A look at Ashenafi Bekele’s short and turbulent tenure as manager of the Walias

On Tuesday, the Ethiopian Football Federation announced their decision to part ways with national team manager Ashenafi Bekele. The manager leaves his post after less than a year on the job. But, the announcement of his dismissal comes as no surprise after such an underwhelming stint. If anything it is completely plausible that there are parties who would argue the decision should have been made earlier.

Under his guidance the national team not only endured uninspiring performances and poor results but also succumbed to the lowest FIFA ranking in its history, 154th. While the manager is always the first to take the heat after a run of poor results, the fact that he is the 4th manager appointed in as many years points to an even deeper problem.

Ashenafi took the national team job after interim manager Gebremedhin Haile. The experienced manager spent a successful time at Adama Ketema before that. He not only guided the club to promotion but also kept them in the top division with back-to-back third place finishes. This type of consistency is somewhat of a rarity in the Ethiopian Premier League and as such explains why he was entrusted with the national team role. Regardless, there were still doubts about his appointment. Perhaps people were expecting a manager from the high profile clubs or another foreigner who would come in with new ideas. Be that as it may given the calm demeanor of the manager and his aforementioned accomplishments the decision seemed understandable.

However, Ashenafi was to find out that managing the national team was an even bigger and demanding task than he previously anticipated. His ability was in doubt starting from his first press conference in which he asked if any of the journalists have suggestions as to how the team should be set up, in a puzzling and unprecedented manner. The man who confidently promised to deliver qualification to AFCON witnessed his team picked to shreds by the likes of Ghana. His side also failed to make it to the CHAN competition after losing out to Sudan and Rwanda.

Lack of results on the field led to frictions. For instance after losing 5-0 to Ghana, rather than accepting responsibility for the side’s poor performance, the manager pointed his finger at goalkeeper Abel Mamo , who made a couple of howlers in the game. The man between the posts didn’t hold back as he also criticized his own manager for the comments he made.

The lack of a clear game plan was evident in several games. Ashenafi’s team started controlling the game against Ghana after the score line was done and dusted, instead of trying to do that from the get go. Even more bizarre was when The Waliyas were trailing 1-0 away to Sudan in their CHAN qualifier and they responded by sitting deep in their half instead of pushing forward in search of a goal.

Following the losses it was widely reported that Ashenafi even submitted a letter of resignation to the Federation which was rejected. But as the problems surrounding the national team piled the Federation was left with little choice but to part ways with the manager who only won 2 games during his stay.
Ashenafi will now take over the managerial duties at struggling Premier League side Ethio Electric with his reputation almost unscathed. However, that doesn’t apply to the national team who has another AFCON qualifier ahead of it. Since the ignominious presidential election of EFF is yet to be settled there is no clear plan or knowledge as to who will be the next manager or as to when the appointment will take place. Ethiopia won’t have a qualifying game until September 2018, but it must be noted that this should not be seen as a lengthy period to put off decisions.

Several fans are saying Sewnet Bishaw is the right man to solve the problems of the Ethiopian national team. Those comments aren’t without merit. The veteran manager will hold a big place in the country’s football history after he guided The Waliyas to AFCON following a 31 year absence. His side also narrowly missed out on a World Cup qualification. Whichever side you look at it this is a remarkable achievement. There was optimism in the air regarding the county’s football, something we haven’t seen in a long while.

As much as he deserves credit for all he has done, the mere assumption that Swenet’s return will fix all of the problems is wayward. The fact of the matter is isolated achievements won’t amount to anything other than fond memories unless we build on them. That the national team is going through such an awful period only 5 years after taking part in Africa’s prime competition suggests the presence of an even bigger and wider issue.

We can point to tactical frailties and individual mistakes as to why Ashenafi’s stay was unsuccessful, but as long as there is poor administration overlooking important matters the problems won’t be fixed quickly. As long as there is no clear plan on how to appoint managers, how much time to give them and how to recruit players the merry-go-round of hiring and firing managers will continue without bearing fruit. As long as the Federation and all of the involved parties work on developing young talents and cultivating a new generation of gifted, disciplined and educated players then all of the works to proceed will be in vein. And as long as there is no work that can bring in a sustainable and long term solution to the shortcomings of our national team the problems will only get worse.

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