Heading back to Sogakope this weekend, Dr. Prosper Narteh Ogum, the Asante Kotoko head coach, will easily recognise most of the players of Saturday’s opponent, the West African Football Academy (WAFA).
The pitch and ambience at the WAFA Park, too, would feel very familiar, having called it home for nearly two years.
What Ogum would find scarcely recognisable – let alone believable – is the state of the WAFA team. While the turf is still pristine and the entire arena one of the best in the land, its occupants have slipped into a very sharp decline.
It’s no longer the impressive team that Ogum guided to third place in the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League season, when WAFA finished not far behind the division’s dominant duo, Accra Hearts of Oak (champions) and Kotoko (first runners-up).
Ogum would go on to join the latter after the season ended, and hasn’t relented in burnishing his reputation as one of the country’s finest technical brains. Under his leadership, Kotoko now have one hand – and then some – on the prize that narrowly eluded them last season, with eight games to go.
The top of the table, however, only filters the superlative excellence of Ogum’s adopted playing template through one prism; at the other extremity, among the clubs battling to maintain their elite-level status, there’s further proof.
That’s where WAFA now reside – and they’ve been there or thereabouts for much of this campaign – having failed to pick up where Ogum left off in September 2021.
His successor, Guillermo Zaragoza, inherited a remarkably talented, largely unchanged squad and enough institutional memory on the bench – provided by the likes of long-serving assistant coach Abubakar Siddiq – to ensure continuity or, at least, an easier transition.
But the Spaniard, admittedly new to the Ghanaian game and its peculiar traits, has not been able to make the most of those resources; standards, instead, have plummeted to such lows that a first-ever relegation from the top-flight is now a real possibility.
WAFA haven’t found any degree of consistency this season but, more than anything, it’s goals that they’ve hungered for.
They’re just about as solid defensively as they were last term under Ogum, statistically, with Konadu Yiadom – arguably the best defender in the league – a big reason. Upfront, though, they’re sixteen goals worse off. And if WAFA are wondering just where that appetite for goalscoring has gone, they only need to take a look at Ogum’s current side.
Kotoko are presently nine goals more prolific than after as many matches (26) last season. The Porcupine Warriors are reaping richly from Ogum’s methods – the “game model” of which he speaks so often and so passionately – and are comfortably the finest attacking side in the country, a handful to keep at bay and an absolute delight to watch when in full, fabulous flow.
Granted, they aren’t themselves at their best right now. Kotoko are missing key personnel, have lost two games in a row, and have a sloppy chasing pack to thank for their still healthy lead. But none of that might matter on Saturday, when they visit wrecked WAFA.
The hosts could be served a reminder of what they’ve missed – not just their former trainer, but also the way he once made them sparkle. And on that pitch, set up and laid out to facilitate the sort of football which works just right for Ogum’s preferred style, that could be quite some spectacle.