It was bound to end at some point but there will be many who followed Kotoko’s Africa Cup campaign who will be asking legitimate questions about why it has had to end now.
Defeat in Zambia against ZESCO United cut short the club’s participation in the CAF Confederations Cup amidst a sense that Kotoko put their best foot forward and did the best they could.
It is easy to understand why given the circumstances they played under but it is possible for the club to reflect on the campaign and wonder if they could have done just a bit more.
And those were not issues influenced by the long lull in domestic football that understandably would have affected their match sharpness.
Too many times during this campaign, Kotoko’s defending left them truly looking like a side that had been away from the top stage in Africa football for long. Last Sunday was a prime example. The maths of the game was simple for Kotoko. Simply win and extend their Africa Cup journey by at least a few more games. They started in a manner that suggested they could, scoring first in the second half.
Then their demons in this campaign came rushing out. Moments later, the Kotoko defence somehow managed to lose sight of Jesse Jackson and let that lead slip. With four Kotoko players in the box against two Zesco attackers, the Kotoko lads showed no fight, no desire and no common football sense. They simply gave Jackson the freedom of the penalty box and watched him take it. Another goal followed and all of a sudden, from a position of strength, the Porcupine Warriors were trailing and on their way out.
That performance in Ndola too was sadly the sort of show Kotoko has put on the road in Africa this season. The home games were mostly electrifying affairs where Kotoko moved the ball quickly, created loads of chances and didn’t take as many as they should have.
At home too, there was always a sense that their defence was a problem with question marks persisting throughout. In the end, the escalation of that poor defence on the road proved to be their undoing.
It means collectively as a country that poor run of form in the CAF competitions continues. There has been no Ghanaian winner since Hearts of Oak took the CAF Confederation Cup in 2004 and barely any close shaves to be proud of. Kotoko themselves continue to think of the club as a giant on the continent but there has been no title since 1982. All of which does very little to advance Ghana’s bid to increase the number of entries into the two pan African club competitions.
There is a risk of being tagged mediocre for suggesting this was overall a good campaign. After all, it was a campaign fraught with bad defending and ultimately exit against two teams from Zambia that Kotoko should be able to get the better off from a sporting perspective or Al Hilal who may have bags of money but who didn’t outstrip Kotoko in terms of talent.
Yet there were many positives. C.K Akunnor, the ex-Ghana captain who had the job of getting Kotoko competitive would be unhappy with some of the defending but those games in Africa have enhanced his reputation as a coach. He needed that big job to convince many that he could be half as good a manager as he was as a player and there is no doubt he took it.
Then there was Felix Annan whose performances in the competition has left to a more substantive debate about whether he deserves to be more than just a squad member in the Black Stars. Maxwell Baako before his injury was an absolute pleasure to watch on the flanks and the manner Kwame Bonsu is taking his second chance with Kotoko is impressive.
Beyond what happened on the pitch, the biggest benefit of the Kotoko campaign is the reminder it provided once again about the local game. There are problems and you would be daft not to see that but Kotoko showed there is still real appetite for top level football, that the scene is not dead and that people are still more than happy to pay, fill a stadium and enjoy their local game. That desire seemed to go hand in hand with the rivalry that has formed with Hearts of Oak, which seemed to have found a new edge during the Confederations Cup.
That sort of attention, the banter, the full stadium, the thrilling games in Kumasi screams opportunity for growth beyond the pitch that Kotoko must capitalize on. Some of those on field displays too suggest there is a long road to travel before Kotoko can consider themselves a force in Africa on the field.
By Michael Oti Adjei
The writer is the Group Head of Sports at Media General (TV3, 3FM, Onua FM, Connect FM & 3news.com)