to will the fatigue-driven Lone Star to what would have been a historic victory for a country on the rebound from a brutal civil war.

RECENTLY, THE LIBERIA Football Association and Ministry of Youth & Sports announced the appointment of Englishman Peter Butler as head coach of the national team to a one-year deal with a mandate to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and 2022 World Cup.

MR. BUTLER did what he could in the short time after his appointment to help Liberia qualify for the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, thanks to a famous victory over next-door Sierra Leone and a dramatic late penalty save from goalie Ashley Williams.

FOR BUTLER, it wasn’t so much for the money as he told BBC Sports Danesius Marteh but the challenge. “It was an opportunity, which really I didn’t want to turn down. So, it is not a money move. I can assure you. So, it is not about financial gain. It is about great challenge of contributing to the rise of Liberian football. Not just the senior national team but also the respective development levels like under-20 and under-17, where needed, I am quite happy to multitask.”

COACH BUTLER SAID it is very important to work with Liberian coaches which is why he did not bring in a backroom staff from outside, acknowledging that there is a huge amount of talent in Liberia. “From my experiences of working in English, Asian and African football and trying to enhance the level of the league here and from a development perspective, the ultimate goal is to improve [Liberia’s] Fifa ranking and qualify for Afcon.”

UNFORTUNATELY for Coach Butler’s agenda, his quest for the Afcon qualification fell short last Sunday when the Lone Star fell 5-4 on penalties to Chad in Ndjamena. A few days earlier, Liberia had defeated Chad by the same margin in Monrovia, raising the expectations that only a draw in Ndjamena would see them through. 

THE BOYS FOUGHT gallantly and despite falling a man short to red card managed to hang on until the hosts’ lone goal forced the game into extra time, then penalty shootout which in most cases become anyone’s game.

IN THE DAYS leading to the two-leg qualifying matches, a handful of so-called veteran players announced their exit from the squad.

STRIKER WILLIAM JEBOR quit on the team after the first leg against Chad in Monrovia. Jebor who has scored 12 goals in 17 matches reportedly told the sports’ governing body that he has no interest in playing for Liberia anymore citing a lack of respect.

JEBOR WAS APPARENTLY unhappy that he started the game from the bench as Coach Peter Butler maintained his frontline that had defeated Sierra Leone early September of 2019. The attacker was introduced in the second half for Terence Tisdell.

DAYS LATER, Mamelodi Sundowns striker Anthony Laffor, who had previously been sidelined since March after undergoing knee surgery, also announced that he too is stepping away from the team.

THE FACT OF THE MATTER is that a country that embraces indiscipline and lawlessness by so-called elitist athletes with an ax grind simply has no place in a World Cup or Cup of Nations.

A CHORUS of Liberians has taken to social media calling for Coach Butler’s dismissal and questioning his selection tactics in the handful of games he has managed since taking over as head coach of the national team.

LAFFOR’S OWN club, Mamelodi Sundowns, recently brought on Uruguayan striker Mauricio Affonso, forcing Laffor to struggle for first-team football.

WHEN MURMURS ABOUT Sundowns sending him on a loan erupted recently, Laffor said: “You don’t loan me. Why should I leave Sundowns to go on loan? I don’t pay attention to loans. I work hard for my place at Sundowns. I don’t ask coaches to play me because of favour. Before I play I have to work. If I don’t work, then I’ll sit on the bench”.

HERELIES THE PROBLEM with Liberia. Instead of rallying around the coaches and team, supporters only show up when there is a good result and vanish into thin air of criticisms when the team falters.

IF THE LIKES of Laffor can struggle for first-team football on the team he plies his trade for in South Africa, why should he have issues about a national team coach not calling him up for crucial matches over similar concerns.

THE SAME FOR JEBOR or any other player feeling that Coach Butler has left them off the team. 

IT IS SUCH glaring sense of self-entitlement and contentment that cost Liberia a place in the 2002 World Cup and the struggle that has followed since. 

THE URGE TO CONTINUE fielding aeing and unproductive players over new and emerging talents is a key reason why Liberia continues to struggle.

THE FACT OF THE MATTER is that a country that embraces indiscipline and lawlessness by so-called elitist athletes with an ax grind simply has no place in a World Cup or Cup of Nations.  

COACH BUTLER signed a one-year contract and Liberia must ensure that he sees it through, hopefully with a qualification to the next world cup.

ANY PLAYER WHO feels they do not have the stomach to sit on the bench, does not deserve to wear the shirt of Liberia on the global stage. 

THE COACH IS THE COACH, his decisions, good or bad is not immune from criticisms, but they must be respected by those selected to play.

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