And so they meet again: the team that employs some of the best-paid players in the Ghana Premier League (GPL), and the Division One League (DOL) side whose owner “doesn’t even have GH¢100.00 to give to his players”.
It’s only been about 18 months since Asante Kotoko suffered one of their most embarrassing episodes in recent memory, when eliminated from the FA Cup — as far out as the Round of 64 — by city
rivals neighbours Asokwa Deportivo.
It wasn’t just Kotoko that were stunned; the 2-1 loss rocked the whole of Ghana football, as an unfancied second-tier outfit sunk an elite club that doubled as the reigning champions.
David Cudjoe was Deportivo’s hero on the day, scoring twice to rubbish the early lead Kotoko had taken through Richard Arthur and rip up the script. That blow, landed square in Kotoko’s face and felt deep in the gut, earned the team — coaches, players, everyone — an earful from then executive chairman Dr. Kwame Kyei.
But what was supposed to be a private rebuke quickly leaked into the public domain and ended up being heard by a far larger audience than was originally intended, with soundbites from the businessman’s furious outburst making headlines.
“I don’t care about dissolving the entire team. I can dissolve the whole team, sack all of you, and start afresh. I don’t mind,” he began, before spewing some of the words quoted at the outset of this article.
“Camarat (owner of Asokwa Deportivo) doesn’t even have GH¢100.00 to give to his players. He buys porridge and they all share to eat. That’s their only motivation to play.
“You all here are paid so well, more than in any club, then you allow these small boys to beat you and you call yourselves professionals,” Kyei said.
“Look at the way they booed you after the game — like thieves.”
It was damning. It was direct. It was deserved.
Kotoko had it coming as, until that point in the 2019/20 season, they had been out of sorts. The Porcupine Warriors had only won five of their first 11 league games, and none of the two leading up to that chastening FA Cup loss.
But this huge setback — and Kyei’s subsequent reprimand — proved decisive, shocking a reaction out of Maxwell Konadu’s charges. Kotoko won the two games that followed and drew the third, before the season was halted — and ultimately terminated — by the coronavirus pandemic.
That truncation meant that Kotoko’s humiliation by Deportivo was expunged from the official annals, and they’ve made the most thus far of that clean slate in this term’s edition of the FA Cup.
They’ve again faced lower-league challengers — the Bekwai Youth Football Academy (1/64), first, and then Thunderbolt FC (1/32) — but have successfully avoided any slip-ups, yet their Round of 16 opponents would still fancy their chances.
On Tuesday, on the very ground where Kotoko got stung by Deportivo, they come up against the same side in a game that could yet yield another ‘cup-set’. Kotoko would be quite confident that it wouldn’t, partly because they’d feel more comfortable at the venue, the Len Clay Stadium, where they’ve played half of their home matches this season.
Much of that confidence, however, stems from the fact that Kotoko — now under Portuguese trainer Mariano Barreto — have been high-flying enough in the top-flight, while Deportivo are having a so-so run in the DOL.
If the former would have any nerves at all, it would be due to the knowledge that the league title — which they’ve chased all season — is almost out of their reach, just three points away from being delivered to the address of archrivals Accra Hearts of Oak.
This, then, is their only real hope of winning any silverware this season and booking a place in continental football. It is, fortunately, a competition in which Kotoko have a rich history of success, but their most recent history — and Kyei’s scathing words — would echo as they take in the next 90 minutes.
Yaw Frimpong — Ink & Kicks