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Sports Features Tue, 11 Dec 2018

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Apem beba?: Kotoko's fresh momentum inspires cautious optimism

If there’s any club seemingly unaffected by the paralysis suffered by Ghana football since the middle of 2018, it’s Asante Kotoko.

The Porcupine Warriors may not have a sparkling new logo to celebrate or a cool ice bath session to flaunt on social media, but there’s so much more going on in their ranks. While others snooze, Kotoko has reshuffled its hierarchy, outdoored a new head coach, beaten their major domestic rivals (Hearts of Oak and Ashantigold), played the biggest male national teams (the Black Stars and the Black Meteors), secured a new team bus, opened an official club store, made some shrewd signings, while the ink on bumper sponsorship deals hasn’t yet dried.

All that — and more — accomplished in just six months. There really are some good vibes emanating from Kumasi, of the sort that defies the gloom the Ghanaian game is struggling to emerge from.

And the best is still to come — next weekend, specifically, when a second consecutive CAF Confederation Cup campaign commences in faraway Kenya. The opponents are Kariobangi Sharks, 65 years younger but no less ambitious. Though holders of two of Kenya’s three domestic cups, Sharks are no African heavyweights and hardly the kind of club to make Kotoko — Africa’s best club of the 21st Century, says the IFFHS — shudder.

But Sharks have bared their teeth, all sharp and spiky, in the run-up. Their last two local matches prior to receiving Kotoko have been against Kenya’s most successful clubs — Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards — and yielded a win and a draw respectively, along with a trophy for their troubles.

However, it’s Sharks’ gains in previous continental assignments that would have Kotoko on guard: an aggregate 9-1 victory over their opponents in a preliminary stage their Ghanaian challengers, courtesy a welcome walk-over, skipped.

Not that Kotoko would approach this hurdle with a faint heart. Though stunned by similarly unfancied outfits on their last few inter-club runs, the Reds remain a side of remarkable pedigree. Even better, as highlighted at the outset, Kotoko wield yet another weapon that could prove their most potent in the latest bid to rouse themselves from latter-day reverses: vibes.

Yaw Ofosu Larbi, an AIPS-nominated journalist with Accra-based TV3, attributes such momentum at a club that has sunk to some worrying depths in recent times to the new management installed only in August. “I think this Kotoko management is quite different from those we have seen in the past, as it clearly operates with the players’ interests at heart,” Ofosu explains.

“I spoke to CEO George Amoako in October [just before the friendly with the Black Stars] and he sounded really optimistic about his plans for the club.

“Amoako’s main aim now is to conquer Africa again so I wasn’t too surprised when Kotoko decided to go for the Confederation Cup at all costs.” Ofosu points out, though, that the veteran administrator isn’t the only Kotoko fan dreaming of returning the two-time African champions to a table they haven’t feasted on for many years now.

“Amoako’s obsession with another trophy in Africa and how he has been able to get the fans to buy into all of it is really good.”

Still, deep down — beneath all the belief and enthusiasm — there lurks an ominous sense of déjà vu about this thrilling peak of optimism. This is Kotoko, after all, a club where hopes fall almost as quickly as they rise and, usually, it only takes another disappointing setback to send the whole project crashing.

Thankfully, if Amoako’s words carry any weight, he isn’t constructing a house of cards, but one of the most durable materials, ultimately getting the institution in his charge to a place “among the best on the African continent.”

And, as Ofosu exhorts, the journey towards that noble objective needn’t end regardless of what results from the African adventure just about to take off.

“If they miss out on doing well in Africa this year, I think the most important thing will be to keep C.K Akunnor as coach and try to tie down the club’s best players. “If these guys work together for another two years, Kotoko could be back on their horse and riding high sooner than later, but it would require time and character.”

Character, for sure, is a trait Kotoko — a club whose badge bears a silhouette of the resilient porcupine and the stirring ‘Kum Apem A, Apem Beba’ motto — possess in abundance, but can they marry that with the time — a commodity Ghana’s most successful club easily runs out of, unfortunately — needed to see the quest through?

Over to you, ‘Uncle George’.

Source: thetoughtackle.com

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