Sports News of Wednesday, 20 December 2017
The Kumasi-based club Asante Kotoko enters the CAF Confederation Cup at the preliminary round where they will Congo’s CARA Brazzaville.
“The objective is to win the Confederation Cup and I’m promising all fans of the club that we will bring the title home.”
“Just like we have brought this FA Cup to our life patron, we want to assure Otumfour that we are surely bringing the Confederation Cup the next time that we come here.”
Huge promise. These were the words of chairman of Kotoko Kwame Kyei when the team, as a ritual, presented the FA Cup trophy to life patron Otumfour Osei Tutu on November 15, 2017 at the Manhyia Palace. .
For some people Kwame Kyei’s promise is unrealistic and worthless. For others , like myself, it is an invitation to treat , which is accepted and binding on him henceforth.
But for a rich businessman to repeat a promise he made to gathered fans of the club during a thanksgiving service at the Sports Hotel in front of the king is not a promise to be treated as a joke.
In front of the powerful Ashanti king, it is believed that no one makes an empty promise as a sign of respect and Kwame Kyei, a royal from Agona Wiamoase, is very much aware of that.
Is it really a realistic target to win the Confederation Cup? Not the most realistic ambition but also never an impossibility. Some quick facts. Five teams have won the Confederation Cup in their first ever season of entering the competition. Hearts of Oak in 2004, Etoile Sportive du Sahel in 2006, CS Sfaxien in 2007, Stade Malien in 2009 and then the 2010 success story of Morocco’s FUS Rabat.
Not even Africa’s most coveted club Al-Ahly managed to win the competition at the first time of asking after dropping from the CAF Champions league in 2009. The Egyptians won the first leg home game 3-0 against Angolan side Santos but lost the reverse fixture by the same scoreline before losing the penalty shootouts.
5-time Champions league winners TP Mazembe tried and failed four times before finally lifting their Confederation Cup title in 2016. Kotoko, finalist in 2004 and winners of 2 Champions leagues can therefore not be written off entirely.
But the successes of Hearts of Oak, Stade Malien, Etoile , Sfaxien, FUS Rabat, Ahly, TP Mazembe etc were made possible with quality playing teams and solid strategies backed by strong and healthy financial footings.
The Hearts of Oak team that defeated the Porcupine Warriors in the 2004 intra-national final still had some key members of the 64 Batallion that had conquered Africa just two years before – Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, Lawrence Adjah Tetteh, Amankwa Mireku, Daniel Quaye mixed with new talents such as Bernard Don Bortey, Daniel Coleman, Prince Tagoe and led by the same coach as in 2000 – Jones Attoquayefieyo. And so what they achieved was not a sort of an underdog triumphing in a difficult competition.
When Stade Malien lifted the 2009 title a the expense of Algeria’s ES Setif, it was the first time in history that a Malian side had become African champions. It was also the first time Mali produced a winning side of a CAF-organized competition for both club and country football at the senior level. That team was extraordinary. From the group stage they en route to the final, they lost just 2 games and scored 13 goals in 10 games. No Malian side have since called themselves champions of Africa.
Will the current Kotoko team win the Confederation Cup next year? I don’t think so. With more quality signings, will they make at least the group stage ? Yes I believe so.
The modern Kotoko is an underachieving heavyweight.
Since the 1983 Africa triumph, the Porcupine Warriors have participated in 9 Champions league competitions in the last 13 years, they have been shockingly eliminated in the first stage of the qualifying round 6 times – in 2005 by FAR Rabat, in 2007 by Gambia Ports Authority , Ittihad Khemisset in 2009, ASC Linguere in 2010, Barrack Young Controllers in 2014 and MC Eulma in 2015 . To be eliminated at the first hurdle 6 times in 9 editions is such a poor return and highlights how low the club has fallen.
Nevertheless in the Confederation Cup, Ghana’s most successful club has one respect, unblemished. A glimmer of hope you may call it for Felix Annan, Amos Frimpong , Sadick Adams and their friends as they prepare to take on CARA Brazzaville next year . Not a hope of being a former winner of the competition , but that of reaching the group stage in all two editions it has competed.
In the maiden edition of 2004, Kotoko alongside Hearts of Oak, dropped from the Champions league after a Second Round elimination by USM Alger and were paired against old foes WAC of Morocco.
The group of George Owu, Charles Taylor, Michael Ofosu Appiah, Godfred Yeboah, Issah Ahmed, Nana Arhin Duah, Shilla Alhassan led by German trainer Hans Dieter Schmidt journeyed their way to the grand final by first securing a sweet revenge on WAC who denied Kotoko the 2002 Cup Winners’ Cup. A 2-0 home win with goals from Yusif Chipsah and Nana Arhin Duah cushioned Kotoko going into the second leg. WAC led led 1-0 with a 35th minute effort until the 80th minute mark at which point the messiah Shilla Alhassan popped up to deliver the vital equalizing goal as the scoreline remained 1-1 after full time.
Dieter Schmidt and his boys qualified on a foreign North African turf an it was a massive feat. Not even the Athens Olympics Games that disrupted Kotoko’s campaign could stop the club as some of their key players like George Owu, Yusif Chipsah the Olympic team captain, Charles Taylor , goalkeeper Mohamed Alhassan formed part of the Ghana Olympic team and had to frequently join Mariano Barreto’s side for training.
The Oseikurom boys topped Enugu Rangers, Al-Hilal and Petro Aletico de Luanda in their group to set up a historic final against rivals Hearts of Oak and the rest is history.
Four years later, Kotoko’s second participation in Africa’s second most prestigious competition came in the 2008 season and it was time for the badge of Soulama Abdoulaye (rest in peace champion), Eric Bekoe, Jordan Opoku, Daniel Nii Adjei, Franci Akwaffo, Francis Coffie, Harrison Afful, Samuel Inkoom to repeat what the 2004 group did. Well , they manage to repeat it in one way, but they didn’t in the other sense. They reached the group stage alright but Bashiru Hayford’s side didn’t survive it as Tunisia’s Etoile Sportive du Sahel, Al-Merrikh of Sudan and Algeria’s JS Kabylie proved too strong.
But what really did the trick was the signing of former Hearts of Oak maestro Emmanuel Osei Kuffour from Ashantigold. He was the one that influenced youngsters like Jordan and Nii Adjei at the time thanks to his vast experience and knowledge of the African game. Nii Adjei in particular will always be grateful to mentor Osei Kuffour and when Kuffour looks at what Adjei has achieved today in DR. Congo winning a Champions league and 2 Confederation Cup titles with TP Mazembe, he will be extremely proud of his mentoree.
Third Kotoko participation in the Confederation Cup is upon us at present. If this current group reaches the group stage, they continue a tradition. If they fail, they become the first Kotoko side not to make the group stage standard, a bad record that I don’t think likes of Amos Frimpong, Jackson Owusu, Obed Owusu will be proud of. Neither do I think Kwame Kyei will be pleased to be associated with that unpleasant record.
They would have also added to the debilitating co-efficient strength of Ghana in the CAF 5-Year rankings where we currently sit 15th with 7 points and the more worrying it gets.
Steve Polack does not present relevant experience in the African game and he inherited a completely new team last season that was not sparkling to be honest. Team cohesion is not sufficient yet. So in this situation to compensate for these technical weaknesses quality and experience players are needed to be signed.
Unfortunately for Kotoko, there is no “Charles Taylor” at Hearts of Oak available for them to pounce on like they signed one of the finest offensive wingers of our game at all cost in 2003 and currently at Ashantigold there in no “Emmanuel Osei Kuffour” for them to sign as they did for their 2008 campaign.
The solution is to buy from Africa and present a more credible team. It is not a even guarantee that Kotoko will win the title if they buy the best African players. That is not the point I’m driving at. But is it better to present a better and more credible team and hope to win it than fielding an inexperienced and underachieving side and still build castles in the air.
It is true that likes of Sadick Adams, Ahmed Adams, Sarfo Gyamfi, Jackson Owusu, Kwame Boahene, Augustine Sefah, Obed Owusu, Amos Frimpong, Eric Donkor have gained different experiences over the years but when one looks at Kotoko in the last years in Africa you realize that a good number of players have consistently been there and have consistently failed – Amos, Obed, Jackson, Ahmed, Sarfo Gyamfi, Donkor .
If Kwame Kyei does not want to be seen scratching his head, empty-handed without the Confederation trophy the next time he goes to Manhyia then he must start buying the best players , players with track record in the African game. This will be an ambitious step in the quest to revive the great Porcupine Warriors in Africa and add more force to our CAF co-efficient raking position.
He needs to invest in the squad in order not to render his promise synonymous to an elephant trying to go through the eye of a needle.