Sports Features Wed, 19 Feb 2014

Guilty or not, let Kotoko keeper Soulama be

Football has a long history of making scapegoats for the failure of the collective. When a team fails to attain its set goals, irrespective of just how badly everyone fares, one player is set apart who takes far greater blame than anyone else.

To illustrate, a 23-year-old David Beckham had to suffer the brunt of England's failed France '98 adventures, a petulant kick at Argentine Diego Simeone that got him sent off being the stick with which he was beaten in his homeland. Throughout England, effigies of his likeness were burnt, with the former English captain achieving hard-fought redemption only years later.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni, for his scuffed sitter against South Korea at the last World Cup that could almost certainly have secured passage for Nigeria to the tournament's knockout rounds, was frozen out of the Super Eagles setup for nearly two years.

The Ghanaian game has had its own examples of such 'villains', of course. Samuel Osei Kuffour, for long a committed servant of Ghana's national teams, had all his years of faithful service rubbished when an ill-fated backpass to goalkeeper Richard Kingson was intercepted and netted by Vincenzo Iaquinta for Italy's second in a 2-0 loss to the Azzuri in the Black Stars group opener at Germany 2006. That game would mark the last of the ex-Bayern Munich star's 59 international caps.

Four years later, striker Asamoah Gyan would be publicly flogged by many for missing a last-gasp spotkick which, had it been converted, would have made Ghana Africa's first semi-finalists in World Cup history.

Gyan would again be hounded for identical reasons at the 2012 Nations Cup, when another botched attempt from 12 yards was widely adjudged to have cost Ghana a place in the finale. At the competition's conclusion, the 'Baby Jet' promptly retired from national duties albeit only temporarily.

It was thus not much of a surprise when Soulama Abdoulaye, first-choice goalkeeper for reigning Ghanaian league champions Kumasi Asante Kotoko, was subjected to the sharpest scrutiny in the fall-out from his club’s failed Caf Champions League campaign last weekend. Afterall, it was the Burkinabe's error that helped Kotoko's opponents, Liberia's Barrack Young Controllers, to a late winner which saw the underwhelming Porcupine Warriors bundled out on a 2-2 aggregate, via the away-goals rule.

However, things have quickly spiralled out of hand, from the realms of reasonableness into sheer error and tomfoolery. Stories that have emerged from the game in Monrovia - and which are hurriedly gaining currency in the Ghanaian media, quite regrettably - allege Soulama had been spotted with officials of the hosts prior to the game and had been promised/given a $3000 bribe, with said sum apparently motivating him to commit the blunder that eventually gave BYC that vital win.

In the opinion of this writer, though, such claims are as ridiculous as they are yet unverified. What these fail to take into consideration is the fact that Kotoko, on the day, put in a generally woeful performance, as has been highlighted by BYC president Sekou Konneh in debunking the suspicions of underhand dealings.

“It is outrageous that we didn’t bribe a referee but rather a player,” Konneh stated, before adding: “Kotoko didn’t play a good game in Liberia. They played better in Kumasi but were poor in Liberia. They deserved to lose.”

True talk, Mr. Konneh

Bribing a referee to fix a result isn’t anymore legal a deed than bribing a member of the opposition, yet it certainly seems the more logical option. Even more importantly, though, Kotoko didn't deserve to go through. The 2-1 first leg victory in Kumasi came courtesy goals from the spot by new-found penalty-kick 'expert' Kwabena Adusei in a game that saw BYC more than hold their own, giving Kotoko an inkling of what awaited them in the reverse which took place on Sunday.

This time, though, there was no penalty call for Adusei to convert, and Kotoko, incredibly blunt in attack and lacking in productive creativity, paid for it big-time. Had Soulama even taken a bribe to concede as is being rumoured, Kotoko's forwards had all of 85 minutes - the length of action that had expired before BYC got the winner- to make their efforts count at the other end, thus nullifying the effects of whatever it was that the shot-stopper might have agreed to. Soulama, put simply, is at as much fault as the remainder of the Kotoko side that played on the day. Over two legs, coach Didi Dramani’s charges just weren't good enough.

That all these accusations against Soulama are being made in spite of the fact that he has been among the red clan's most loyal players at present is even more disrespectful. Having spent a total of nearly seven years at the club, he certainly understands more than most just what success in Africa means to Kotoko and their legion.

Granted, Soulama is no saint (and, really, which human is?), yet his copybook at Kotoko has been as spotless as could be. Thus there is no need to vilify him as badly as some already have without any hard facts.

The player himself, in a recent interview with Allsports during which he sought to extricate himself from these accusations, hinted at the actual cause of Kotoko's problems 'being beyond the playing body.'

Such challenges as are alluded to by Soulama, should they exist, ought to be a genuine source of concern, instead of trying to read meanings where there are none. Of course, it wouldn't be out of line for Kotoko's current administration to order an inquest into the matter, if they so desire, but until any conclusive evidence is found, Soulama deserves none of the accusing fingers he is receiving at present.

And, even if found guilty, who is to say he is the reason Kotoko are out? Was it not the whole team that underperformed?

Let him be, then.
Source: goal.com