Asante Kotoko coach Steven Polack has said that the earlier new players arrive the better things get ahead of the new season but the club is yet to announce any new recruits.
When you look at the history of Kotoko, one of the achievements you see is that they were the first Ghanaian side to become African champions – by clinching the 1970 Africa Cup of Champions Cup now renamed as the Champions League.
The great Porcupine Warriors went on to to become champions of Africa again thirteen years later by defeating Egypt’s Al Ahly in the final after losing the previous 1982 final against the same opponent and by this time, for instance, Wydad Athletic Club (WAC) of Morocco were yet to play in Africa’s premier club competition. They didn’t form part of the elite sides by this time.
But WAC, who made their debut in the competition in 1987, waited for five years to win their first continental honour by annexing the 1992 Caf Champions League title after beating Al Hilal of Sudan 2-0 on aggregate in the final two-legged match. WAC have gone on to snatch big trophies from the hands of some big teams on the continent. The 2002 Cup Winners Cup trophy was landed at the expense of Asante Kotoko and the 2017 Champions League was taken from Africa’s number one team, the almighty Al-Ahly.
Thanks to three continental titles, WAC have massively closed the gap on the elite African sides such as Kotoko (2CL), Hafia Conakry (3 CL), Esperance Tunis (2 CL, 1 Cup Winner’s Cup), Etoile Sporive du Sahel (1 CL, 2 CC, 2 Cup Winner’s Cup) and others.
Of course, the standard to measure Kotoko is not WAC. But looking at the fact that the Moroccan club, that entered the Champions league thirty years ago has gone on to win as many Champions league titles as the Porcupine Warriors is certainly something that cannot be ignored when Asante Kotoko continues to live in the past, counting the 1983 African title as its last major honor. Thirty-four years are too long a period of decline in Africa and it is a shameful failure that must change.
What did WAC do right to be on their current path?
Squad quality comes to mind first. To be able to compete into deeper ends of the African competitions, a team needs quality. Both technical and squad quality. And it is here that Asante Kotoko, like other Ghanaian teams, have been falling short, disgracefully, year after year.
The Congolese winger Fabrice Ondama, who assisted Thievy Biffouma in the Ghana 1 Congo 1 World Cup qualifying game in Kumasi in September 2017 was playing for WAC just last year. The Liberia national team striker William Jebor who was nominated alongside Samuel Eto’o, Pierre Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah, Andre Ayew, Riyad Mahrez and co to compete for the 2016 African footballer of the Year was also on the books of the Moroccan side last season. There were also big names like Nigerian’s Chisom Chikatara.
This season WAC probably would not have won the Champions league without the solid defending of Burkinabe’s Mohammed Ouatara in the first leg of the final in Cairo where the Moroccans drew 1-1 before winning the reverse game 1-0 at home to lift the title.
The big teams do big signings. They sign the best and so the club of the century must be buying the best foreign players, at least from Africa.
That is the only way Kotoko can bounce back in Africa. The competition in Africa has become so strong that a club needs better structures and strong finance to be able to compete credibly and Kotoko must dance to the current music.
Look, when TP Mazembe dominated Africa in 2009 and 2010 in a row and went on to play Inter Milan in the 2010 Fifa Club World Cup final match in Abu Dhabi, they had assembled and combined local Congolese talents like Robert Kidiaba, Jean Kasusula, Joel Kimwaki, Mihayo Kazembe, Tresor Mputu Mabe, Behdi Mbenza and foreign imports such as Narcisse Nganga from Equatorial Guinea and the Zambian playmaker Kabangu Mulota.
Just four to five years ago, as we all witnessed, Mazembe descended in the country and shipped the best Ghana Premier League talents in Gladson Awako, Solomon Asante, Richard Kissi Boateng from Berekum Chelsea and Daniel Nii Adjei joined after leaving Asante Kotoko. Kotoko, Hearts of Oak could not compete against the mega-rich and all-powerful Mazembe. The outcome of this Mazembe shopping in Ghana was overwhelming. 2015 Champions league, 2016 and 2017 Confederation Cup including several domestic titles were won.
Mamelodi Sundowns fielded Zimbabwe national team striker Khama Billiat and Colombian import Leonardo Castro when they won the 2016 Champions League.
It is not for anything that another South African side Supersport United made the marquee signing of New Zealand international forward Jeremie Brockie from Wellington Phoenix in 2015 but to offer than squad quality and thanks to Brockie’s 10 goals in this year’s Confederation Cup, the Trendsetters reached their first ever continental final but narrowly lost the final to TP Mazembe.
So far as the likes of Mazembe, WAC, Al-Ahly continue to buy the best from anywhere means they will continue to share the continental titles. As you lay your bed, so must you lie on it and you reap what you sow.
If Kotoko feels all is okay after the FA Cup success, then that will be a huge mistake because the second worst attack on 23 goals in 30 league games doesn’t change to be okay after a 3-1 Cup final win.
A club that takes so much pride in being the IFFHS Africa club of the last century and as Ghana’s most successful club must be able to buy the most quality players from outside the country to truly demonstrate that pride and greatness. Kotoko’s big history automatically generates high expectations and the club must live up to such expectations.
But what do we see? If you look at the preparations and the transfer activity of the club now, you always have the feeling they are going to be disgraced in Africa again. They give no hope and the sooner proper measures are put in place the better the chances of boosting our co-efficient strength in the Caf 5-year rankings.