Sports Features of Monday, 8 April 2013
Source: Christopher Opoku
For some moments, after I finished running commentary on the CAF Champions League clash between Asante Kotoko and JSM Bejaia on GTV in Kumasi, I took some time off to listen to some of the comments coming from many of the supporters as I was leaving the Baba Yara Sports Stadium.
Through all the comments that were passed, it was easy to sense a unanimous anger that the Porcupine Warriors had blown a chance to take on last year’s finalists Esperance in a glamour tie that will have re-energised Kumasi’s domestic economy, even if it was for one day.
Others expressed sorrow that Kotoko was knocked out by Bejaia, which has apparently never won a league title in Algeria and qualified for this year’s CAF Champions League by dint of finishing second in the Algerian league last year.
Some called for the head of head coach Mas-Ud Dramani, whilst others called for the heads of management members headed by Executive Chairman Dr Kofi Kodua Sarpong.
This piece will attempt to identify some of the reasons why Asante Kotoko was eventually eliminated yesterday, but there are indeed a myriad reasons, both long term and recent, which I will delve into presently.
I will however do so from more recent events leading up to the match.
Dramani’s indecision over a central defensive pair
In recent time, Dramani has used different central defensive pairings for Asante Kotoko games. Any coach worth his salt will tell you that to be successful you have to build from the back and indeed, a settled defensive partnership at the back should do the trick.
After a few games, many would have thought that Rashid Sumaila and Kwabena Adusei had formed that barrier at the back, but following a 1-2 loss to King Faisal in Kumasi, the cracks began to emerge.
I remember asking Dramani after Asante Kotoko’s 2-0 win over Berekum Chelsea as to why he was finding difficulty in selecting his best defensive pair.
He responded by saying that injuries and loss of form can sometimes contribute to a regular changing of the rear guard.
I am however of the opinion that defensive partnerships should be allowed to flourish and so Adusei should have partnered Sumaila at the back on Sunday.
Instead, Kofi Agyare, who is not a bad player, was selected ahead of Adusei and a moment of lack of co-ordination between the two players allowed Mohammed Derrag to nip in and score the killer goal.
Moral of the story: whatever happens, unless it is a long run of bad form, do not change a settled backline.
The team selection also betrayed an increasing concern that Dramani still does not know his best team.
Asante Kotoko looked bereft of ideas and creativity, especially in the middle. It is astonishing when a creative force like Michael Helegbe was available and on the bench, but I will come to that in a bit.
Even though Prince Baffoe put in a goal scoring performance in midweek against Agbozume Weavers in the MTN FA Cup, his performance against JSM begged the question as to whether he should have started and indeed when he did, whether he should have started on the right.
Beginning with Richard Mpong on the left also did not bring out the best in the Medeama SC winger and so that left Asante Kotoko with a static central midfield consisting of Issa Yakubu and Michael Akuffu.
Interestingly, the aforementioned players could have been deployed differently, with Prince Baffoe playing alongside Akuffu in central midfield, with Yakubu marauding down the right, with Mpong coming into the fray in the second half.
I am reliably informed that Helegbe has been left out of recent games because of disciplinary problems. In as much as I agree that sanctions need to be imposed on erring players, you simply do not cut your nose to spite your face.
He could have been internally punished and still allowed to play because the game on Sunday was simply crying out for his creative nous.
Man-management was sorely lacking here and that ultimately cost Asante Kotoko.
Squabbles between Dramani and management team
I am reliably informed that relations between Dramani and some management members had been quite frigid and it eventually spilled out into outright hostility between the two parties.
Indeed there were accusations that Dramani was not fielding certain players who had been left out in the cold.
It has also been said that Dramani did not entertain the management’s attempts to get him a substantive assistant coach and so Henry Wellington, who is the club’s reserve coach, has been acting in that capacity.
Eventually, a truce was called and there is an uneasy calm, but clearly the atmosphere has become poisonous and moving forward, there has to be a collective push in the same direction.
As of now, the knives will be out for Dramani, and some of the knives will be pointing at him from the direction of the management.
With all this, I do not think Dramani should be fired though. Yes, he has made mistakes and he should be told about them, but sacking him now will only be a knee jerk reaction that will only drag Asante Kotoko many backward steps.
He should be allowed to grow into the job. Speaking of knee jerk reactions brings me to another major reason why Kotoko has stagnated yet again.
No existence of long term planning
To be perfectly blunt, the Asante Kotoko hierarchy should be held responsible for not having a medium-to-long term plan after winning the Premier League last season.
True, Maxwell Konadu was to leave to take up the assistant coaching job with the Black Stars but the team had quality personnel.
With the myriad of sponsorship deals being brought into the club at the time, it was mind boggling that money could not be set aside to at least improve the salaries of certain key players so that they could be kept for the CAF Champions League campaign this term.
Players like Yaw Frimpong and Daniel Nii Adjei should have been kept, together with the likes of Nathaniel Asamoah and Ben Acheampong, but instead all four players were sold for comparative pittances.
Perhaps the only transfer that was unavoidable was Baba Abdul Rahman’s move to Greuther Furth, but as a player on loan from Dreams FC, there was very little Asante Kotoko could do, but there was a ready-made replacement in Gideon Baah.
Instead Joseph Ochaya and Ben Adama were brought in at extra cost, when Baah would have had Eric Donkor as his back up.
Again, management failed to deal properly with the Yahaya Mohammed situation and he was allowed to go out on loan.
Had he stayed in Kumasi, he would have been an immovable force infront of the back four, not to mention the damage he would have done from his terrific shots.
Promising players like Michael Mensah and Augustine Okrah, who would have built on the experience they gained last season, were allowed to leave on loan.
Add all this up, and it is a recipe for disaster.
Again, a difference of $4000 was the reason why Asante Kotoko passed up the opportunity of resigning Eric Bekoe, who could probably have injected some sharpness upfront and the 16 new players recruited into the team simply has not had a 50% success rate.
At any rate, it is difficult to recruit that number of players and expect the team to gel almost immediately.
The same thing happened when Asante Kotoko won the Premier League in 2008. The team was allowed to break up and Kotoko faltered in Africa.
So there was a distinct lack of medium-to-long term planning in terms of playing personnel and that ultimately resulted in Kotoko’s tame exit against Bejaia on Sunday.
Lack of a credible youth policy
I have written about this before and I will hit on it again because it is something Asante Kotoko is failing to do, which is why the club’s management will trot out the excuse that they need to sell players to balance the books.
There is no efficient scouting system in place, which is a major surprise, given the abundance of talent in the Ashanti Region alone from lower tier clubs and secondary schools.
It is even more baffling when the sad truth is that Asante Kotoko cannot compete on the local transfer market with the likes of Berekum Chelsea and Medeama SC for players, and yet there seems to be no plans of recruiting very young players and grooming them for the future.
That is an exercise that should save the club millions in transfer fees and signing on fees, but the name of the game these days is ‘buy and sell’.
Clearly it is a mode of operation that is not working and it is time for the club to go back to basics. True, the club’s supporters will be impatient, but the same supporters will turn on the management if the current state of affairs continue, given their fierce loyalty to the club in terms of regular attendances at matches.
These are some of my observations and suggestions and moving forward, there should be no knee jerk reactions for now, as painful as the defeat was, but it is certainly time to get back on the drawing board to put up a plan that will leave Asante Kotoko self-sustaining in years to come, and in doing so, close the gaps on the Al Ahlys, Esperances and TP Mazembes of this world.