KOTOKO’S PRE-SEASON PROBLEM IS PROVING A SILVER LINING IN A RATHER GLOOMY CAMPAIGN
Razak Abalora’s transfer to Asante Kotoko in October 2020, announced just a day after his Ghana debut, was probably the Ghana Premier League’s least sensible piece of business during that window.
It wasn’t only because Kotoko’s need to strengthen in other areas was far more pressing; it was, more obviously, because the team was already rather well-stocked in the goalkeeping department.
Felix Annan, Kotoko’s captain and usually the first name on the team-sheet, has spent the last few years as one of the Ghana senior national team’s regularly invited goalkeeping options; his backups, Kwame Baah and Ibrahim Danlad, have also proved themselves as national assets in the not-too-distant past, albeit at junior level.
And it wasn’t like head coach Maxwell Konadu didn’t already have a headache in that department. At the beginning of the year, when Annan took time off to go get hitched, Baah stepped up temporarily for the starting spot, never letting go — courtesy of his solid performances and, it appeared, Konadu’s tacit endorsement — until the season’s premature end.
Abalora’s arrival, then, only threatened to muddy troubled waters some more, potentially making a bad situation worse. How would Konadu — and Kotoko — satisfy the craving for playing time of four national goalkeepers, spreading the minutes among them fairly?
Well, seven games into Kotoko’s season, that game of musical chairs has played out rather well, to the jarring background noise of the team’s struggles. Annan started the campaign — surprise, surprise — but was knocked out in the second league game, away to Berekum Chelsea, by injury.
Baah took his place for a couple of games, before Konadu was fired by the club last week; enter Abalora, who had been observing from the sidelines all along and biding his time. The former WAFA starlet is, apparently, the favourite of Konadu’s former assistant and current interim boss, Johnson Smith.
Abalora has kept goal in Kotoko’s last two games — the only games, in fact, of the post-Konadu era — and has been impressive in both: away at Dreams FC in the Ghana Premier League, first, and days later when Al Hilal visited and beat Kotoko in the first leg of their Caf Champions League first round qualifier.
Even Danlad, who hasn’t yet had a run in the first team this season, has excelled, picking up top honours for the national U-20 team at the recent WAFU Zone B tournament in Benin. He, too, would feel worthy of an outing or two — and why not?
Tactically and technically, though, juggling goalkeepers every few games makes little sense — no position on the football pitch thrives more with consistency, arguably — and Kotoko’s next substantive head coach would have a definite, tough choice to make.
Yet, while Kotoko’s goalkeepers have been encouraging to watch — five goals conceded between them in all competitions, with a joint-lowest three in the league — most fans would rather celebrate an attacking unit that doesn’t have to be bailed out, time after time, by the defence; and a defence that doesn’t have to rely so often on its last line.
Until those issues are fixed, however, what seemed Kotoko’s biggest headache only a few months ago now lights up their gloom.