When it was announced, in August 2022, that Asante Kotoko were bringing in goalkeeper Fredrick Asare on a free transfer, one player in the Porcupine Warriors’ ranks, perhaps more than any other, looked forward to welcoming the new boy and sharing his company.
Curiously, that was Ibrahim Danlad, Kotoko’s first-choice goalkeeper, who Asare had the singular objective of pushing all the way and, ultimately, usurping.
It must be said that this wasn’t the first time that Asare and Danlad found themselves on a collision course. Such familiarity ensured that both would regard the prospect of competition as a thing not to be resented, but to be relished, only the latest episode in the tale of healthy rivalry that runs deep between them.
The pair go way back, having known each other so long that they might as well be considered kindred, from their days with Ghana’s U-17 team, the Black Starlets. They’ve risen through the ranks as national assets ever since, spending time together with the Black Satellites (U-20s) and the Black Galaxies (home-based national team).
Asare is older, by some three years, but has had a career of a lower profile than Danlad whose place on the books of Kotoko, arguably Ghana’s biggest club, has afforded him greater exposure and prominence.
The latter is already a Ghana Premier League winner, having also won silverware with the Satellites, and was named Ghana’s Goalkeeper of the Year for 2021. He even made the Black Stars’ squad for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, though without featuring in any of the three group games.
But Asare has also seen his own stock soar in recent years, shining away from the spotlight. The 23-year-old played his part in helping Accra Lions, his previous club, qualify for and compete in a maiden top-flight campaign last season, and while they didn’t have an easy time of that debut, finishing 12th of 18 teams, Asare was a sparkling constant.
It was that consistent excellence which caught the eye of Kotoko, the champions, and got them to secure his services.
Asare may not have expected to play too much football, especially this early in the season, and not just because the impressive Danlad looked hard to dislodge. The window also saw Kotoko recruit another shot-stopper, Cameroonian Moise Pouaty, who was also ready to throw his hat in the ring.
Circumstances have, however, collided in Asare’s favour, making him the most-used Kotoko goalkeeper thus far.
Danlad being often away on international duty — including the ongoing African Nations Championship (CHAN) — has carved up a fat slice of opportunity, with Asare starting a total of eight games already. And while Kotoko have won just one of those in regulation time — drawing six — Asare has largely been without fault, proving he’s not just some decent backup.
He put up a particularly memorable performance when Kotoko travelled to Dormaa-Ahenkro — never an easy trip for them, is it? — and was instrumental in Seydou Zerbo’s team earning a precious point at the expense of Aduana, league leaders and their fierce rivals.
About a week earlier, on Boxing Day, Asare saved two penalties in a shootout at home to Bechem United, last year’s FA Cup losing finalists, to see Kotoko live to fight another day in the competition after throwing away a swiftly-taken two-goal lead.
And he was in penalty-saving mood, too, last Monday on another daunting away assignment, Bibiani the destination this time.
Gold Stars’ Dun’s Park hasn’t been functional in the division long enough to acquire the aura of near-invincibility that envelopes, say, Aduana’s Nana Agyemang Badu I Park, but not many teams have won there since the club joined the league last term.
Kotoko, in November 2021, were the very first of four visitors to do so — a feat they seemed set to repeat on their latest visit, going in front by a fine Steven Mukwala goal late in the first half.
But two controversially awarded penalties after the break gave Gold Stars the chance to turn around that deficit, only for the hosts to find Asare a rather unyielding guard. He brilliantly smothered both kicks, and, but for a rebound resulting from Asare’s first save that Yahaya Adraman tapped in, there might have been no reprieve at all for Gold Stars.
The game ended 1-1 — a good result, ordinarily, except that it was a fourth consecutive stalemate for Kotoko in the league that left them with just one win from their last seven outings — and Asare, unarguably, produced the most heroic display.
That he has endeared himself to the fans isn’t in doubt, but the extent to which Asare has now worked his way into the plans of coach Zerbo and his technical team would only be accurately determined after Danlad returns from the CHAN. Asare has made his case, anyway, throwing a challenge to Zerbo — and, of course, to Danlad, his old friend and rival.