After all the fun fans of Asante Kotoko made of archrivals Accra Hearts of Oak’s 12-year run without a major trophy, well, who’s laughing now?
The Phobians, winners of the just-ended Ghana Premier League season, have gloriously ended their barren spell, and are on course to win a first domestic Double since 2000. Kotoko, on the other hand, are left having to pick up the pieces of a season that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.
The early weeks were stormy, but the ship got steadied and sailed smoothly awhile, only to run aground in the end. The Porcupine Warriors came off worse in an epic showdown with Hearts for the title, before the remaining silverware within reach — the FA Cup, of which they are holders — was ballooned into the realms of impossibility by Wahab Adams‘ right boot.
Now, it’s easy to think that this has been an underwhelming season for Kotoko, and maybe there is some truth in that. They’re empty-handed, after all, but that fruitlessness needs to be considered in proper perspective: Kotoko, lest we forget, didn’t play a single home game at their traditional Baba Yara Stadium fortress.
That they were denied such a luxury, yet still finished not-so-far from the biggest prizes, was actually impressive. That, of course, would be no consolation for Kotoko and their fans, and they’d want to have a more positive climax to next season.
More importantly, however, that would also mean finding an answer to the challenge posed by Hearts’ resurgence as a truly competitive force; many would have haunting memories of what happened the last time Kotoko failed to do so quickly enough.
Before the 1996/97 season, Hearts had missed out on each of the previous six league titles, split up evenly between Ashanti clubs Kotoko and Goldfields (now Ashanti Gold). But the capital-based side more than made up for that dry spell when they finally found their mojo, going on to win an unprecedented — and still unmatched — six in a row.
Each triumph only seemed to guarantee the next (although some of a ‘red’ persuasion would argue that there were other factors at play in Hearts’ favour), with Kotoko unable to respond forcefully and immediately. Before they knew it, Hearts had made a habit of winning, and it wasn’t until 2003 that the pendulum swung back to Kumasi.
Hearts reclaimed the bragging rights in the very next season but, this time, Kotoko were ready to wrestle and ensure that power never rested too long with Hearts (consistently alternating between the two clubs), until success dried up completely for the latter from 2009 onwards.
Now, though, after breaking another jinx, Hearts are confident — and why not? — that they’ve stumbled on a recipe that could see them dominate again, and Kotoko can ill afford to let that happen.
Appointing a head coach capable of standing toe-to-toe with Hearts’ tactical whizz Samuel Boadu (a topic for another day) would be a good first line of response, followed by an upgrade of the playing body to a level that rivals the champions‘.
If there is no extra motivation to take the urgent steps required to get back to winning ways, the fact that Kotoko are now farther removed from their last league conquest — all of seven years now, is it? — than Hearts alone should prompt some introspection and follow-up answers.
The pressure — and oh, the joke, too — is very much on them now.
NY Frimpong — Ink & Kicks