FRANCK MBELLA ETOUGA: Kotoko Finally Have a Clinical Striker to Sustain Title Charge
There are those who still strongly believe, even months later, that Asante Kotoko should’ve won the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League (GPL) season – and with good reason.
The Porcupine Warriors led archrivals Accra Hearts of Oak for much of the campaign, until a late capitulation saw them finish four points behind Samuel Boadu’s champions.
Depending on who you ask, a defining moment — maybe the defining moment — in that epic title race was Kotoko’s decision to sell striker Kwame Opoku halfway through the season.
Opoku had netted eight goals in the league prior to joining Algerian side USM Alger, and although his sale filled Kotoko’s bank account with upwards of €500,000, it left a void that the club struggled to fill.
That void, eventually, reflected in a trophy cabinet which Kotoko failed to decorate with a record-extending 24th league title.
In many ways, the current term bears similarities with the last. Again, Kotoko enjoy a healthy lead — six points clear of the team in second, Bechem United, and a further six away from Hearts in eighth.
There’s still no Opoku in the squad, true, but Kotoko now have a similarly clinical, outstandingly pragmatic finisher who you might have heard of: Franck Mbella Etouga.
Rings a bell?
The Cameroonian import has taken the GPL by storm since moving here from his homeland in October 2021, opening his scoring account against Real Tamale United (RTU) on Matchday 8 of the 2021/22 season.
Etouga hasn’t looked back.
On Saturday, the 20-year-old netted all three goals as Kotoko recorded a 3-1 win over Accra Lions – his second hat-trick already, having bagged a first against Ashanti Gold last month. He now has 11 goals in just 10 starts, the only player to reach double figures thus far this season.
At this relentless rate, Etouga could be gunning for the GPL record of 22 goals, set by the remarkable Ishmael Addo some two decades ago. But even if he fails to reach that all-time mark, Etouga could still become the division’s first non-Ghanaian top marksman.
Kotoko have brought in some foreign forwards over the years, but not all have been hits. The likes of Ahmed Toure and Songne Yacouba will always be remembered fondly, but certainly not the brief, forgettable stints of George Abege and Moussa Adingra.
Reasonably, then, the reception was mixed when Kotoko announced the double signing of Etouga and compatriot Georges Mfegue near the end of their pre-season shopping spree. After taking a while to settle, partly due to their late arrival, they’re finally firing, combining to score 15 of Kotoko’s last 18 league goals.
The lion’s share of that total belongs to Etouga who, particularly, has become an instant fan favourite. He may not be the most physical forward, but Etouga is the exact kind of technical player that this talented, well-coached Kotoko team needs.
And he scores as easily with either foot as with his head — shades of Liverpool’s in-form Diogo Jota, eh? — making him tough to predict and neutralise. There is also his armour of calmness from the spot — cracked just a little in Kotoko’s last away game, at Elmina Sharks, when he missed a last-gasp penalty — that has helped him boost his numbers.
The last time a Kotoko player was crowned GPL topscorer was in the 2008/09 season when Alex Asamoah, after netting 16 times, claimed the prize.
Etouga is already on course to better that tally, and his productivity upfront could be the final piece in the title-winning jigsaw head coach Dr. Prosper Narteh Ogum is putting together — if, unlike Opoku, he does stick around till the end.