Great photography has decorated the Ghana Premier League in recent years, and the 2021/22 collection is already filling up after just one matchday. For the best shot yet of the lot, though, you’d have to go through the album from the Asante Kotoko vs Dreams FC game.
It’s a bit reminiscent of Pele’s iconic leap of joy at Mexico 1970, starring Jairzinho at a rocking Estadio Azteca. This time, though, the main characters were Isaac Oppong and Dr. Prosper Narteh Ogum, with the Accra Sports Stadium as venue.
Seconds after Oppong fired Kotoko 2-1 ahead following a well-executed volley in the 89th minute, his coach, Ogum, sprinted over 50 yards, jumped like an accomplished Olympian and hugged the younger man tightly mid-air — not too much of a feat for a Physical Education specialist, though, is it?
It was the perfect turnaround for the Porcupine Warriors who, just three minutes prior, had looked destined to begin their season with defeat after going behind to an incredible solo strike from Dreams’ teenage sensation Abdul Fatawu Issahaku after the hour mark.
Kotoko left it late, scoring three goals – from Mudasiru Salifu, Isaac Oppong and Richmond Lamptey – to secure all three points. That they couldn’t get the job done earlier, in fact, suggests this was no dominant performance by Kotoko.
And it wasn’t.
Just like many times last season, they relied heavily on moments to ride this one out. But there were also so many positives to take from Saturday’s match. After letting go of some senior players, key among them being captains Felix Annan and Emmanuel Gyamfi, as well as the experienced Augustine Okrah, Kotoko kicked off the new season with several new faces.
The back-five was familiar, but there were as many as four debutants – Richmond Lamptey, Stephen Amankona, Joseph Amoako and Samuel Boateng — further up the pitch, while two more, Richard Boadu and Oppong, came on in the second half.
Ogum himself was new to all of this, overseeing his debut game as Kotoko boss, but not to the pressure that comes with the job. The ex-WAFA trainer has certainly felt that following a winless pre-season run in Dubai but, like all good tacticians, it was in such testing moments that Ogum’s brilliance shone through, setting the tone for a comeback.
The introduction of Boadu, just before Dreams took the lead, steadied the Kotoko midfield, forcing the marauding hosts to retreat into their own half. And when Oppong’s outrageous talent was unleashed, 16 minutes from the end, Kotoko were primed to hit Dreams where it hurt.
Slippery Oppong effortlessly went past a couple of opponents and set Salifu up for the crucial equaliser. The cheer that met that goal had barely died down when Oppong went from provider to scorer, controlling and volleying the ball home brilliantly from Patrick Asmah’s perfectly-weighted cross.
Kotoko added a third deep into injury time when Lamptey, from another Oppong assist, blasted a 25-yard thunderbolt to make the result look far glossier than the overall display was.
And yet, as much as this game bore similarities to the typical Kotoko performance in 2020/21, Kotoko showed signs of improvement. The points saved here might have been dropped last season, when Kotoko’s squad didn’t quite have the sort of depth and quality Ogum tapped into so expertly here.
Even better, the current group boasts a number of exciting youth prospects — Oppong being fastest off the blocks — that raises the ceiling of Ogum’s team to a remarkable height. Such a surfeit of talent affords the 43-year-old the luxury of varying the team’s style and shape depending on their opponent; not many of his peers in the league have that.
“We were losing the second balls in the middle of the park, so I realised that Fabio Gama was a little tired because they were kicking him all over the place,” Ogum explained his substitutions in his immediate post-game remarks.
“Instead of playing two offensive midfielders, I decided to pull [Gama] out and bring on Richard Boadu to add to Mudasiru. Mudasiru is a bit mobile so he can join the attack and at the same time join the defence when we lose the ball. And when Richard Boadu came, you realised that we had some stability.”
Kotoko face a tricky test against league-leaders Bechem United, the only team that won more impressively than them — a 4-0 rout of Medeama — on Gameweek 1, before their fans at the Baba Yara Stadium for the first time in over a year.
Expectations on that occasion, and as the season goes along, must be measured, but Ogum certainly has the tools and the wherewithal to deliver once more — even if that means reaching out to the bench again.
It’s his bench, after all.
Emmanuel Ayamga — Ink & Kicks