“I would beg him not to,” Herbert Mensah replied, in a recent interview with TV3’s Juliet Bawuah, on why steering the affairs of Ghanaian super-club Asante Kotoko is a responsibility he’d rather not take on.
The ‘him’ referred to?
Well, we’d come to that soon enough, if you don’t already have it figured out by then.
See, Mensah — one of Ghana’s finest administrators — has handled Kotoko in the past, a very successful spell from 1999 to 2003. He was, in fact, the first Kotoko leader I ever knew; not my fault, really, as I wasn’t quite 10 years old when his tenure ended. Still, I remember it quite well, not because Kotoko won an awful lot in that period (archrivals Hearts actually reigned supreme in those days, a long time ago), but due to the good vibes surrounding the club at the time (this I know, mainly, from reading the many exciting issues of the Kotoko Express my taxi-driving dad would bring home each week).
Mensah departed, and I have never been as excited about anyone at the helm of the club I grew to love — until very recently, that is, when it was rumored, with much credibility, that Nana Yaw Amponsah was set to be installed as the club’s new Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
And why not?
During his bid to become president of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) last year, Amponsah pursued a campaign rooted in a manifesto bursting with objectives that could transform Ghana football into the thriving paradise it has always had the potential to be. He failed, though, coming in a distant yet respectable third after the first two rounds of voting, before dropping out altogether. In the months that have followed Kurt Okraku’s victory, little has been heard from Amponsah’s camp. What he hasn’t lost, though, is the sweet gospel he preached, and the desire to make a seismic impact on the Ghanaian football landscape.
While the FA presidency may be the most prestigious and most challenging office in the land, the seat at Kotoko is probably just as hot, affording its occupant just a little more ease, if any. Kotoko is Ghana’s biggest club, after all, also its most successful, and – in the International Federation of Football History and Statistics’ esteemed opinion — Africa’s Club of the Century.
The 20th Century, that is.
In the 21st, there has been little worth celebrating about the Porcupine Warriors. Yes, they’ve regained their hold – sort of – as the dominant domestic force, but Kotoko’s continental presence has faded into a blur. As a modern, professionally-run football club, there is even less to write home about, as this writer has often, and loudly, lamented. The club is in dire need of an acceleration in the right direction, but has never quite had capable hands at the wheel; even when it’s looked like they have, the conductors – a wide, witless web of hangers-on – have kept things stuck on reverse.
See, Kotoko is an institution seemingly set in its ways, possessed by forces – seen and unseen – that are devoted to a retention of tried, tested, and dated methods. An illustration of this, if you need any, occurred only a few seasons ago, when Zdravko Logarusic was named head coach of Kotoko. Remember what happened when the Croatian attempted to introduce an unpopular, unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation?
Not all in Kotoko’s ranks were enthused, even though results weren’t so bad. And so some of the bolder dissenters turned up one fine morning to interrupt a training session; days later, Logarusic was out.
There are, of course, other instances that have highlighted just how impermeable Kotoko could be when change, even if wholly positive, appears on the horizon. Kotoko might only be a subset – a huge subset, granted – of Ghana football, yet I reckon Amponsah would have had an easier time turning the latter around. Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ corruption exposé in 2012 highlighted the need for the Ghanaian game’s makeover – if that wasn’t already apparent – and the work of the Dr. Kofi Amoah-led Normalization Committee tilled the ground enough for Okraku to plant his seeds of change. Kotoko’s thirst for same is obvious, too, not least to the Manhyia Palace, seat of Ashanti royal power and the source of Kotoko’s identity and pride.
Enter Exit Amponsah — even before his seemingly imminent appointment had been confirmed — for reasons that, frankly, I find absurd.
The young man was surely worth the hype – and worth the hope, too, in fact. Had the FA polls not been reduced – as is, indeed, the case with almost all elections – to a popularity contest, Amponsah might have had a fairer crack at winning, yet Kotoko could have been the big winners here, harnessing those grand ideas still floating around in Amponsah’s head.
Now, it’s easy to see why Amponsah would jump at the prospect of taking up Kotoko’s reins. Kumasi is, in many ways, the beating heart of Ghanaian football – Kotoko the pulse – and if he could make a mark there, that would be a surer ticket for the FA’s top job if ever he fancies another go. A low profile did Amponsah little good the first time out, and this looked like his chance to fix it.
Chances are, though, that he would have left as broken as many of his would-have-been predecessors. Rarely has anyone signed off at Kotoko on a high, or even with their reputation intact. It’s not always been their fault, however. Kotoko is a huge chessboard, and Life Patron Otumfuo Osei Tutu II – the king and the himmentioned at the outset – is the only piece that ever emerges unscathed. Everyone – anyone, really – could be sacrificed when things get tough; often, after the coach, the CEO runs the greatest risk among the pawns.
Ask, among others, George Amoako.
A man with sights set on a five-year plan, running a club that has for so long operated a five-game plan, would almost certainly have found himself at odds with the status quo. For Amponsah to survive that red sea, fraught with storms and other frightening perils, he’d have needed a miracle. As it turns out, he wouldn’t have to cross the raging sea at all. And, despite suggestions that he could yet get the nod courtesy some late unforeseeable twist, it’s in Amponsah’s best interests that things stay as they are.
NY Frimpong – Daily Mail GH