Felix Annan Leaves Kotoko on a Sour Note, But With a Legacy That Sparkles
It might have happened when he stretched to kick the ball high up the pitch, or perhaps when he landed somewhat awkwardly after firing that goal-kick, but something in those few seconds forced Asante Kotoko goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama to tread gingerly, before slumping unto the grass.
As the meds tried in vain to get the now-deceased Burkinabe back on his feet and into action, it became apparent that a substitute would be needed. And while there might have been an experienced alternative available, the replacement chosen — presumably by then goalkeepers’ trainer Joseph Carr — was Felix Annan, a fresh-faced kid yet untested at the highest level.
The number on the back of his shirt read ’32’, but Annan’s age — shy of 18 years — was just over half of that. Throwing him into a game with archrivals Accra Hearts of Oak — the intensity of which was barely diluted by the fact that it was only a pre-season friendly — on that October 2011 evening appeared to fly in the face of reason.
Was he even ready?
That was the question the rest of Kotoko’s technical bench, helmed by Maxwell Konadu, seemed to ask off-camera; Carr, probably responding in the affirmative, nodded, even as Annan slipped on his gloves.
In the next half hour, the boy set about proving his worth — and proving Carr right.
Annan more than held his own, keeping the backline secure as Kotoko battled to score two more goals at the other end for a 3-1 win. That was the start of something special, but it would take a while before Kotoko’s excited fans saw much more of this bright young thing.
Annan would be sent on a couple of loan moves — to the West African Football Academy (WAFA), from where Kotoko had originally plucked him, and to Real Tamale United (RTU) — before coming back to stake a claim for the starting berth in 2015.
And when it was eventually handed him, Annan grabbed the opportunity and made it his own. He grew into the role — from that thin teen who was barely a fit for his oversized shorts on that high-profile debut — and in confidence, steadily building a glowing aura around himself.
At a club where change is the only constant, Annan went beyond being the safest pair of hands in the land to standing out as a pillar of reliability for Kotoko, a leader whose assured presence helped hold the team together through the ups and downs.
Annan blossomed, nurtured by the affection of a club whose fans dote on favourites like no other, into arguably the squad’s most popular player; captain, too, after the 2019 departure of Amos Frimpong.
That Annan could so masterfully wield such great influence, for a player only in his early twenties, was scarcely believable at times. But just when it looked as though Annan was going to be a fixture at Kotoko for many more years to come, a pillar on which the future would rest, the bubble burst and things fell apart.
Nobody could have seen it coming.
The start of 2020 found Annan a really happy man, having just signed a contract that extended his career as a Porcupine Warrior; just weeks later, he was also set to wed his long-time sweetheart, Francisca.
Life, it seemed, couldn’t get any better — and rightly so, because it was about to get so much worse.
It was all triggered by the aforementioned wedding — or, rather, the timing of it. The ceremony took place during the course of the season, for which some found reason to suddenly — and, dare I say, sillily — question the commitment of one of the club’s most dedicated players.
Whether Konadu, then in his second stint as Kotoko head coach, was within the ranks of those doubters is anyone’s guess; whatever the case, by the time Annan returned from his nuptials, he had been usurped by back-up Kwame Baah, and Konadu looked impressed enough by the latter to leave things that way.
Not many fans were as pleased, but others — even Carr, who had midwived Annan’s Kotoko birth all those years ago — weren’t as sympathetic.
“If you decide to go and marry at the time when your club has a crucial match and another goalkeeper takes advantage of the situation, you must live by your decision,” Carr, a former Kotoko and Ghana goalkeeper, told Kumasi-based Akoma FM in June 2020.
The abrupt halt of that season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fallow period that followed, calmed the storm of debate somewhat; by the time the new season commenced, months later, Konadu was persuaded to reinstall Annan on the pitch.
That restoration wouldn’t last, however. In only the season’s second game, Annan picked up an injury, and Baah stepped up again. Another battle for supremacy seemed imminent, on Annan’s recovery, but the arrival of a new challenger swung the contest in still another direction.
In came Razak Abalora, who had just taken Annan’s place in the senior national team, to compound the headache of Kotoko’s technical crew (which, at this point, no longer had Konadu as boss). There wasn’t much of a dilemma, though; Abalora walked straight into the first team, after a brief bedding-in period, and was never at a real risk of dropping out.
Annan only had one more appearance in the league, when Abalora’s own late-season rough patch opened up a sliver of hope. A reasonably rusty Annan failed to make the most of that chance, however, against boyhood side WAFA, and went right back to the bench.
Annan’s next game for Kotoko would come in an FA Cup Round of 32 game against a lower-tier side in Ejisu that was, in more ways than one, the club’s least spectacular game of the whole 2020/21 season.
It would be his last.
The writing had been on the wall for a while, and rumour had it that Annan — having played in just seven league games across two seasons — wouldn’t stay at Kotoko much longer. On Thursday evening, that inevitable denouement was confirmed, announced by both club and player.
Somehow, though, the foreknowledge did very little to ease the shock and strangeness of it all when news of the contract termination finally broke. This, given how well-written Annan’s story at Kotoko was, felt like a rushed climax — an anti-climax, really — that leaves a sour aftertaste, even if there was no bitter public fall-out in the end.
Once upon a time, a young Annan left Kotoko temporarily due to the keenness of competition among the club’s goalkeepers, but returned to establish himself for a considerable period as undisputed No.1.
Years later, he leaves again at a time when the competition is just as keen — in the formidable trio of Abalora, Baah, and the promising Danlad Ibrahim (who is so reminiscent of Annan in his own youth, isn’t he?), Kotoko are still quite stacked in the goalkeeping department — only without any immediate prospect of a triumphant return.
It’s hard to shake off the feeling that Kotoko are letting go of the best of the lot, though, or even the possibility that he might end up strengthening a direct domestic rival.
Just as hard, if not altogether impossible, to shake off is the fact that Annan — boy, man, captain, legend — will always be remembered as a Kotoko great, as much for his long-standing record of sterling service as for all the priceless memories he gave the club and its generally grateful faithful.