By now, having seen the recipe time and again, we’re all too familiar with what the ingredients for crisis at Asante Kotoko look like — trouble on the pitch, and a bit more off it — to know the Porcupine Warriors are having one of such maelstroms right now.
And we should have seen it coming, even from some 11 months ago, when the skies were clear and conditions at the club were paradisaic.
They’d just been crowned champions of the Ghana Premier League for a record 24th season, topping the 18-team division in some style, eight years after they last won it. The football was delightful, the mood positive, and the squad looked like a real band of brothers led by the avuncular head coach, Dr. Prosper Narteh Ogum.
Having conquered domestic territory, Kotoko set their sights next on continental goals. The prospect of just how far their club could go this time — even if only a first group-stage involvement in the Caf Champions League since 2006 — excited Kotoko fans, and rightly so.
But that excitement faded, far sooner than anyone expected it to.
Kotoko suffered the jolt of seeing Ogum part ways with the club just weeks after their league triumph. That, compounded by the exit of key playing personnel and a recruitment drive that underwhelmed, left the team considerably weakened in pursuing its objectives.
Ogum’s replacement, Seydou Zerbo, proved no upgrade. As it turned out, he wasn’t even a worthy successor. The Burkinabe failed to get Kotoko’s African inter-club campaign past the first hurdle, before getting dumped out of the FA Cup, and winning just nine of 22 league games.
By the time of his frankly overdue dismissal late in March — more on that shortly — Kotoko’s title defence attempt was already floundering.
Under Zerbo’s interim replacement, Abdulai Gazale — a long-serving assistant to a succession of Kotoko trainers, Zerbo himself included — any chance of the club retaining that piece of silverware is now all but gone, having won only two of eight matches. With just four games to go, even a place in the top four is starting to feel like a target too lofty.
If it’s a sign that Kotoko’s hierarchy have already written off the campaign as a wreck — well, isn’t it? — the club appears no closer to appointing a substantive head coach than they were in the immediate aftermath of Zerbo’s axing.
Speaking of the hierarchy, they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory, have they?
The raging turf war between the club’s Board and the Nana Yaw Amponsah-led management, the result of friction between these two layers of authority that has existed since they started working together, keeps getting in the way of any real progress.
That uneasy relationship, at least in part, triggered the decision to sack Zerbo, with Amponsah revealing he was pushed to make the call by an ultimatum which, alternatively, may well have cost him his own job.
“At one point,” he shared on Kumasi-based Oyerepa FM recently, “there were demands from the Board — and I state this on record — that either the coach goes or the CEO goes.”
But it wasn’t just pressure from the Board that forced the management’s hand in this matter. Certain elements of the club’s fanbase, driven to desperation by the team’s poor form, came in hard, too.
“There was a majority of supporters who wanted him [Zerbo] out. I recall our match against Hearts of Oak in Accra, where I had to intervene to prevent an attack on him,” Amponsah said.
He may have steered the club clear of such a potentially violent episode, but Amponsah has had his hands full with other controversies.
The much-vaunted claim of financial sustainability achieved under Amponsah’s oversight has been cracked by a revelation (emanating from a player who has since been suspended for misconduct), and subsequent admission, of a couple of months’ wages being owed the playing body.
Now that isn’t unusual in this part of the world, given how clubs struggle to scrape funds together in the face of dwindling matchday revenue; there is, in fact, hardly any top-flight side in the country without a backlog of salary arrears to clear at any point in time.
Kotoko’s own struggles in this regard, however, only appears to have armed Amponsah’s detractors with more ammunition in questioning his essence as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the club.
And now, as if it couldn’t get any worse, even the best season that Kotoko have had under Amponsah — arguably his greatest accomplishment yet at the helm of Ghana’s most successful club — is being undermined.
Apparently, not much of that — winning the league last term, playing so well, and even securing victories at some of the toughest venues to visit — was down to Amponsah’s leadership or Ogum’s coaching and man-management, if one prominent supporter of the club is to be believed.
“In the previous season, we exerted considerable effort to ensure success for Asante Kotoko Sporting Club and secure the league title,” Kwaku Amponsah, popularly known as Chairman K5, told Ezra FM this week.
“We allocated a substantial amount, approximately GHS 15,000 to GHS 20,000, towards ‘operations’ with the support of eight powerful spiritual individuals.”
Claims like these, needless to say, do very little to flatter Amponsah or burnish the club’s image.
And when things take such a turn at Kotoko, as long-time followers and keen observers of the club’s fortunes know all too well, the end is usually nigh for someone. The identity of that “someone”, after the season ends and the inquest is ordered, could soon be known.
It may be argued, however, that neither the management nor the Board has much to lose. Their respective mandates expire in a matter of months, after all, with no indication yet of renewals by the club’s ultimate boss, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene.
Such uncertainty itself isn’t healthy for the club, but there is an increasing feeling that Kotoko need a clean break from all the acrimony and negativity that has been allowed to fester throughout the period.
That, though, is a fallacy, for, at Kotoko, there is no such thing as a clean break.
At best, what you get is a hard reset — whatever form that takes — before the vicious cycle sets in again. This is a club where the embers of conflict and chaos never really die out, where failure quickly overtakes success, and where things are never rosy enough even at their rosiest.
Will there be a bouncing-back back from the latest meltdown?
Well, of course — at least for a while, perhaps winning a trophy or two as proof of those remarkable powers of recovery, before getting rocked by the next wave of turbulence. And perhaps Amponsah could oversee that resurgence, if afforded the time to do so.
He has fought a few fires in his time at the club, especially during that challenging first year. And he has certainly displayed enough astuteness in navigating those choppy waters, despite his own shortcomings, to earn and retain the confidence and loyalty of the general fanbase.
Whether the appointing authority believes in him anymore, though, is quite another subject. He does, at best, split the Board down the middle, while what Manhyia — the Asantehene’s base — thinks about all of this remains anyone’s guess. Whatever the latter’s verdict is — for that is what truly matters — we don’t have too long to wait to find out.
Until then, one suspects the perceived poor officiating Amponsah often blames Kotoko’s on-field woes on — or even the relegation of Southampton, their English partners, from the Premier League — would be the least of his worries.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks