The battle for the first slot on Asante Kotoko’s team-sheet was a contentious subject last season, among fans and within the club itself, when second-choice goalkeeper Kwame Baah usurped newly-married Felix Annan as starter.
With the addition of then freshly-minted Black Star Razak Abalora to the ranks in October 2020 (just before the current campaign started), however, things were expected to get even more intense, especially with young Danlad Ibrahim also waiting in the wings.
It felt like a luxury, but it might well have been a headache, too. As things have turned out, though, Kotoko’s head coaches — three, thus far — have had few problems deciding who to entrust with that coveted berth.
The first, Maxwell Konadu, reverted to Annan, but the restoration of Kotoko’s frozen-out captain to favour didn’t last. Annan suffered an injury in only the second game of the campaign, away in Berekum, and Baah was promptly drafted back into service.
He only took in two league matches, however, before Konadu was sacked, with his replacement reposing their own confidence in the newcomer, Abalora. Thus begun a lengthy run that saw the former Tanzania-based pro feature in 20 of Kotoko’s next 21 league matches, conceding just 12 goals.
Abalora’s command of the back-line and his ability to make stunning saves with both sets of limbs set him apart on the domestic scene, and convinced new substantive Kotoko trainer Mariano Barreto to stick with him.
Black Stars boss Charles Akonnor was also won over, installing Abalora as the stand-in goalkeeper while regular Richard Ofori worked his way back to full fitness.
For a while, it was hard to detect any cracks in Abalora’s seemingly solid all-round game, but, suddenly, they’ve started showing up — all over the place.
The first high-profile gaffe most might have noticed came when Ghana hosted Sao Tome and Principe in the final Afcon 2022 qualifier, back in March, when Abalora carelessly misplaced a pass that gifted the lacklustre visitors a consolatory goal.
And there have been quite a few more examples since that episode, when in action for Kotoko, the latest of which occurred when Liberty Professionals hosted the Porcupine Warriors not quite a week ago.
Evans Owusu’s ball from so far out, for Liberty Professionals’ opener, was powerfully struck alright, but it took a little while — given the sheer range on it — to fly in, affording Abalora all the time in the world to steady and ready himself for a routine catch.
By the time Owusu’s delivery reached its address, Abalora, with a belated dive, could only get a weak hand to it. That was bad enough, yet a more glaring error could have seen Kotoko go behind a little earlier.
This time, Abalora surged out of his box to claim a back-pass for which a teammate was in a better position to pick up, and almost got stung after Liberty’s Kweku Karikari got the better of him a good distance away from goal.
Quite a few fans, reasonably, were left unimpressed and called for Abalora’s head. But Barreto wasn’t ready to join that baying mob, instead shielding the under-fire 24-year-old.
“Abalora has helped on many occasions. All players make mistakes; some players missed chances and others missed passes during the game,” the Portuguese said post-match.
“Some positions are difficult because if you make one mistake it is catastrophic.”
Somehow, though, Abalora has been dropped for Saturday’s game at home to WAFA, the club with whom he spent his formative years and on whose lush synthetic turf he, incidentally, messed up last Sunday.
It might not be a permanent call, perhaps only a measure taken to get some heat off Abalora, but this is probably the hard reset this young man needs — the nudge required to shift him back to the right side of the confidence-complacency tightrope he has been walking all this while.
For his rivals on Kotoko’s goalkeeping roster, too, this is a tug in the right direction. Between Annan and Baah (Danlad is gladly gobbling up minutes on loan with Kumasi King Faisal, thank you very much), whoever gets the nod for the weekend’s game would have an opportunity — and a duty — to ensure Barreto’s decision-making gets harder, only in a good way.
Abalora has had his chance, and might yet have it again, but the others could make this reshuffle — however temporary — work for the greater good.
Yaw Frimpong — Ink & Kicks