GPL Match Day 7 Blog: Nuhu brothers inspire Edubiase to unlikely win

The Nuhu brothers: Fusseini and Alhassan. Can you tell the difference? Well, that is Alhassan on the right with the thumbs up (I could only tell given his shirt number 4 on his shorts! haha)

ACCRA--- It was not until 30 minutes into the game that New Edubiase started smelling a possible upset. They had started the game not really knowing what to expect from a Hearts team that had been largely underwhelming all season, but then had turned up in Kumasi to beat Kotoko last week. There was a sense that they had arrived in Accra at the wrong time, just off the back of Hearts’ confidence boosting win over their arch rivals. 'Surely, Hearts will be on fire, all guns blazing. Let’s sit back and defend and try and limit the damage. It’s going to be a long day,' they must've thought.

It didn’t quite happen like that. Hearts turned up looking like they weren’t the same team that took over Kumasi last week. They had relapsed back to the familiar lack of creative spark. “I was very very sad,” Hearts coach Addo remarked. “The way I expected the boys to react and and behave in the first half, I did not get it. We did everything for them not to be lethargic too but they just did not play today.”

Edubiase were smart and alert enough to respond. They started noticing that Hearts were looking woefully ordinary, that they needed to snap out of their inferiority complex and go for the kill. You sensed it in their sudden burst of confidence, initiating wave after wave of attack, taking the game to the Phobians. Their reading of the game was spot on too. When they stepped it up a notch, Hearts could not cope. Within two minutes, Edubiase’s twin duo of Alhassan Nuhu (42nd) and Fusseini Nuhu (45th) had put the Bekwai-based club two up at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Hearts would pull one back on 83 minutes, a result of what was a desperate, hard work-laden attempt to salvage something from the game. Shaun Mason October, their South African left full back whose performances over the last two games had earned rave reviews, saw his cross from the left deflected into the Edubiase goal. In the end, Edubiase got the victory they hadn’t expected – their first away league win in over a year, spanning nine previous unsuccessful trips.

October’s goal was a rare highlight in what was his toughest game in Ghana yet. Alhassan Nuhu’s tireless pace and trickery kept the young man busy and sweating all game, exposing a nervous side to him not seen yet given his incredible composure through previous displays. Right down the middle, the other Nuhu  - Fusseini - was also proving to be a thorn in the flesh of Hearts’ central defensive duo of Philip Boampong and captain Robin Gnagne. Edubiase were giving Hearts serious migraines, with the terrifying twins at the heart of it all, their brilliance worsening the throbbing with each attack.

It was the second consecutive game in which the 25 year old brothers had scored in the same game. “We did it last week [against Wa All Stars] and this week we’ve done it again,” a beaming Alhassan Nuhu, who is the vice captain of the club, told the post match conference. “I’m very happy my brother and I scored for our team to win such a big game because Hearts is not a small team.”

The brothers, who joined New Edubiase from Tema Real Sportive six years ago, have since gone on to become cult heroes at the club. Both original forwards, Alhassan is the more versatile one of the duo, as he has played and excelled across the midfield. Against Hearts, he totally owned the right wing, bringing the game to life each time he had the ball. His goal saw him dash inside from his wing to pick up a pass from the marauding captain Nasir Lamin. Holding off a Hearts defender, he curled the ball in with his weaker left foot from just outside the penalty box, the ball going in off the post.

Fusseini, though, is the more physical one who loves to play on the shoulders of defenders. His clever movement meant he got in behind the Hearts defense on countless occasions. His goal was a typical poachers’ finish. He got on the end of a well-weighted through pass during a counter attack, instinctively following  the ball via a howler from the visibly nervous Hearts goalkeeper Seidu Mutawakil (coach Addo described this as a “Christmas gift.”). His aggressive perseverance meant he found himself with the ball at his feet and with the Hearts goal yawning, the goalkeeper and his defenders sprawled out on the ground behind him. His composure to look behind him, slow down and casually pass the ball into the net was quite the sight.

Post match presser. L-R Hearts reserve Goalie Abdoulaye Soulama, Hearts coach Herbert Addo, Edubiase's Alhassan Nuhu and their coach Anthony Commey

Hearts coach Herbert Addo was full of praise for them. “I first met them when I picked them in 2010 during my time as local Black Stars coach. At that time they were very fast and aggressive but they lacked experienced. Now they are more experienced and importantly, still fast and aggressive,” he said, proudly patting the back of Alhassan who was seated by him at the presser. “It’s interesting because before the game, I told them good luck; which was unfortunate bcause they went on to score against me!”

Alhassan – undoubtedly the man of the match – was unassuming in his response to a question that sought to know whether he performed so well because Black Stars coach Avram Grant had been monitoring the game as a specatator from the VVIP area. “I came here to play my heart out not because of Grant. I came here to play the very same football I love and know. I love to play and I always want to improve. And you know, it’s not that easy to get into the Black Stars. No it’s not,” – he was smiling, shaking his head, his voice drowning – “…no, it’s not, at all. Ei, it’s not.”

The win was Edubiase’s first over Hearts in four meetings, also being the first time they’ve beaten the Phobians away from home in six years. After going winless in their first three games this season, things look good all of a sudden, with three wins in their last four matches, two of them coming on the bounce. They are now 9th on the log, just a point off the top four and three behind second placed Aduana Stars. Their long serving coach Anthony Commey – a colleague of mine calls him “Edubiase Mugabe” because there are hilarious tales of him refusing to leave even when served with sack letters – looked very satisfied.

“Our season didn’t start easy,” the coach, who has been in charge of them since their Premier League debut in the 09/10 season, said. Commey was the mastermind behind the cub’s greatest ever achievement – their FA Cup win three years ago occurring after a memorable win over rivals Ashanti Gold in an Adansi Derby final. “We hope to build on this win to climb up the table. We just want to do better and get into the top four.”

“Maybe,” he added, shrugging. “We can take the FA Cup (again) too.”

Notes

---Ashanti Gold are now six points clear at the top, after coming from behind to beat struggling Kotoko 2-1 at home. Striker Bernard Morrison – who scored the winner, a goal many who were at the game highly praised – says they want to maintain this gap and go all the way. With hopes of his club’s first title in 19 years, the marksman, who is now on four goals, might be getting ahead of himself given how early it is, but you can’t begrudge him. AshGold are in some form and it would take a lot to stop them.

---Asante Kotoko, the latest victims of AshGold’s early season fire, are in a huge mess of their own. After last Saturday’s home loss to Hearts, another loss – though in a difficult away game – is the last thing they needed. Last season, they had lost their match day seven fixture too (a 1-0 loss away in Bechem) but the big difference here is that they had won their previous six consecutive games from the beginning of the season, whereas they’ve only won twice this term. The pressure is building on coach Ms-Ud Didi Dramani, and it did not help that he claimed “Anyone who understands football knows my job is not under threat”.

---Look who suddenly popped up up in the goal king race? Sheriff Mohammed bagged another brace in Inter Allies’ 2-0 win over highly rated Aduana and is on four goals. This is a bit weird, but I somehow (and this was unplanned) met him just before the game at their team hotel. My senior colleague Fred Gyan Mantey, who works with Inter Allies, was teasing him that his brace the other day against Edubiase had been a fluke. He laughed and said he’d prove him wrong. A few hours later, bang!

--Top scorer Gilbert Fiamenyo (five goals) has failed to score in his last three games (he missed the Edubiase game due to an illness, coach Addo said) And that barren spell has turned out to be sunshine that other marksmen are making hay off. The Berekum Chelsea duo of Stephen Baffour and Kofi Owusu have caught up with him, while Sheriff Mohammed (Allies) and Bernard Morrison (AshGold) are all a goal away now.

---Berekum Chelsea are now in third place! Can you believe it? They just popped up from nowhere. Three wins in their last four games and they are now cozying up at the top. And with their 11 goals in seven games, they have scored three more goals than any other team this season too. I’m particularly made up for their striker Kofi Owusu, who had a torrid rime at Aduana last season following his move from King Faisal (where for me he had been brilliant). “I believe my move [to Chelsea] is the best because I was not having the needed playing time which affected my progress immensely," Owusu told Goal Ghana's Evans Gyamera before the start of the season. “The officials at Chelsea have entrusted their faith in me and it paid off during our pre-season matches. I have now gotten back my lost confidence and I know I will score a lot of goals for the team this season to achieve our target.” A lot of goals, eh? How about this season’s first hat-trick to show for all that talk. Owusu scored thrice in his side’s 4-2 win over Regional rivals Bechem United. He's now on five goals.

---After a forgettable time away in South Africa, AshGold’s Yakubu Mohammed is back home in Obuasi, and he’s back to what he does best: banging in the goals. That’s two goals in his last two games.

Results

Hearts of Oak 1-2 New Edubiase United [Shaun Mason October : Alhassan Nuhu, Fusseini Nuhu]

WAFA 2-0 Liberty Professionals [Mathew Antwi 2x]

Medeama 3-2 Greta Olympics [Benjamin Batture, Joseph Tetteh, Kwame Boahene : Agbesi Dotse 2x]

Inter Allies 2-0 Aduana Stars [Sheriff Mohammed 2x]

Berekum Chelsea 4-2 Bechem United [Kofi Owusu 3x, Stephen Baffour : Noah Martey 2x]

BA United 1-0 Hasaacas [Francis Kyeremeh]

AshantiGold 2-1 Asante Kotoko [Yakubu Mohammed, Bernard Morrison : Latif Mohammed]

Wa All Stars 0-1 Heart of Lions [Sam Yeboah]


GPL Match Day 6 Blog - Hearts stun Kumasi with surprise Superclash triumph

Post Match Presser: L-R Man of  the Match Shaun Mason October, Hearts coach Herbert Addo, Hearts skipper Robin Gnagne

KUMASI --- In the end, Gilbert Fiamenyo led a few of his teammates in a spirited sprint to the Asokwa (scoreboard) end of the Kumasi Sports Stadium where their fans were in wild jubilation, waving their rainbow-coloured paraphernalia with vigour. Fiamenyo did the hand-across-neck gesture. “Y3 ku )mo [We’ve killed them],” he seemed to be saying, with furious emphasis. The fans roared even louder.

On the pitch, captain Robin Gnagne raced to the touchline, charging at his coach Herbert Addo like a bull on the loose. This wasn’t an angry bull, though. This was a bull that had been tamed by happiness; one overwhelmed with fulfillment and brimming with pride at a difficult task executed to perfection. In a moment that evoked deep emotion, he reached for Addo – the man who masterminded it all - and lifted him up, other players later joining in to give their experienced coach a kingly ride.

And boy, did Addo deserve it. Last week, in Accra, after a terrible performance against Liberty Professionals at home, Herbert Addo sat the press conference. Hearts had picked up five points from five games, and were now lying 13th on the log. Inside the press room, media men and women were ready to have a go at him with tough, critical questions. Outside, disgruntled and impatient fans waited for him to finish so they could rain bitter insults on him. The pressure he faced was so suffocating, but Addo looked calm and isolated from it all. He boldly claimed that his side were going to surprise Kotoko, after a journalist had questioned whether with such a poor display, Hearts were confident going into an encounter as “dicey” as the Kotoko one was going to be. Addo had smiled. “Sometimes you people ask some questions that make me laugh,” he began.  “Dicey for who? For us or for Kotoko? We are going to play. We are ready.”

Fast forward six days later and he had actually beaten Kotoko at their own grounds in Kumasi, in the process ending Hearts’ seven-game winless run against their arch rivals. By the 8th minute, Hearts had managed to successfully puncture Kotoko’s confidence, silencing the Kumasi crowd. The tireless hard worker Selasi Adjei turned up in the box to tap in a cross from winger Thomas Abbey, a goal that proved decisive in a very close encounter. Journalists who watched that Liberty game and had made the trip to Kumasi were certainly surprised, not least because of the vast improvement the team exhibited. What had Addo done? Why had he been so confident about this game back in Accra?  “If you look at my record – and I’ve been with Kotoko several times – while I was there, we always beat Hearts. Also, anytime I’m with Hearts - even though we don’t win all the time - we never lose to Kotoko. So if I’m here, I like to maintain that record and vice versa. So you shouldn't be surprised that I won today,” he said. He was smiling again. He looked relieved.

That relief had been reflected in the manner in which Hearts celebrated at the blast of the final whistle. An uniformed observer would have been forgiven to think that they had just won a Cup final. It had been their first win since Match Day one, following four games without a win. Their hunger had been palpable, and it had been justified in the end too. “The eyes of the Hearts of Oak players were even more red than the Kotoko jersey,” Addo said. “Kotoko’s were also red but it was dim,” – laughter from journalists followed – “and that means our players were more prepared to die than the Kotoko players.”

The one goal recorded didn't do justice to the tie, because this was that explosive match from start to finish. Bar Kotoko winger Prince Baffoe (who was bizarrely pulled off on 30 minutes for the pacy Frank Sarfo Gyamfi) and Hearts’ young goalkeeper Seidu Mutawakil (whose amateurish, immature and sometimes comical time wasting antics threatened to mar the beauty and seriousness of the game), every player – across both teams – stepped up to the plate in what was an end to end, edge-of-your-seat cracker of a game. It had it all; a high octane contest overflowing with immense passion, the free-flowing attacking football across board providing intense attraction. The cliché goes that this clash – the biggest on the Ghanaian football calendar – never follows the readings on paper, and this was yet another reminder; yet another reason why this clash will always remain relevant even against the recent worrying culture of apathy.

Both sides certainly deserved to win his match - their 101st league meeting - but there could only be one winner. Hearts narrowly emerged victorious in what was their 18th win in Kumasi against Kotoko, five of those coming in the last nine years alone. Many present described Hearts’ goal as ‘lucky’; and while this sounded condescending, it was to be fair more of an accurate comment on how close the game had been. Even Addo concurred. “I really thank God for that ‘lucky’ goal because we’ve not had luck in our previous games!” he said. Kotoko coach Mas-Ud Didi Dramani, who had just lost his first Superclash after four previous encounters, agreed too. “Luck eluded us,” he opined. Whether this win will prove positively pivotal for Hearts’ season remains to be seen, but Addo certainly relished the motivation drawn. “Having beaten Kotoko, the champion club, we are inspired to work harder."

Team Kotoko. L-R: Captain Jordan Opoku (who would come under attack from fans right after this) and coach Mas-Ud Didi Dramani

Meanwhile, for Kotoko, trouble brewed. Frustrated fans gathered in groups at the car pack behind the VIP area deep into the night. The loss had not gone down well. Could you blame them? Hearts had come into the game off the back of a disastrous run of form, and had still managed to come to Kumasi to beat their club – a club that won the league and Cup double last season. "Sekan awu koraa na 3ny3 kontomire [No matter how blunt a knife is, it can always cut up leaves!]," a Hearts fan teased cheerfully from up the stairs leading to the VIP stands, rubbing salt in the wounds of the irritated Kotoko fans. Imagine the pain.

Tempers were high, and a scape-goat was to be caught soon. Some angry fans confronted captain Jordan Opoku, verbally abusing him. It almost got physical too. It wasn’t a pretty scene.

Why? It seemed the loss had opened a nasty can of worms. Apparently there’s a conspiracy theory going round that says Opoku is the ring leader of a gang in the squad – the others being defender Abeiku Ainooson, winger Richard Mpong and vice-captain Michael Akuffo – who have vowed never to give passes to Ivorian striker Ahmed Toure.

According to the fans, Toure’s much-publicized big money signing at Kotoko before the season (a fan bought him a car and a plot of land) – coupled with the superstar treatment he gets  – seems to have irked these players, hence their decision to starve him off support. “They did the same thing against Hasaacas. The same thing! They never pass to Ahmed. If previous players for our club had played with such 'abr)' [jealousy-inspired wickedness] do you, Jordan, think you would have come to meet Kotoko as such a big club?” a fan complained.

What if these were baseless accusations? It was a question that certainly pissed off another fan.“I live right next to the house of a player. Do you think I don’t here the stuff going on in the team? This is unacceptable. I even heard Toure’s contract has a provision that says he receives money after every goal. So because of this they’ve decided not to pass to him? They will carry on this behavior for us to see!”

The following comment from another fan, though, stood out: “I bought a ticket! And a yoghurt! I don’t deserve to see such nonsense!” he fumed. “I’m not going home. I’ll sleep here!”

Notes:

---AshGold keep winning. They went to Dansoman and actually beat an in-form Liberty Professionals team at home. That is 15 points out of a possible 18, and that is very, very impressive.

---After three consecutive losses, Olympics have managed to bounce back – and in some style too. A 2-0 win over a team as strong as Hasaacas? How good is that? Top marks to coach Kassim Mingle Ocansey. His optimism through those losses was admirable.

---B.A United have now gone five consecutive games without a single win since their opening day derby win over Bechem United. Their latest loss was yet another derby loss; a 1-0 defeat to Aduana in Dormaa. They are playing Hasaacas at home next. It could be a sixth loss on the trot. The Apostles of Ghana soccer are really finding life at the top hard, aren’t they?

---Fan and media attendance for the Superclash between Kotoko and Hearts was at an all-time low, but thankfully the football on the pitch wasn't as bad. Many see the low patronage as a reflection of the general assertion that the rate of interest in the league is dwindling, which isn't far from the truth, to be fair. The thing is the game was always going to be lose out to the conditions - ranging from Saturday not being a traditional football day, the Afcon buzz as well as numerous big clashes around the world in top leagues. That said, both clubs could have certainly gone the extra mile regarding promotion knowing they were up against such a heavy tide.

---It’s now two wins in three games for Swede coach Tom Strand at Medeama. The Tarkwa-based club have some really great players, and it they keep this form up, could grow into a threat for the title hunters at the top.

---Berekum Chelsea’s Stephen Baffour (four goals) is steadily closing in on Gilbert FIamenyo’s five goal tally on top of the top scorer’s chat. Fiamenyo has gone three games without a goal.

Results:

Asante Kotoko 0-1 Hearts of Oak [Selasi Adjei]

Aduana Stars 1-0 B.A United [Francis Larbi]

Bechem United 1-1 WAFA [Noah Martey : Kennedy Kissi Koranteng]

New Edubiase 3-2 Wa All Stars [Malik Tahiru, Nuhu Fuseini, Alhassan Nuhu : Abdul Ganiyu Ismail, Paul De Vries]

Heart of Lions 0-0 Inter Allies

Liberty Professionals 1-0 Ashanti Gold [Yakubu Mohammed]

Medeama 1-0 Berekum Chelsea [Nathaniel Asamoah]

Great Olympics 2-0 Hasaacas [Francis Attuquaye, Kwame Boateng]


GPL Match Day 5 Blog: Herbert Addo feeling the heat

Hearts and Liberty Professionals before the game. It ended 1-1, Tamimu Muntari's (Liberty) early first half strike cancelled out by a late Richard Yamoah (Hearts) header in the second half

ACCRA --- It was at this same venue, against the same team. Last season, Hearts of Oak had finished off city rivals Liberty Professionals by the end of the first five minutes. Two quick-fire goals meant the Phobians had made sure the contest had ended before Liberty could say Jack; business done nice and early.

This season, to say the story was different wouldn't do justice to what happened.

What happened to Hearts in the first half of Wednesday’s mid-week clash against Liberty Professionals would be hard to explain. It was jaw-dropping stuff. It was bizarre. If one scene from the half summed up their woes, it was the image of star striker Gilbert Fiamenyo holding on to the ball on the edge of the box for close to 20 seconds, screaming his lungs out for support from lackadaisical teammates who didn’t show a scintilla of interest in either moving into space or relieving him off the ball. There were countless times when they would be on the defensive end of a counter attack – about three defenders facing five attackers attackers  – and their players would muster the audacity to walk casually, as if nothing was at stake.

The 20-time national champions looked like a group of eleven impostors – amateur footballers posing as professionals.  It was the worst performance you would ever see, a gut-wrenching show of cluelessness. These were a group of players who had turned up at their own show and taken seats to see themselves perform. It was so bad – and so sad - that at a point you felt they would stop the game and apologize to their obviously disappointed fans for such a glaring show of unacceptable standards.  There wasn’t a single thing they did right; not even the slightest indication that this was a serious football team. There was a sense of soullessness about them; no hunger, no urgency, no sense of duty, no organization, no coordination, no attitude, no creative spark, no sense of purpose – just a display of mind boggling incompetence and sheer mediocrity from players who looked incredibly passive. It was so surreal that at times you could see their visitors visibly overwhelmed by how easy it all looked.

But perhaps assessing things from that perspective would be taking something away from the brilliance of their opponents. And goodness knows they do not deserve that. Liberty Professionals – with one of the smoothest attacking machinery you would ever see - went through a basically non-existent Hearts midfield with stroll-in-the park ease. Led by the graceful Kennedy Ashia - a player who stood head and shoulders above every single soul on the pitch – the sharp and inventive Dansoman boys exuded exciting technique and speed – laying into Hearts, thrusting them mercilessly as the gaping holes in defence served as the facilitating lube. Above all, though, it was their telepathy that was enchanting. “They played with a lot of coordination. If anybody coughed, the other person knew what he wanted,” Hearts coach Herbert Addo praised. Only a bluntness in attack kept the score line tidy. “They gave us a hell of a time,” Addo admitted. “We’ll not meet a better team than Liberty, from what I’ve seen so far.”

What was more mysterious than Hearts salvaging a point from a game they clearly deserved to lose was coach Addo claiming at the post-match presser that the 1-1 score was “fair”. That assertion was just the tip of the iceberg of Addo’s largely strange demeanor. The contrast between the debacle on the pitch and Addo’s calm, all is well-themed comments was startling. The accomplished tactician looked like a man conveniently detached from reality, a man unwilling to admit that his team’s showing smacked of danger especially going into next Saturday’s all-important clash with arch-rivals Asante Kotoko in Kumasi as well as a home tie in the CAF Confederations Cup a few days later against AS Police. With such big tasks looming, Addo’s claims of “we are ready” was admirable given the level of pessimism, but it seemed desperately incongruous off the back of such a shambolic display. It was all very strange, not least because of the fact that he later claimed, “I am an experienced coach and I accept my mistakes”. His blatant refusal to admit that things had been that bad – “I saw in their eyes that they wanted to win!” (Seriously!?) - was very conspicuous, which makes you wonder if it was him being genuinely delusional or pulling off a wild bout of mind games.

Even more dangerous was his defensive demeanor.  Apart from a tedious lecture about a long list of excuses for his team’s difficult start to the season – ranging from injuries, lengthy recruitment period, players being on national duty, illnesses and cards - he also waded into the sensitive intricacies of antagonizing the media. He accused the press of being overly skeptical about his side’s poor start to the season, a run of form that has seen them win only once in five outings, scoring only six goals (five of which have been scored by one man, a worrying sign of over-dependence). He also hit back at the “ridiculous” entertainment of rumours by some radio stations that he had not been paid for months.  “Has anybody complained about money? Not being paid? Salaries? Signing on fee? I have certainly not complained,” he retorted. “I’m a professional man and I work under a professional contract.”

Okay, so perhaps, Hearts had been that off because they were tired? “No,” he lashed out. “It wasn’t that they were tired. The training I give them is precise. It’s about coordination, and we haven’t got it yet. We are slower in analyzing [options when in possession]. But it’s football, and that is why we coach them. We have a lot of work to do.”

High table at the post match presser. L-R: Liberty midfielder Tuaha Sheikh Hizzel, Liberty coach George Lamptey, Hearts coach Herbert Addo and Hearts striker Gilbert Fiamenyo

To be fair, the pressure has been mounting on Addo and such a charged response was always going to come. But what was striking was that he seemed to show signs that his trademark tough skin had been compromised; that the frustrations was eating him up. For instance, his advice to the media to stop being negative about his side’s struggles was an appeal unexpected from a man whose years of experience should surely suggest he should be familiar with the media being addicted to sensationalism and negativity. “If you ask me positive questions, I will give you a sensible answer,” he said. “But if you ask me off the hook questions (uninformed questions without prior observation, according to him) then I will give you a left hook.”

After the presser, outside, a disgruntled fan had lost it and was making a huge scene. He paced back and forth impatiently behind the police barrier between himself and the Hearts team bus, where coach Addo was having a conversation with the Bus driver. A barrel-chested 30-something year old, the fan was bitter – venomous, too - blowing a gasket. “You useless coach! What do you know? Do you think your position here is cast in stone? That we cannot sack you? Even [David] Duncan we sacked him. You go to Kumasi and return and see what we will do to you. You wait. Just wait!”

The bad news for Addo – who commendably stayed calm and unresponsive amid the insults - is that things cannot be as ideal as he wants them to be. Somewhere in between the emotions of being disappointed by their team’s under-performance, Hearts fans are in no mood to be reasonable. Patience is a myth at a big club like Hearts – there’s a culture of unforgiving criticism and an inevitable eruption of knee jerk reactions when the going gets tough. Addo can only quell this unrest with results.

Notes

---Last week, I praised Aduana’s unbeaten run and asked how long they would be able to hold on? I felt I was jinxing it, and it turns out I wasn’t wrong. They lost.

---The interesting thing going into next weekend’s big Kotoko-Hearts clash in Kumasi is that both teams are in such underwhelming form. Kotoko travelled to Wa and failed to win.  That’s eight points from a possible 15 for Didi Dramani’s Porcupine Warriors this season – an extremely poor return not only because they are champions and should be doing better, but because last season at this point they had 15 out of 15 points. It is extremely worrying to think both these clubs will be representing Ghana in Africa this season. They need to use this Saturday’s clash to sort themselves out. These giants need to start getting serious.

---AshantiGold are back to winning ways – and back on top of the table too. 12 points out of 15 – two points clear at the summit. Not bad at all for Bashir Hayford’s men, though it’s early days yet.

---WAFA got their second win of the season and are now six points off the top, three off fourth place. Settling into their stride?

--Sekondi Hasaacas are really looking good.  Sitting in second place, coach Yusif Basigi’s men – who beat ended Aduana’s unbeaten run – are in Accra this weekend to Great Olympics. Olympics though. They have now lost three games on the trot and are still sitting bottom. Early days yet, but coach Kassim Mingle must be feeling like he’s in the same oven as Herbert Addo.

---Last Sunday, gangling Inter Allies striker Sherif Mohammed had not even been on the bench as his side drew goalless with Liberty Professionals. I was there, and I spoke to him (he’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet). He seemed convinced his time would come. The following Friday, he went to Kumasi and had a good outing against Kotoko where he struck the post. Five days later, and he scored a brace as Inter Allies won their first game since Match Day 1. Chuffed for him.

--Gilbert Fiamenyo was named Player of the Month by Hot FM, an Accra-based radio station. Five goals in five games, totally deserved. But there was a twist: it was presented in the weirdest manner. They actually pulled him apart from his teammates during half time and made the presentation on the touchline. Half time! With Hearts a goal down and the coach needing his players in the dressing room for a vital pep talk. Couldn't they have waited till the end of the game!? Or better still, why not before the game? It was unfortunate.

---Berekum Chelsea’s Stephen Baffour is now on four goals, breathing down the neck of top scorer Gilbert Fiamenyo  – who hasn’t scored in his last two games. Pressure? “I’m not under pressure,” he says. “It’s part of the game, sometimes you score and sometimes you don’t.”

Results

Wa All Stars 0-0 Asante Kotoko

Hearts of Oak 1-1 Liberty Professionals [Richard Yamoah : Tamimu Muntari]

Hasaacas 2-1 Aduana Stars [Frederick Quayeson, Amos Korankye]

B.A United 1-1 Heart of Lions [Francis Kyeremeh : Tanko Mohammed]

AshantiGold 2-1 Bechem United [Shaffiu Mumuni, Benard Morrison : Noah Martey]

WAFA 1-0 Medeama [Mumuni Zakaria]

Inter Allies 2-0 New Edubiase [Sherif Deo Mohammed 2x]

Berekum Chelsea 1-0 Great Olympics [Stephen Baffour]


GPL Match Day 4 Blog: Unbeaten Aduana savouring early season bliss

Abdul Rahman Ameyaw poses for a photo after the post match presser

ACCRA --- When he walked in, taking his seat in front of journalists gathered, the glow on his face was so bright. Turn off the lights inside the Accra Sports Stadium's press room and Abdul Rahman Ameyaw's face would have lit up the place. The Aduana coach, a very well-trimmed man,  was all smiles, dressed in an aptly coloured bright orange lacoste shirt, his beefy chest and bulging biceps particularly standing out. The air of bonhomie he exuded was contagious.

When he began speaking, he proved as interesting as his demeanor. He is known to outsiders as Ameyaw, but at home in Dormaa, everyone refers to him by the most interesting nickname you will ever hear off: ‘Holy sinner’. Inevitably, I had to satisfy my curiosity, and he was generous enough to share his story too. “When we were in school, you know, boys tried to pick up names and I had one of my seniors was called ‘Sugar pepper’.  So I said to myself, okay, why don’t I also take two names. I thought; ‘Every person has a good side and a bad side, so when you are on the wrong side you are sinning, and when you are on the good side you are holy’," he explained with an almost childish excitement, ending it abruptly with a smile that seemed to say, 'the rest is history'.  Some journalists burst into fits of laughter.

Ameyaw was probably that bubbly because his side had just beaten home side Great Olympics 1-0. But it was a game that saw them largely outplayed. Completely dominated, in fact. Olympics hungrily went at Aduana and incessantly attacked them for almost the entire game – “If football was a boxing game the referee would have stopped the game earlier,” said their coach Kassim Mingle – but couldn’t score. “We worked hard and created a lot of chances but we could not score as we wasted a lot of them. It was hard luck on our part,” Mingle moped. “If you miss chances, you get punished,” admitted Olympics captain Francis Mantey.

But Ameyaw clearly didn't seem worried about being in the shadow of Olympics' dominance all game. It was, afterall, a  pre-meditated style, a well-calculated strategy. This was how they wanted it. This was exactly what they had planned to do. “We heard about how Olympics came back to beat Lions 3-2 in their last home game so when we came in our plan was to keep them at bay and hit them on the counter and luckily we were able to come up with that goal,” he revealed.

The goal had been a 42nd minute Richard Arhin header from a well-struck Daniel Darkwa corner. “Accidentally our goalkeeper fumbled and they had the goal,” Kassim Mingle said, adding: “They didn’t work for that goal.”

Ameyaw begged to differ. “We work on set-pieces, that is our hallmark,” he beamed. It had been a job well done, a mission well accomplished in the simplest, most effective way. “One goal, three points. That’s all we need. That’s the most important thing," he said with a sense of satisfaction. “It was a sweet victory for us.”

Olympics coach Kassim Mingle Ocansey

Sweet victory indeed. The win – coming on the back of losses suffered by their top of the table competitors AshantiGold, Hasaacas and Wa All Stars – meant Aduana were the only side in the league that had emerged from Match day four unbeaten. More significantly, it meant they had climbed to the top of the table.

Ameyaw opines his boys’ early season is due to the team's “discipline, dedication, self control,”, but a club insider, media officer Kwasi Appiah Kusi, puts it all down to Ameyaw himself. “He’s such a good coach. He knows the club’s ins and outs and knows every player inside out too. He also has a cordial relationship with all of them,” Kusi, popularly known as ‘White man’, said.

Unknown to many, Ameyaw was actually the brain behind Aduana’s debut qualification to the top flight in 2009/10 season, but a lack of appropriate certification meant he had to make a step down and play second fiddle to the more experienced Herbert Addo – now coach of Hearts of Oak. Addo went on to make history, winning the league title that very same season. Aduana had come straight from the second tier to rule the roost in the Premier League, a remarkable run which was as bizarre as the manner in which they did it: a record of W-15 D-8 L-7 GF-19 GA- 10, chalking 53 points.

Since becoming the first team out of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana to become league champions – joining a prestigious league of nine clubs who have won the league in it’s close to 57 year history - the Dormaa-based club have essentially failed to measure up to their potential, finishing outside the top four in the last four seasons. But this season, they want to change things and step up.

Ameyaw – whose longevity at the club means he has had many spells in charge in between many other coaches -  came back to replace controversial Serbian trainer Milutin Bogdanovic in the middle of last season, fresh from the pursuit of a CAF license B course. A fans' favourite, Holy sinner is now managing a very coherent squad – “About 90% of them have been at the club for close to six years,” Kusi says – that also abounds with talent.

The very popular Godfred Saka - considered by many as the best right back in Ghana

The quality runs through. There's recently capped Ghana international goalkeeper Stephen Adams, set-piece specialist and goal-scoring right back Godfred Saka, the very physical captain Emmanuel Akuoko and his rocky central defensive partner-in-crime Abdul Ganiyu, the energetic holding midfielder Seth Opare as well as an attack brimming with speed, skill and goals: the likes of James Abban, Daniel Darkwa, Sam Adams, Elvis Opoku and Stephen Arhin.

Arhin, in particular, has been the hero for the team thus far this season. His well-timed header against Olympics was his third goal in four games this season. It could not have been so, though, but for the work of Ameyaw. “People have complained a lot about him but every coach has his own talisman, and he is one of them,” Ameyaw said of his striker, who is enjoying a breakthrough after two quiet previous seasons. “I know what he is capable of doing. People keep commenting about him but I don’t listen. I have had all the confidence in the world in him and I always know that at the crucial point he will deliver for me.”

Aduana’s early season form has got fans dreaming. “We are hoping to in the league,” Kusi said. “Even if that doesn’t happen, we don’t want to go beyond the top four zone. We believe this is possible because our patron and bank roller Nana Agyemang Badu (the paramount chief of the Dormaa Ahenkro) is giving us everything we need, like he’s always done. Money is never a problem for our club as long as we perform. You know, we pay the highest winning bonuses in the whole of the league!”

Are Aduana eyeing their second title now that they’ve started the season so well? Or is it too early to entertain such ambitions? In response, Ameyaw had an interesting analogy ; one that seemed terribly misplaced initially, but seemed to make sense eventually in a cryptic, mind game-like sense. “If you cannot beat them, you join them. So we’re joining those who are in the race. Our aim is to join those who are at the top.”

What he was sure of, and thus clear about, was that his side isn't going to succumb to the pressure and intimidation of being on top of the log. “We all started at the same time. We're all playing in the same league. We have good players too. We are going to compete with them."

Notes

---Medeama signed up expat coach Tom Strand - the youthful, movie-star looking Swedish tactician -  last week. First game into his tenure and he has already secured the Tarkwa-based club their first win of the season - a 2-0 win over Ashanti Gold. In so doing, they proved strong enough to halt Ash Gold’s 100% record start to the season too. AshGold were bound to lose at some point, but will this loss derail their form?

---Hearts’defensive frailties coupled with their conspicuous dependence on Gilbert Fiamenyo caught up with them once more as they lost 1-0 in Bechem. It has been a weird start steeped in mixed feelings for the Phobians – they aren’t playing either poorly or exceptionally. The results, though, haven't been good, and they know they need to step up to the plate before the season gets complicated. It's not going to get any easier too. Herbert Addo will definitely be feeling the heat going into next week’s ‘Super Clash’ with arch rivals Asante Kotoko – who won their second game on the trot earlier on Friday – next weekend. Kotoko coach Didi Dramani was in Bechem to scout his opponents too. Next week should be interesting. Who is your money on?

---Hasaacas and Wa All Stars (in addition to hitherto leaders AshGold) all lost their unbeaten records. All Stars, particularly did so while conceding their first goal this season. The season is getting real and personal, with resistances being broken. How long the last team standing - Aduana -  holds on remains to be seen.

-- B.A United have now lost three games on the trot, sitting rock bottom of the table. Whipping boys? They have more time to prove doomsayers wrong, because unlike WAFA, they haven't looked like a side that have what it takes quality-wise to endure top flight pressure.

Results

Friday: Asante Kotoko 1-0 Inter Allies [Dauda Mohammed]

New Edubiase 2-1 BA United [Nuhu Fusseini, James Boadu : Enoch Gyimah]

Liberty Professionals 1-0 Wa All Stars [Emmanuel Antwi]

Berekum Chelsea 2-0 Sogakope WAFA [Samuel Kyereh, Stephen Baffour]

Great Olympics 0-1 Aduana Stars [Richard Arhin]

Hearts of Lions 2-0 Hasaacas [Mohammed Razir, Abdulai Abdul Karim]

Medeama SC 2-0 AhsnatiGold [Nathaniel Asamoah 2x]

Bechem United 1-0 Hearts of Oak [Hamza Mohammed]


GPL Match Day 3 Blog: Gilbert Fiamenyo bounces back to set league alight

Gilbert Fiamenyo

This season, it took Gilbert Fiamenyo just one game to equal his own goal tally from last season. Scratch that: make that 56 minutes. Four minutes shy of the hour mark during Hearts of Oak’s home away from home clash with Premier League new boys WAFA in Kpando, the stocky marksman found the net – a goal that proved the decider in what has turned out to be Heart’s only win in the three-game old campaign.

One goal. Baako p3 – just one. That was all the 24 year old managed to score in 10 league games last season. To say it was nightmarish for him would be a gross understatement. He had joined the Phobians as a hot goal scoring sensation from Heart of Lions before the 2012/13 season, but battling a recurring knee injury had meant he spent more time everywhere else – from the touchlines, to the doctor’s through to home – than on the pitch. Spending time off the pitch came with its own additional problems. He wanted to return and prove his worth, but his body was failing him. The frustration was piling up, and, given the inactivity, so were the calories.

His weight fluctuated embarrassingly, reaching an all-time high at times where he took to the pitch and could barely manage a 1 meter sprint without panting uncontrollably. He was called names too; his competence rubbished, fat-jokes hurled at, killing his spirit as he struggled to stage a come-back against that heavy tide. “Why will people say I’m not performing because I’m overweight? I don’t agree with them at all. In football, you might sometimes dip and that is acceptable,” he would say months later, looking back on a painful episode. “It’s about time people start to accept and encourage we the players. Give us motivation when we go down but not to insult and make such comments.”

As early as December 2012, four months after he had been signed, strong rumours emerged that Hearts had given up on him; that they had transfer-listed him, amid growing complaints from fans that he had been a worthless purchase. But Hearts kept faith, defending their man. “It’s not true we have put Fiamenyo on the transfer-list. It has not even crossed our minds,” Hearts spokesman Muheeb Saed said. Fiamenyo would repay the faith. Later on in the season, he would show glimpses of his old form, going on a three game scoring spree that saw him score six goals. But that was it; a flash in the pan. He lost the self-belief again, checking back into the depressing zone of self-pity and its accompanying mediocrity.

But after enduring another difficult season – last season – Fiamenyo is back. Or so it seems. Before the season kicked off on January 18, with Hearts scheduled to play the first game of the season, Fiamenyo poured his heart out. “I know the fans expect a lot from me but they should have patience,” he said. “I am determined to make my mark and bang in the goals for the side. It is my primary duty to score for the team. I will not relent in my effort to ensure I succeed at the club and make the fans happy.”

The determination oozed from his words and by the time Hearts took to the pitch, it was oozing from his legs too. Balling like a player reborn, Fiamenyo – playing at the Kpando stadium, a familiar turf where he scored at will during his time at Lions – put in a solid performance, capping it with the season’s first goal.

Match Day two saw Hearts face Berekum Chelsea away. If anyone was thinking his great start would follow the familiar nine-day wonder script, they would have revised their expectations upon learning that the opponents were going to be Chelsea. Fiamenyo himself must have smiled, comforted by the warm feeling that the gods were definitely on his side this year. Why? Even through Fiamenyo’s well-documented predicaments at Hearts, he has always managed to score against Chelsea. He had scored three goals in his last two games against the Blues from Berekum, and that amazing run was going to continue. Fiamenyo went on to bag a clinical brace despite Hearts giving in to a second half capitulation and eventually losing 2-4 to Chelsea. Five goals in three games against one opponent, three goals in two games this season alone. He was operating on a different plane, gliding smoothly on cloud nine.

Predictably, there must have been niggling fears that this would end soon, given his history. The doubts must have lurked, both from within and from without, the pressure mounting. But few things can stop a man in his elements. If he was doubting the glaring signs that this was going to be his season, he was surely going to change his mind as Match Day three saw him bag yet another brace in Hearts’ 2-2 away draw against Medeama in Sekondi on Sunday.

“Man-of-the-moment Gilbert Fiamenyo proved he is back to his best,” wrote Hearts’official website. Indeed, the man from Kpando is back to his very best. And it has been timely too. The young man, the stone that the builders rejected many times over the last two seasons, is now the cornerstone, carrying Hearts on his shoulders with his red-hot form. Hearts have scored five goals this season, and every single one of them has been scored by Fiamenyo. And they haven't been easy goals too. Every goal has evinced class, born out of exceptional technique and clever thinking, elucidating his predatory instincts. His second goal against Medeama was praised by Hearts journalist Sadat Larry as "the greatest of the growing array of glittering strikes from the in-form target man – a sensational that brought the whole stadium on its feet".

Insiders say the surge in his form owes much to Herbert Addo's belief in him. The new Hearts coach has worked extensively on the striker - both physically and mentally - and has placed a sort of trust and confidence in him that has got him flying and firing.

Just three matches into the new season and it is already safe to say that no matter what happens next, this will be his best season yet. This is how good his current tally is: last season, at the end of the first round (15 matches), the top scorer at that point was Kotoko's Seidu Bancey. He had scored six goals. Fiamenyo is just one short of that tally after just three games.

Hearts' current talisman is back where he belongs; he is reliving the familiar routine of sticking the ball at the back of the net with effortless ease, and he is enjoying it. And it is hard to see this form derailed at some point; there is a visible hunger, a determination to make this season his own. “I think I’m back again,” he told Sadat Larry. “I'm trying to do better than this and I hope to improve more.”

Many Hearts fans tried desperately to believe that Fiamenyo had been the beneficiary of the hype-without-substance culture so familiar with Ghana’s top flight – a phenomenon aided by the fact that about 90% of games don’t make it to television amid the arrangement of eight matches being played simultaneously almost every match day, and so there isn’t enough seen of players collectively to make informed assessments. Thus there were countless times where his talent was questioned. But what many failed to realize – and what Fiamenyo is proving now - is that the art of goal scoring had always been embedded deep within his genes. It had just been dormant, yearning to be awakened, but the discouraging words from fans had been stifling it.

Not anymore. The confidence has been retraced. The brilliance has resurfaced. The boy has found his feet. A beast has been unleashed.

Notes:

---AshantiGold are still winning. The Aboakese lads are still the only club with a 100% record after three match days. Bashir Hayford and his team have disconnected themselves from the early season chaos and they are steadily setting themselves apart. Other teams – read, Kotoko and Hearts – will hope it won’t be too late when they settle into their stride.

---So, after a winless first two games, defending champions Asante Kotoko have finally picked up their first win of the season. This is must have come as such a huge relief; Kotoko’s struggles in the first too games caused a huge panic that culminated in a board meeting. Imagine. Will they be able to use this result to turn things around? It remains to be seen. And oh, the highly-rated Ahmed Toure got off the mark too, scoring the second in a comfortable 2-0 win at B.A United. Are we going to see a Toure-Fiamenyo race for goal king? If so, that would be some explosive race, wouldn't it?

---WAFA didn’t do an Inter Allies after all. After two consecutive losses, the Sogakope-based boys won their first game. And they did it impressively too, coming back from a goal down to beat Olympics 2-1 at home. “They are good side, very technical and tactical. They are also young and fast and a lot of teams are going to have problems with them,” Hearts coach Herbert Addo said of them after their clash on Match Day one. If they are able to build on this and pick up some momentum, they will most certainly, like Addo said, be a thorn in the flesh of the big boys.

---There are four teams apart from AshantiGold who are yet to be beaten this season. They are Hasaacas, Wa All Stars and Aduana Stars, and they are second, third and fourth respectively.  These teams finished 7th, 8th and 11th last season, and are obviously determined to make an impact this time round. Hasaacas, especially, at this point last season had just two points, in what was a terrible start that saw them go six games without a win. The ‘Doooo’ boys, under energetic coach Yusif Basigi have learnt from their mistakes and are doing the right things. Will they be a long term threat?

Results

Sekondi: Hearts of Oak 2-2 Medeama SC [Gilbert Fiamenyo 2x : Benjamin Bature, Hans Kwofie]
Dormaa: Aduana Stars 1-0 Heart of Lions [Richard Arhin]
Sunyani: B.A United 0-2 Asante Kotoko [Jordan Opoku, Ahmed Toure]
Wa: Wa All Stars 2-0 Bechem United [Stephen Nyarko, Joseph Adjei]
Obuasi: Ashanti Gold 1-0 Berekum Chelsea [Bernard Morrison]
Sogokpe: WAFA 2-1 Great Olympics [Kissi Boateng, Samuel Tetteh : David Appiah]
Sekondi: Hasaacas 1-0 New Edubiase United [Roger Lamptey]
Tema: Inter Allies 0-0 Liberty Professionals

Premier League Table here


GPL Match Day 2 Blog: Olympics show tough inner fight

It wasn't exactly a packed stadium but the atmosphere was electric and the football was cracking

ACCRA-----Heart of Lions coach Yusif Abubakar, in the company of his club’s press officer, ascended the stairs leading up to the press room of the Accra Sports Stadium. Journalists had huddled around Olympics coach Kassim Mingle in the corridor just outside the press room, carrying out a make-shift post-match conference while standing and being engaged in the traditional struggle to get their recorders close enough to their subject’s mouth. The crowdedness of the whole process made the heat unbearable, and some journalists had even given up, going on an angry rant about why the press room would be locked after a game when the Ghana Football Association had specifically declared post-match pressers compulsory.

They weren’t the only angry ones. While journalists gave their attention to Mingle, Abubakar paced about impatiently outside, his temper rising steadily. Then it happened; he let if all out. With his facial veins bulging out amid beads of sweat forming on his face, Abubakar’s fury erupted. “What is the meaning of all this? Where is the respect?!” he questioned angrily. “You people bash us on radio. You say Ghanaian coaches don’t like talking after losing game, that we are primitive. But when we come, you don’t pay attention to us. I’ve been here waiting and not one of you has come to engage me in conversation. Is this fair?”

The journalists had to abruptly end their conversation with Mingle in order to quell the tension brewing from Abubakar’s tantrum throwing. A few of us gathered around him and pleaded with him to be calm and forgiving as this whole mess could have been avoided had the press room been opened. It didn’t help much as the anger was still very much visible, but he made his way into the corridor just outside the press room in order for us to get his views on the game that had just ended.

Lions coach Yusif Abubakar

The game? Abubakar’s Lions side had just lost to home side Great Olympics in their Match Day two fixture. A critical look at the game would perhaps give clues about why his fury seemed so abnormal, so incongruous. It wasn’t only because of the whole journalists-ignoring-him drama, surely. It was something more – something about the game. Lions had gone into the first half break with a 2-1 lead, increasingly looking like they had the game under their authoritative control. In the 32nd minute, the Kpando-based team took the lead with a beautiful free-kick from 20 yards that was expertly curled by winger Isaac Quansah , the ball bouncing mischievously  in front of the Olympics keeper Abraham Odonkor at his left post and beating him.

Olympics, who to be fair worked harder that the Lions team despite looking more vulnerable, equalized eight minutes later when the tall, well-built midfielder Godfred Asante slammed in a rebound from a freekick that had seen the ball come off the wall and into his path just outside the box. The home crowd – not many of them, admittedly, but an encouraging number who had turned up for their club’s first top flight home game in over fours years –cheered wildly.

But the joy was short lived.

Just four minutes later, Lions had the last say – roar, if you like – in the first half, when winger Quansah turned provider, setting up Ousman Muntaka with a well-measured cross which was side-footed in delightfully. The referee’s half time whistle met a Lions team that looked well on course for an away win. But the problem was that they had played with a glaring sense of complacency and cockiness, perhaps owing to the fact that they – a club that finished second last season and started this season with a comfortable win in their first fixture against New Edubiase at home in Kpando on Sunday - were playing against an inexperienced newly promoted side that had lost its first game. “My players did not play to instructions, they were doing what they liked,” Abubakar fumed after the game. “We were over-confident; we underestimated them,” captain Sam Yeboah admitted.

They would pay for that attitude. They found themselves pinned to their own half by an Olympics side that played with so much hunger and so much desire. Their tireless running and relentless surges was justly rewarded 13 minutes into the new half. The clock read 58 minutes and Olympics were still fighting for every ball like they were playing in a World Cup final. Their deep persistence found gold when  they stunned their opponents and struck two quick fire goals to go 3-2 up. Striker Kwame Boateng, whose sluggishness in the first half drew a lot of bashing from the home crowd, stepped up to the plate by bagging all two goals. The first saw him hold off Lions’ towering center back John Kufuor, taking the ball away from him in the box and firing a low shot with the instep of his boot past the on rushing goalie Mozart Adjetey. The second saw him pounce instinctively on a long through ball on the left hand side inside the box, allowing the ball to bounce before unleashing a skillful volley that slammed the back of the net to rapturous applause.

Some Olympics fans enjoying the game

Olympics had worked so hard that even Abubakar had to momentarily snap out of his fury to praise them, his face lit-up with admiration. “They were very very committed and very very determined,” he said.

With many pundits already writing them off and tipping them for an early U-turn back into the second tier – where they endured four long years of struggle since being relegated in the 2009/10 Ghana Premier League season – Olympics are determined to prove their doubters wrong. It is strange that a club that was one of the Ghana league’s founding members in 1958 is now considered as a club whose rightful home is the second division. Long years of boardroom wrangling has confined this illustrious club to mediocrity. But this year, they want to right all the wrongs.

That Olympics is one of Ghana’s foremost traditional clubs is never a moot assertion. With a rich, enviable history, their two league titles and three FA Cups pitch them in as the third most successful club in Ghana besides the top duo of Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko. This year, there's is a noticeable hunger to tap into their immense worth and write a new chapter. The ‘Agorsu’ club is on a mission to restore former glory.

Their first game, a 2-0 loss in Obuasi to in-form Ashanti Gold seems to have been put behind if their spirited display is anything to read from. “We are not going back,” coach Kassim Mingle said, with a sense of aggressiveness that contradicted his calm, soft-spoken demeanor. “We are not here to add to the numbers. No. We are here to fight and make an impact. You wait, by the time the league finishes, you will see us among the top four.”

Olympics will need to replicate the indefatigable fight shown during the Lions game in their 28 remaining fixtures if they are to realize all the courageous talk and fairytale hopes. Talk is cheap, dreams are ubiquitous. It is now time for Oly – the club loved by many in Ghana for having thousands of nicknames - to put in some work to back it all up.

Notes

---AshantiGold are proving that their preseason form – that saw them complete a sensational double over their regional rivals Asante Kotoko and hold Hearts of Oak to a 1-1 draw in the final – was not a fluke. Two matches into the new season and two wins already the Aboakese lads, as they went to Sogakope and outwitted newly-promoted West Africa Football Academy (WAFA) in a 1-0 win. 16 matches played this season and this was the only win chalked by an away team. Bashir Hayford’s men mean business.

---WAFA, though. They suffered their second consecutive loss in what is turning out to be reminiscent of the cliché baptism of fire for newly promoted clubs. Another Inter Allies in the making? Remember them? Inter Allies lost their first six league games last season and everyone jumped on the “they will surely go back” bandwagon. But that obviously never happened. WAFA will hope to draw inspiration from this. The former Feyernoord Academy team are not losing because they are clueless. No.  Look, as far as pure technique and brilliance goes, WAFA are peerless in Ghana. Anyone who has seen them play will attest to that fact. Do not let the results fool you. They have such a young squad and they will need time to warm up to the merciless realities of the top flight. But they need to do so fast. Coach John Kila has to get his men firing before its too late.

---Two matches into the new season and the defending champions are yet to win. An opening day loss has been followed by a 2-2 home draw against Hasaacas. There is something wrong with Asante Kotoko, and this assessment is neither knee jerk nor premature. Last season, they won every single game until Match Day 7, when they lost 1-0 at Bechem. This is a side that is supposed to be above early season struggling – they were double winners last year and the level of dominance they have exerted on the local game does make their current form hard not to criticize. For a team that is gearing up to do Ghana proud in the CAF Champions League, Kotoko need to snap out of this false-start as quickly as they can. Otherwise, catastrophic things will start happening and people will start questioning whether their dominance was really substantial or was as a result of weak competition. Trust me, that conversation has been lurking in the shadows.

---Hearts of Oak too threw away a 2-1 first half lead to lose 4-1 away at Berekum Chelsea. Hearts won’t be worried too much as this was an away game; but throwing away a lead has a way of causing psychological damage. It will be interesting to see if the Phobians recover when they host Medeama home away from home in Sekondi on Friday. And oh, Gilbert Fiamenyo’s early season form though; three goals in two games. Great stuff, but he did something similar two seasons ago, around April-May 2013, when he went on a great streak scoring – including a home brace against none other than Chelsea - but fizzled out later. Interesting to see if he’s able to sustain it this time around.

--Kennedy Ashia is back! Don’t know who he is? He is your favourite play maker’s favourite playmaker. Hw3, Dansoman Frank Lampard papapaa. Go figure.

Results

Berekum: Berekum Chelsea 4-2 Hearts of Oak [Stephen Baffour, Kofi Owusu, Benett Ofori: Gibert Fiamenyo 2x]

Kumasi: Asante Kotoko 2-2 Hasaacas [Emmanuel Asante, Dauda Mohammed: Amos Korankye, Emmanuel Ankobiah]

Dansoman: Liberty Professionals 2-0 B.A United [Kennedy Ashia 2x]

Bechem: Bechem United 1-0 Inter Allies [Aminu Mohammed]

Accra: Great Olympics 3-2 Heart of Lions [Godfred Asante, Kwame Boateng 2x : Isaac Quansah, Ousman Muntaka]

Tarkwa: Medeama 0-0 Wa All Stars

Sogakope: WAFA 0-1 AshantiGold [Petrus Shtelmbi]

Bekwai: New Edubiase United 1-1 Aduana Stars [Bernard Ofori : Elvis Opoku]

*Premier League table here


GPL Match Day One Blog: Aidoo-led Inter Allies start strong

Inter Allies captain Joseph Aidoo gives me a thumbs up after I ask him to pose for a shot

TEMA ----- Joseph Aidoo was so neatly dressed, looking so dapper in his club branded lacoste shirt, a pair of jeans and a smart pair of sneakers that it was hard to imagine that this same person had been completely sweat-drenched just a few minutes before.  He walked out of the dressing room, making his way through the bustling zone just outside: with players, fans, traders, coaches, officials, ball boys and general observers all gathered and doing one thing or the other. The game between home side Inter Allies and visiting side Medeama SC had just closed, and the sun was setting beautifully over the Tema Sports Stadium. The activity was just about dying down, with people steadily making for the main stadium gate on their way home.

Aidoo headed towards the team bus. Just as he was about to board, about three little boys mobbed him, singing his praises while asking for coins as tips. Aidoo had no money on him. But he did not ignore them. He asked them to gather around him, and he bent down to talk to them, promising them that he would surely give them something next time. The kids smiled. Aidoo then responded to a few calls from fans, taking his time to respond to each greeting, thanking each person on each occasion. The humility he exhibited was striking, the gentlemanliness too.

What was even more interesting was that during the 90 minutes that ensued on the field just a few steps away from the tunnel, he had been anything but nice. Inter Allies came out victors with an impressive 2-0 win, but contrary to what the score suggested, the action did not always play out in Medeama’ half.

Aided by the superb passing of the midfield duo of Conney Aidan and Malik Akowuah, the trickery of Kwame Boahene and the experience Hans Kwofie on either wing, as well as the tireless running of striker Nathaniel Asamoah, the visitors caused a lot of problems for Inter Allies. But rarely did they manage to beat their back line and make it into the box, because there was one defender who just wouldn’t let that happen – Joseph Aidoo.

His performance oozed so much class. His tackles well so well-timed, his interceptions so clever. Even without an armband on it would be so easy to tell he was the leader – you just had to look at the authority with which he handled the ball and the aura of leadership that glowed like a halo around his powerful , manly frame as he marshaled the defence with dutiful seriousness. There was a sense of thrill that would surge across the crowd anytime a defender came up against him, a feeling that would soon be replaced by awe, because he would boss the situation so admirably. He was so calm, yet so beastly: so composed yet so aggressive.

A gripping chant of “Bobooooo!” – an affectionate stretch of his nickname ‘Boboo' - emanated from Inter Allies fans, greeting every occasion in which he owned an attacker or recovered so brilliantly after a tackle. “Herh, this defender, this captain!” a fan would yell during the silence in between the chants. “What a warrior. What a player!”

The admiration Aidoo commanded from the crowd was as breath-taking as his performance. This was a fan’s favourite at the height of his powers, extracting charged chants from fans who were enjoying their money's worth. At the end of the game, Aidoo led his charges – including goal scorers Lord Ofosuhene and Niare Benogo, who had found the net in either half – to the inner-perimeter marking fence wall to acknowledge the fans who were applauding proudly behind it.

Inter Allies coach Paa Kwesi Fabin walked up to him and gave him a warm hug that evinced so much trust and confidence. A spirited pat followed as he beamed brightly, muttering some words to his captain that from a distance looked congratulatory; not least because of the pride written all over the gaffer’s face. Aidoo, though, with his hands crossed behind him, listened carefully, the look on his face complementing the gesture to depict respect and submission.

“Fantastic player,” Fabin sighed in an interview after the game. He seemed overwhelmed by Aidoo’s impressive display.  “He’s such a committed player. There’s nothing that you tell him at training that he won’t do. I believe he’s on cause for the national team.”

Last season, Aidoo, who rose through the team's youth ranks, broke into the first team from the fringes and emerged as the most fitting candidate for captaincy with regular captain Seidu Diawudeen Dabo out injured. He led the team through a chunk of their much-publicized fairy tale resurgence that saw them recover from a disastrous, six-losses-on-the-trot start through to finishing in the top half of the table and emerging runners up in the MTN FA Cup.

Before the start of this season, with Seidu Dabo struggling to regain his place, Aidoo was named team captain as a reward for his stewardship. “It's a huge step forward but it's a proud moment in my career and massive honour,” he told the club's official website. “This team is blessed with many leaders and to lead these gallant leaders is like a dream for me. I hope I don't change much from the way I am as a player but to improve more.”

In a side brimming with attacking talent, it is telling that the 19-year-old defender has been heralded by many as the team’s main driving force. H is a charismatic professional whose work ethics, passion and commitment is at a standard that all other players wish to emulate.“He has so much command, for someone so young,” a club insider told me. “Even the older players respect him because he does his work so well and guides all other players.”

Inter Allies have had four different coaches since the start of last season and every one of them have trusted Aidoo enough to field him at some point. Even at the national team level, where he plays for the U-20 team, the Black Satellites, his influence is starting to grow. “He’s Sellas Tetteh’s man,” the insider revealed. “He trusts him so much. So much so that he took him on a trip the last time knowing fully well that he was injured.”

Aidoo’s influence is very much needed at a club that is beginning to show signs of ambition. Inter Allies have been, without the slightest trace of doubt, the fastest growing club in Ghana over the last two years. Last season, at the same venue, they lost their opening league fixture 2-0 to an Ebusua Dwarfs side that they completely outplayed. This year, they've learnt from their mistakes after a long, hard road and the story is different: this 2-0 opening day win against an experienced Medeama side seems set to propel them towards a great season ahead. What is even more impressive is that they have not always enjoyed stability: there has been a significant chunk of their players leaving for Europe – a quotidian routine at the club - and quite a number of managerial changes, but the club seems to be growing from strength to strength.

Coach Paa Kwesi Fabin

Coach Fabin, a trained teacher and coach of Ghana’s Under 17 team was appointed at the end of last month. The club’s top hierarchy – consisting of twins Omar El-Eter (chairman) and President Rabeh El-Eter (president) as well as energetic CEO Delali Senaye – have tasked him to finish in the top four.

And with many players – from talismanic playmaker Prosper Kassim, hardworking midfielder Sarbah Lawson, striker Abdul Fatawu Safiu and Aidoo himself – set to leave the club for Europe at some point this season, this will be a herculean task indeed.

But Fabin, who has managed Ghana’s two biggest clubs – Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak - at some point in his career, knows pressure all too well to be fazed by such a challenge. Already a players’ favourite with his down-to-earth, affable personality, Fabin seems to know what he's about.

“I like the youthful exuberance of my boys. They are ready to learn and ready to fight and work harder. And if you want to be at the top, you need to work hard. This is just the beginning,” he warned.

Notes:

---Their season ended in defeat last season and it started the same this season too against the same opponents. Dormaa is the definition of dreaded for defending league champions Asante Kotoko. For the sixth time in six years, the Porcupine Warriors traveled there and failed to win. They lost by a goal to nil, a result that has already started causing panic among their fans owing to the fact that so much work has gone into the side over the last few months and the last thing anyone expected was an opening day defeat. Having won the league three times on the trot, the hunger might have subsided on the domestic front as hopes for the CAF Champions League continue to rise astronomically, but the Reds know all too well that “S3 kwasiada anopa b3y3 d3 aa, na 3firi memeneda annwunmer3” 
[An Akan saying that basically means: If the main event will be successful, a sneak peak or indication of that success should be seen in the preparations. Directly translated, it reads something like: If Sunday morning will be fun, it should start from Saturday evening]

--Great Olympics bowed out of the Ghana Premier League in 2010, five seasons ago, with a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Asante Kotoko in Kumasi. Years of lower tier toil later, they were back in Obuasi over the weekend and the story was the same, as they lost 2-0 to AshantiGold. It will be a long season for the Oly, and a quick U-turn is looking inevitable given the return of their traditional board room wranglings and disagreements. We all hope they go through an Inter Allies-like rejuvenation at some point. It's always fun having a club with so much deep history strutting their stuff in the top flight.

--After a difficult past two seasons, it must have been heartwarming for Hearts fans to see their much-vilified marksman Gilbert Fiamenyo hit the ground running this season. On familiar turf in Kpando – where he broke out as a goal machine for Heart of Lions years back – the bulky Fiamenyo was the difference as the Phobians ground out a typical Herbet Addo scoreline: a simple, effective 1-0 win. That is the thing about a Herbert Addo side; the scorelines aren’t as high profile or spectacular, and so the team escapes the eyes of the public as they steadily grow. As a big club, Hearts’ management and fans may be expecting loud performances, but they know all too well that the quietude associated with the immensely experienced Addo’s modus operandi is admittedly slow, but most certainly sure.

Match Day 1 Results

Saturday January 17

Kpando: Hearts of Oak 1-0 WAFA [Gilbert Fiamenyo]
Sunyani: BA United 1-0 Bechem United [Isaac Danso]

Sunday January 18

Obuasi: AshantiGod 2-0 Great Olympics [Bernard Morrison, Emmanuel Baffour]
Tema: Inter Allies 2-0 Medeama SC [Lord Ofosuhene, Niare Benogo]
Kpando: Heart of Lions 2-0 New Edubiase United [Isaac Twum, Osman Muntaka]
Dormaa: Aduana Stars 1-0 Asante Kotoko [Richard Arhin]
Sekondi: Hasaacas 3-1 Liberty Professionals [Frederick Quayeson, Samuel Afful 2x: Alfred Nelson]
Wa: Wa All Stars 1-0 Berekum Chelsea [Stephen Nyarko]

Premier League Table here


Ghana's Neglected football Stars

By Fiifi Anaman

It is late afternoon on a Monday, and heavy rains in many parts of the capital means the refreshing cool breeze from its wake flurries into the Accra Sports Stadium. 

On the pitch, a football team is having a practice session enveloped in quietude. It is a national team, yet there’s not a single fan or journalist in the stands to cheer or observe, to encourage or report.

Apart from the footballers and their coach, the only people around are some young boys acting as “ball-boys”, while the few others are grown men, encompassing officials and one journalist -  sitting on ledges inside the inner perimeter.

The deserted stands tell a depressing story of neglect, but the team on the pitch carries on training diligently nonetheless.

The team on the pitch is Ghana’s national football team.

Except…

Except this version is made up of players not fortunate enough to possess two legs – or two arms, in the case of goalkeepers.

This team on the pitch is Ghana’s amputee national football team: The Black Challenge.

A
fellowship of inspiration
Despite the emptiness of the stadium depicting a glaring lack of support and attention for their activities, the players on the pitch – comprising the main national team (mostly professionals) playing against the locals (considered to be the upcoming generation) – are playing with a peculiar sense of commitment. The seriousness with which they are training is engrossing. So much so that at a point, a player brutally tackles his opponent who is advancing towards goal. 

The coach – seated close to me by the pitch – gets up almost impulsively and roars. “Hey, it’s just a training session, and you’re playing it like you’re on TV!” The player respectfully turns towards his coach, focusing an attentive gaze, a smile waiting to happen drawn on his face. “You wait,” the coach, named Ali Jarah, continues. “Don’t do all your tackling here. When we go to aburokyire (abroad), I’ll let you hack down any player you want!” The rest of the players burst into laughter. It is a congenial atmosphere after all.

Watching this – a group of young men in crutches – rising above their limitations and taking the art of determination to a whole new admirable level is perhaps the most inspiring phenomenon I’ll ever experience in my career as a sports writer. My body succumbs to an inevitable invasion of goose bumps as I observe the sheer display of technical skill and intelligence resiliently overshadowing glaring disabilities. They say disability is never inability. They never lied.

There is an entrancing feeling that is hard to shake off watching these players use their disabled bodies as a beautiful expression of power and energy, achieving the seemingly impossible coordination of the basic elements – controlling, passing, running, crossing shooting et al – with so much forceful effort yet it comes across with calming ease. 

“Isn’t it amazing,” smiles Philip Otuo, an Accra-based journalist who has followed the team since its inception. “Look at the amazing things they are doing on just one leg. It is why some of us decided to follow this team. They are so talented!”

At the end of the first half of the training match-up, the locals are ahead and dominating. “What shows that you are different from the younger ones?” Jarah bellows, standing over the sweat-drenched players who have gathered, seated on the grass for a pep-talk. 

He is referring to the main stream side. “The younger ones totally outplayed you, and all you could do was fight among yourselves? Where was the understanding we worked on? The one-touch passing? What shows that you are different? Even as a coach I’m expecting to learn more from you, given all your experience abroad. At least, let us see that you’ve learnt something over there.”

The players are listening intently as Jarah rants, his gripping tone reflecting his disappointment at his first team’s abysmal first half display. “We move around begging for money,” there is dead silence when Jarah passionately yells these words, which reverberate across the empty stadium. “We need to prove a point!”

That last statement, fraught with a lot of painful emotions, is a summary of the team’s struggles over the years. A very talented unit that is arguably one of Ghana’s best performing national teams across all sports; they have been subject to a shocking level of neglect, even condescension, both from the public and from the government for years. Fellow countrymen who are supposed to have their backs have rather turned their backs on them. Like a pivotless lever, this pool of one-legged players and have been left to walk alone without any support on the field; a group sadly ignored and unappreciated.


Challenged
Challenge and the bigger picture
During the same year it was founded, the team won the first ever Africa Cup of Nations for Amputee Football (CANAF) in 2007 (Sierra Leone), but, shamefully, couldn’t defend their title in 2009 because there was no money to facilitate the trip to Liberia, just hours away from Ghana.

Indeed, during the Amputee Football World Cup in Argentina four years ago, the team’s difficulty in securing financial sponsorship meant they arrived close to three days after the tournament had started. 

The budget amount they had so much difficulty raising? GHC 89,000. While the Sports Ministry’s inexplicable failure to raise the sum (about $28,000 in today’s rates) was beyond shocking, the National Sports Council at the time also complemented the circus of humiliation, admitting publicly that it had exhausted its budget for that year and thus was not in a position to help out.

The irony of the situation lay in the fact that that same year, the Ghana government had sponsored scores of football fans to South Africa to cheer the country’s football team, the Black Stars, on at the FIFA World Cup. Yet here it was, a government responsible for the well-being of its assets, unable to lend a helping hand to a whole national team. A national team, in fact, that merited help, given the fact that they were ranked number one in Africa and number four in the world at the time. 

“Of course we’re not asking anything huge from the government and I’m afraid when we participate we lift the flag of Ghana high,” a disappointed Adjetey Sowah, then the Vice President of the Amputee team, said. “Are we saying they (the fans sponsored to South Africa) are more important than us who are going to be real actors of the game?”
While corporate bodies, touched by the side’s plight, came in to help out in bits, it took the timely intervention of Ghana’s President at the time, the late Prof JE Atta Mills, to personally order the release of $75,000 to the team that finally enabled the team travel. 

The relief, however, was short-lived. Their problems didn't end there. After a long trip from Ghana to Argentina, the team had to travel 12 hours by bus to their match center, and had less than four hours to prepare for two games that were played approximately eight hours apart. Even worse, their luggage arrived close to a week after touching down in Buenos Aires, meaning they had to borrow jerseys to honour their games.

For the team’s campaign at the 2012 World Cup played in Russia, where they would eventually place 6th against a tough obstacle course, all the Sports Ministry could give them as a parting gift was a local smock called Fugu. 

Otuo - who travelled with the team for that tournament - is shaking his head despairingly as he recounts the story. His eyes are red with hurt, the look of disappointment palpable.

“We reached Russia and the weather was so cold - we’re taking negative temperatures - and we didn’t even have jackets,” he recalls. “They had to give us blankets – imagine, blankets! - to enable us cope. Later, the Ghana ambassador in Russia sponsored the purchase of some jackets for the team, but even with that, not everyone got one. We didn’t even have adequate medical resources to treat our players. During out 5th/6th play-off clash with England, we had about five out of 12 players out injured, and we ended up losing 2-0. We had to borrow everything, including ice cubes and gentian violet.” That was how bad it was, how low the sunk.

“A philanthropist had to sponsor the team’s jerseys. We had virtually nothing: not even money to buy food. I remember how gari became such a savior, especially in 2010,” Otuo adds, falling into fits of laughter he clearly wishes to stifle. “I don’t know why, but it’s interesting that just as the name Black Challenge suggests, we always have challenges.”

The unavoidable debate that emerged from these episodes, especially that of 2010, was whether Ghana really cared about the interest of her citizens living with disability. “Issues of persons living with disability are not issues of politics. They’re issues of fundamental human right and it’s a shame we find ourselves in such an unfortunate situation,” Sowah had claimed bitterly, adding that he feared it was only going to deepen the stereotypical discrimination towards the team and the people they represented. He was not wrong. 

As if being subjected to a negative socio-cultural perception is not enough, persons living with disability in Ghana – estimated by the World Health Organization to be between 7-10% of Ghana’s close to 25 million population – have long suffered the demeaning effects of a State that continues to turn a blind eye to their needs. 

According to the Ghana Federation for the Disabled, they “constitute an impoverished, marginalized” group in the society who are “characterised by lack of access to public health, education, and other social services that would ideally support and protect people living with disability”. Consequently, the norm nationwide is a heart-breaking sight of disabled persons unfairly confined by their fate to the streets, helpless, begging for money from commuters.

Tellingly, most of the current players of the Black Challenge were recruited off the streets, a process that has evidently breathed uplifting hope into their lives. “About 60% of them knew very little about football when we took them in, so we had to start from scratch,” Jarah reveals. “We had to even teach some of them how to walk in crutches, and then from then on, how to run in them, how to work with the ball in them and so on.”

Calm
and progress as big test looms
Despite being dogged by challenge after challenge, it hasn’t been all gloom. As the team prepares to depart for Mexico to partake in the World Cup [Nov 30-Dec 8] – a feat made possible by placing third in the CANAF in Kenya last year - things are steadily improving. “I can say this year has been good,” Jarah admits. “We have had 110% support from the Ministry. Preparations have gone quite well.”

Amputee football sprung up in Ghana around 2001, when some generous Englishmen in Accra gathered some disabled boys and started teaching them how to play, mostly around Kwame Nkrumah circle, the bustling hub in central Accra. It has come a long way since those modest beginnings. While it was the norm for the national team to train on dusty, foul-stench filled pitches in Accra, they now train at the national stadium – the Accra Sports Stadium, and sometimes at the plush Lizzie’s Sports Complex, owned by Marcel Desailly. 

Whereas most of the players are amateurs, it is interesting to know that the team is embellished with some players who play professionally in Turkey. Dreadlocked captain Richard Atta Openstil, his vice Francis Darkwa , midfielder Richard Akwam, and Collins Gyamfi – who is the leading scorer in the Turkish league – are the foreign-based key members revving up the side.

After the last world cup in Russia, the exposure the players got meant Collins Gyamfi was snapped up by a club in the lucrative Turkish league, a motivating reward for the team’s efforts. “We pray that after Mexico, more people will be discovered to go, learn come back and contribute,” says Otuo.

In a situation that threatens to derail their focus, there is a court dispute involving the team’s management; a struggle for power and control very common amongst Ghana’s sports associations. But Jarah is adamant it won’t affect the team’s hopes of making an impact. “I don’t want to talk about it [court case]. Ours is to build a formidable team to go and do Ghana proud. We will make mother Ghana proud.”

“The only problem,” begins Jarah, a former highly regarded youth International goalkeeper for Ghana, who now has a noticeable walking difficulty due to a spine injury sustained while playing, “…is that I think journalists give too much attention to the glamorous national teams. But we are the disabled ones, the people who need help and support the most. If these players feel noticed and loved by Ghanaians, we will be able to achieve.”

A
sport on the ascendency
Amputee football – a game played on a seven-a-side basis (outfield players must have a single leg, while goalkeepers must have a single arm) – is a game fast gaining worldwide prominence.

“It was one of the fastest growing games now,” remarks Otuo. “But unfortunately it’s not an IPC (International Paralympics Committee) registered sport, meaning it’s not played at the Paralympics. But efforts are being made to incorporate it, and if that happens, at least we can start benefiting from grants.”

Interest in the game is on the rise too. “There will be 23 nations for this year’s World Cup, compared to the 12 of four years ago,” Otuo observes. “So it tells you that it’s gradually taking shape. When we (Ghana) hosted the CANAF in 2011 there were journalists from big organizations like Reuters, and top countries like Spain and the US.”

“The way the game is developing especially in Turkey is amazing. They have a structured league, and since it’s a good initiative, other countries have started pushing their players in there. Uzbekistan (who won the last World Cup in Russia) is the leading country in the sport, but the Turkish have always been on the podium after every World Cup,” the articulate Otuo, seated by the pitch, explains.

Achieving against the odds

With no running league and no system at all in place for the game’s development, it remains remarkably impressive how Ghana – ranked sixth worldwide - is considered one of the world’s top teams. Even with the clear lack of motivation and support, Ghana has defied all odds and is Africa’s leading amputee football nation.

Otuo believes the country must capitalize on this reputation to improve. “We must work hard and hold on to it because we don’t want to become known later as one of the countries that developed it but faded out, thus missing out on all the benefits that the game’s growth brought.”

“We should be more proactive,” he adds. “We only wait till somebody has moulded them together and achieved something before you see people in suit and tie stepping in to claim all the glory. Let this team win the trophy [in Mexico], you’ll see the number of people that will come out and usher them to the flagstaff house (Seat of Ghana’s Presidency).

“We should take it serious because disability sports are changing lives. How do you feel when you see some of these people on the streets begging? Look at the danger they put themselves in in a bid to make ends meet. We should know that they also have talents which they can feed on and make something of their lives and be of importance to the nation.”

He believes it’s high time the nation stepped up in its efforts towards developing disability sports. “We’re only praying that at least we can get a mini sports arena not only for disabled footballers, but for other sportsmen in other disability sports to develop their skills. Look, some of them are multiply talented too: some are also cyclers and some practice taekwondo,” he says, pointing out some players as they busily train on the pitch.

Worlds apart

While Ghana’s Black Stars continue to underachieve (the team hasn't won a trophy since 1982), they continue to enjoy massive attention and a range of enviable privileges, being on the receiving end of superstar treatment and conspicuous pampering. Receiving fat bonuses and living like kings across five star hotels, they remain the country’s most patronized and powerful sporting institution – so powerful that their demands brought the country to a standstill during the World Cup, with the President having to step in and fly close to $4.5 million dollars on a chartered flight to settle their bonus agitations.

But, receiving barely one millionth of the support the Stars get, the Black Challenge – who are not beneficiaries of any structured bonus system and are owed tons of cash from previous assignments - continue to overcome many barriers in an admirable bid to fly the flag of Ghana high.

“It’s a very difficult game to play, as you can see,” says Otuo, as we watch the players exhibit unbelievable perseverance in replicating able-bodied football antics in crutches; a magical sight. 

“When they make all this effort and they aren't even recognized, it’s sad,” he adds. “Very sad. Sometimes, it’s not even just the logistical or financial support. They need psychological support too. They need their own compatriots to show that they care. Just that.”

At the end of the session, with night fast approaching, some of the players approach Otuo - “Philipo”, as they affectionately call him - to ask for coins to buy sachets of water, because there are no provisions made for it. Otuo looks at me and shrugs.

A source of hope

The players, tired but in a chatty mood, walk out and head towards the team bus in front of the stadium. In the short ride from the stadium to their camp – a hostel on the compound of Ghana’s National Hockey Stadium – I am seated by Hafiz Iddi, one of the team’s players.

He is noticeably quiet as he looks out the window, staring at pedestrians, lost in thoughts. “Do you feel the nation does not care about you?” I ask, curiously. He nods slowly. “Yes,” he whispers solemnly. “Yes. As you can see, the Black Stars for instance have people throng to the stadium to watch them train, but for ours, we are always alone.”

Iddi is right. There wasn’t a single spectator at the 40,000-seater stadium. Heck, most Ghanaians are not even aware of the existence of the team, and the few who do unfortunately find themselves on the verge of losing interest due to the media’s lack of attention towards the team. “It’s sad, but things will get better,” he opines, trying to be optimistic.

Unlike many other countries whose amputee football teams are made up of ex-military men (who acquired their disabilities as a consequence of wars), 80% of Ghana’s team, reveals Otuo, became disabled due to accidents.

Iddi, who works a modest job as a cleaner up North in Tamale, remembers how his leg became amputated. “I was a young boy in Tamale,” he drawls as he recalls the touching story. “I was with my brother. And then there was a car. Hmm...” 

He pauses momentarily. “It knocked me down, and my injuries….they were very serious.”

Iddi believes amputee football has given meaning to a life that would have been otherwise so hard to live. It has made him happy.

“It has given me hope,” he says, his face surrendering to an encouraging smile as he movingly clenches his fists for emphasis.

The smile speaks a thousand words, an expression of the joy of finding life’s purpose in this sport.


NOTE: As a freelance reporter, I planned, researched, went on location and wrote this article independently. It however first went live on ZONALSports.com, a Kumasi-based sports website. The interest it generated however also meant it later appeared on Ghanaian websites such as , StarrFMOnline.com, GhanaSportsOnline.com, GhanaWeb.com among a few others.

Didi Dramani aims to set the pace with his pursuit of perfection

By Fiifi Anaman 
 

BABA YARA STADIUM, Kumasi - Mas-Ud Didi Dramani is standing in the middle of the pitch on a warm Saturday morning, surrounded by his players. They are practicing, and he’s observing intently, barking orders in between. His concentration is noticeably engrossing, his gaze philosophical. There’s a peculiar sense of an obsession with being meticulous: he wants everything to be perfect, and he signals them to repeat every drill if he notices the slightest compromise.

 Every section of the multi-layered practice after the basic warm ups is an in-game situation – corner routines, counter attacks, crossing across goal, headers, shooting from range, building attacks.

“Have you noticed?” asks Frederick Fosu, a guy everyone affectionately refers to as ‘Motor’, a trusted right hand man and friend of the coach for 12 years. Motor is a football boot dealer popular amongst the players with his supplies too. “You see how everything is something that can happen in a game? That’s how Didi loves his sessions. For him, amidst all the obsession to use ‘ways and means’ to win games here in Ghana, he believes a serious training session is the best ‘juju’,” he adds, staring at the players as they exert themselves diligently on the pitch.

“Didi..you see, Didi is different,” Motor says. “I’ve never seen a coach so serious with his job, so passionate. Do you know? He barely manages two hours of sleep per night. He’s always up reading, thinking. He eats only three days in the week, and uses the remaining four to fast.” Motor has been Didi’s friend since he retired as a footballer, through his meteoric rise as a coach.

“I’ve been with him all these years and every day I learn something new about him. I know, and you can mark this; Didi will become the first Ghanaian coach to manage a top European side. I’ve watched him all these years and I’m convinced.”

After the training session, and the mandatory group prayer, Didi asks the players to greet each other. The sweaty players players undertake an orderly handshake session, amidst laughs and friendly pats.

Didi is already heading towards his car to change, and as he makes his way, he comes across defender Abeiku Ainooson, who is gleefully dancing amidst children who are singing his name. ‘Abeiku woy3 champion!’.

“Look at him!” Didi lets out a loud, warm laugh lined with fascination.

The children are happy, and he is too. It is a reflection of the paradoxical beauty of his training session. The training session is serious, but it is also done amidst a congenial atmosphere.

Didi is a confident coach who is very self-assured and articulate when speaking about football, a sort of demeanor that anybody could easily mistake for arrogance. He looks peculiarly fit, away from the stereotypical coach-look, with a well-trimmed body acquired from his years as a footballer. He played from 1989 to his retirement in 2002, for RTU, Ebusua Dwarfs and back at RTU till he retired in 2000. “I could play anywhere on the pitch,” he says. “But I played as a striker before I finally became a center back. I was quiet deadly,” he laughs. “People who really know me still call me ‘gomash’! [Goal machine]"

A year after retiring Didi enrolled at the University of Education in Winneba in his quest to earn a degree and a life after football. But during one vacation, in 2002, he stumbled across his first coaching course. “I had actually gone there with the mind of applying to study football administration. But the late George Dasobre, who had known my father during their numerous coaching course back in the days, aw me there and asked why I wasn’t joining the coaching training to try out. So I made up my mind, and luckily, being the sportsman that I am, I was wearing a shirt and my sports gear beneath my shirt and trousers so I just changed immediately and joined.”

The rest they always say, is history. Dramani has since undergone numerous courses and has been propelled immensely by his voracious appetite for knowledge through a speedy rise that is rare for most coaches. Within a few years of his first course, at which he topped with high marks with every single course, he went from student to teacher, becoming a coaching instructor.

This included topping a class of 40 in CAF’s first ever license C course organized in 2007. That feat earned him the nomination of the technical directorate of the GFA to travel to Germany to study with the likes of Maxwell Konadu, Ben Fokuo and Shaibu Tanko the following year. “I was riding my motorbike somewhere in Tamale when I got the call that I had been selected,” he remembers with nostalgia.

There, in Deutschland, he earned a DFB license B (an equivalent of UEFA’s licence B) after three weeks, and earned the chance to follow up with a coveted A license in 2009.

In between his giant exploits in the classroom, Didi had an idea. “For me coaching is all about imagination and ideas,” he says. He formed his own team in his father’s hometown in Lepo, Tamale, which he says was to help him experiment his coaching ideas. The team, initially known as Lepo Stars, is no known as Guan Stars. “I wanted to test everything I read, everything I learnt. I wanted to use them to learn and explore so many things.” Guan Stars has since become a well-known team in Tamale, and has fulfilled Didi’s core philosophy of “developing young footballers to the best of their ability” with the production of many players.

After his DFB A license, tragedy struck. His father, George Dramani, whom he considered one of the great pillars in his life, passed away after an unsuccessful surgery. He had been a former coach himself. “We were very close,” Didi reflects. “He was my friend, and we talked every day. He was proud of me I remember one time he saw me engaged in one of my numerous training sessions and he called me aside and told me, “This is just like the Europeans train.’ He told me I would coach the National team one day

The set-back hit even harder. “I remember after the funeral, I talked with Oti Akenteng. And I told him I didn’t have anyone to support me anymore. As soon as I said that that day, I shed tears. But he encouraged me to push on.

“At that time, I was scouting for the Black Queens and other national teams whilst my dad was in the hospital. I remember I’d visit him regularly and leave for assignments. I was on one such assignments in Tamale when I received the call that he had died.”

After all that dark episode, he was finally given the opportunity to understudy coach AK Adusei when he (Adusei) was named the head coach of the Black Queens. Didi remembers working beyond himself to earn the trust and confidence of the senior Adusei, who was a veteran working with a relatively inexperienced assistant. In fact, Adusei had scouted a young Didi from colts level as a footballer for RTU in the late 80s.

“He didn’t know I had grown t that level as a coach,” Didi smiles. “When we started working he didn’t open up much. Even warm-ups he did it himself. But I took my time. I was a good student. I did things that would make him give me the chance to learn more. One day he came late for a session and he saw that I had done a good job. He was impressed, and called me and said, ‘Ok, I’ll give you 30 minutes more to do whatever you want with the girls’. I made sure I took the opportunity. He saw so many things that I believe he had not seen because I was very modern within those 30 minutes.”

Didi says his time understudying Adusei was pivotal for him, as he learnt so many things from the man. “Especially his disciplinary measures, how he composes himself on the bench, how he handles his players, his attitude towards outsiders…so many things. I also learnt never to undermine my head coach.”

In the end, Didi’s propensity to learn and adapt quickly helped him earn the confidence of Adusei. “He became confident in me and gave me more minutes.” He worked hard, writing reports and engaging himself in every activity. “There was a time he went for a two week regional tour and I was left alone with the girls. When he came back he was very impressed because the standard had risen.”
The duo qualified Ghana for the 2010 African Women’s Championship, where they unfortunately fell four points short of qualifying out of the group phase after one win and two losses.

His hard work nonetheless didn’t go unseen. During his time with the Queens, Didi did some scouting work on the side for Right to Dream Academy. “They always wanted me to come to their facilities in Akosombo to see how the players I had scouted were doing,” he remembers. “One day, I decided to go. I was asked to meet them at Tema Roundabout so they take me there. Before I went, I just told myself to prepare ahead. I prepared three session-plans; one for Under 12, another for under 14s and one for under 17s. I was then in camp with the Queens when I did it. I did that because you never know what they might ask me to do.”

Indeed, they ended up asking him to do exactly that. And as is very characteristic of him, he was prepared to fire. Didi put his plan into action once he was asked to show them his coaching skills, and he oversaw all three sessions, to which the handlers of the team were left surprised by his depth of knowledge. “On my way back, the head [Tom Vernon] kept asking me questions upon questions about tactics and others. And I kept answering and enjoying the conversation not knowing it was actually an interview.”

After it all, Didi got a call the following day. Tom Vernon wanted to meet him at Holiday Inn Hotel at Airport Area, Accra. He had been impressed with his knowledge and versatility; his wholesome approach and enthusiastic, hard working attitude. There, Didi got his first real professional contract that his career trajectory deserved; a two-year deal with a Ghc 10,000 signing-on fee and a monthly remuneration of Ghc 3000.

“He put the contract on a pen drive for me to go and edit,” Didi is smiling when he recalls this, a giant leap in his fledgling career. “You can understand why some of us don’t panic when we see white men (coaches), because we also know our worth.”

Just over a year into that contract, Didi saw a rare opening to realize his father’s dream of coaching a National team. The GFA had advertised coaching openings across the various national teams, except the Black Stars, and he made a general application. “The Black Stars slot wasn’t opened but I would have applied for that as well!” he says. “I’m more that qualified to be there.”

He was called for an interview, which turned out to be a mere formality. He went before the panel as a heavy-weight, armed with every qualification conceivable and with an enviable pedigree as a respected instructor after two courses of lecturing in Egypt and Morocco.

Having expectedly passed the interview, he was handed the National Under 17 Women’s team (The Black Maidens), and was tasked with drawing a plan for women’s football from the grassroots. He drew a comprehensive six-year plan, which propounded that the girls would go through a well organized development system through all the various levels; from Under 17 through to Under 20, and play for the Queens when they are around 21 to 22 years old.

“I wanted our women’s football to undergo a smooth flow,” he says. “Because when I was with the Queens there were no players. We used the same players over and over because there was no girls coming through. We would just call players to come and play. There was no league or anything of that sort.”

A year after taking on the job, he led the team to win Ghana’s first ever medal in a Women’s World Cup when his team of determined girls thrilled the world with some exciting football to claim bronze medals at the Under 17 World Cup in Azerbaijan.  “We could have done better,” he says, his tone reflecting that noticeable extra edge for perfection despite the history made.

Didi, along with most of the coaches of the various national sides, were only paid in the first two to three months of their tenures, and weren’t paid salaries afterwards due to financial difficulties at the FA. “It was difficult for me because I had left the Right to Dream Academy then to concentrate on the job. It made life very difficult for me because you know some of us are the bread winners of our family.” Didi has been married since 2001, and has five children.

“But it was a learning stage. They come in human life.”

Luckily for Didi, as has been the case for most of his career, his hard work was selling him on the quiet. A giant club in the Ghanaian top flight had noticed, and they wanted him on board. That club was Kotoko. “I didn’t go looking for the Kotoko job,” he reveals. “It came looking for me. And I believe that’s how it should be. Your job will have to speak for itself. I don’t think that Daddy Lumba goes around telling people to go buy his Cds. As soon as he comes out with an album, they come to buy.”

Sometime during his tenure with the Maidens, before we left for the World Cup, he got a strange call whilst asleep, after a hard day's work instructing at a license B course. ‘I’m Dr [KK] Sarpong,’ the person said from behind the other line. ‘The Kotoko chairman.’

“I was like oh, yes sir,” Didi recalls. “He said ‘I want you to come and coach Kotoko’, and I said, okay, I’ve heard, if only you would contract me. And that was it.” Didi reckons that call might've come out of recommendations from people who knew him and had seen his work, most notably CK Akunnor and Maxwell Konadu.

The following day, Dr Sarpong was before Didi in his classroom to talk, after Ben Koufie had introduced them. “I was meeting him [Dr Sarpong] for the first time.” Didi confesses.

Didi was offered the contract, succeeding his friend Konadu, who was departing to assist Kwesi Appiah as Black Stars coach after winning the 2012 Ghana Premier League for Kotoko. But before getting to business, he had the World Cup to take care of. “The Kotoko guys teased that I would be eliminated early so I come to the job early,” he laughs. “But I was like ‘No way’. I’ll do well.”
After the World Cup, Didi returned to lead Kotoko to defend their league title, after taking charge of 28 games. He won the Ghana Premier League on his first attempt as a coach in his rookie season in the top flight. Despite this, Didi wasn’t overwhelmed by the significance of the achievement. “I don’t think the Premier League is something so special. Because most of the players there are players that I have handled at youth level at different levels,” he shrugs.

It wasn’t as easy, though. Haven’t failed to undergo preseason with the squad, the title winning mentality took a long time to kick in. And new players had come in to, about 17 or them, he says. Kotoko finished the season with 14 draws, 12 of them Didi oversaw. But luckily for the team, their time used in warming up for the title wasn’t capitalized on by their inconsistent competitors.

During the season, there were numerous calls for his head, with fans booing him and condescendingly referring to him as a “coach for women” after a home game with King Faisal last season. “I was never worried, and everyone was surprised, because most people at the club were worried,” he says. “I’ve never allowed myself to be under pressure. It’s football. And I made people understand that our underwhelming performance was due to so many factors.”

From the brink of the sack, Didi masterminded a comeback. Kotoko ended up sealing their 22nd league crown losing only two games, as well as going all the way to the FA Cup final, where they lost 1-0 to Medeama after scoring 17 goals in five games in some devastating form. There was also a brief run in the CAF Champions League that saw them eliminated after four games; two wins two draws and nine goals scored.

After surviving another much publicized attempt to sack him in preseason, amidst administrative chaos at the club, Didi is now in his second season with Kotoko, and after 15 matches, is seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand. He won six straight games at the beginning of the season, which was part of a much bigger streak that began from the tail end of last season and spanned 20 games without defeat, 21 if their 3-0 revenge thrashing of Medeama in the Super Cup is considered.

Asked what has changed, Didi says the reasons he gave for the poor form early last season have been corrected, and everyone is seeing the results.

At his point, Didi, who is currently a senior CAF coaching instructor, signals that it’s time to go. The interview has run for close to an hour and he has to go for a meeting with his video analyst ahead of Kotoko’s Champions League opener against Liberian champions Barack Young Controllers (BYC).

“I’m always working,” he says. “I don’t recall a time in my coaching life that I’m idle.”
Just twelve since his journey began, he has emerged as one of Africa’s brightest coaching talents. And many – his peers and mentors alike - have tipped him for greatness. “It’s because I always want to be better. I want to be a better coach tomorrow. I always want to surpass what I did yesterday. I want to be a better Didi everyday.”

The next day, Kotoko triumph by two goals to one against BYC. The journey for Didi continues.

A shorter version of this article appeared on allsports.com.gh on February 14, 2014.


Charity stars bring hope and smiles to Darkuman Bubuashie

Note: This piece first appeared on Allsports.com.gh, now Pulse Sports, on the 23rd of December 2013.

There was something striking about how the woman outside the Darkuman-Bubuashie 'Charity' Park spoke.

“If it wasn't for penalties they wouldn't have beaten us, Our boys have really done well, or don't you think so?” she said with a conspicuous glint of affection at the end of the game.

The woman, a vendor, had set up her food stand just outside the fenced park and had watched her local side Charity Stars lose gallantly to Premier League side Liberty Professionals on penalties in the Round of 64 stage of this season's FA Cup. This was after a heated 90 minutes that saw them, a division two side, admirably match Liberty boot for boot.

It was that sense of affiliation and pride in her tone that was striking.

'Our boys.' 

The woman wasn't alone. Hundreds of other fans – all predominantly inhabitants of the adjoining towns of Darkoman and Bubuashie – turned up in their numbers at the stadium to watch their club do them proud with their sheer bravery and resilience against a more experienced Liberty Professionals side. Few clubs in Ghana can boast of such a close, emotional bond with their communities. It was a moving atmosphere.

Throughout the game, fans huddled frenetically around the dusty pitch, some sitting on walls and others clinging on closely to the fence to get a clearer view of their heroes. They applauded every pass and every tackle, and moaned passionately at every miss in a show of solidarity that was fascinating. When they went down by a goal to nil on the hour mark, they kept believing they would claw back. And they did too, albeit eventually losing 3-4 from the ensuing spot kicks.

On the pitch, it never looked like there was a gulf between both sides. Two long, complicated tiers separate the two sides, but Charity Stars – in their spirited blue kit – were calm and collected in possession. Coach Francis 'Olembe' Owusu's boys didn't look intimidated. They didn't look fazed. There was a refreshing absence of inferiority complex. “If they know how to play, we also know how to play. It doesn't matter if they are a Premiership side!” a hysterical fan shouted.

It is a sign of how far this team has come to even have such expectation.

Rev Owusu Amoah's Gentiles Revival Ministries started Charity Stars Football club as a social welfare wing of their Christian ministries in 1992.

“He [Rev Amoah] was then offering donations and other charity work in and around the area, and in the process, came across a group of young community boys who were good at football but didn't have any avenue to further their talent,” CEO of the club, Samuel 'Sammy' Owusu Amoah, who is the son of Rev Amoah, tells allsports.com.gh.  “So he decided to help them by galvanizing them to form a colts club.”

The club was thus birthed from the Ministries' outreach programme as a community welfare project, and has since been shaped by it's ideals. Reverend Amoah, alongside his congregation in their London Headquarters remit funds for the running of the club.

Originally set-up as a colts (grassroots) club, they only started playing competitive Division two football two years ago.

They play at the modest Charity Park, formerly referred to as Future Park. The pitch, all sand and dust with chalk-like white field markings, is surrounded by a fence separating the inner perimeter from the area for fans. Canopies are erected close to the touchline serving as areas for teams' benches and match commissioner's corner.

Just outside the pitch is a church building still noticeably under construction and is used by the ministries for church community church sessions. The building also doubles as the team's dressing room.

The club identifies itself as a christian religious outfit, and it is very evident in their way of doing things. “The philosophy of the old boy [Rev Amoah] is to make the boys believe that there's nothing like juju in football. All they have to do is to train well, work hard and pray and God will see them through,” Amoah says.

It's a way of life.

Before their game with Liberty, the squad gathered together and spent close to 30 minutes singing strictly christian songs of motivation – before following it up with prayers and worship. Close to an hour to the game, gospel songs serenaded the atmosphere through a Public Address system.

“Everything we do revolves around the church,” Amoah elaborates. “And we take discipline very seriously too. As you can see our boys are very focused and respectful. I'm sure you've noticed we keep it simple too. No funny, weird hairstyles!” he laughs.

The team's technical director is the legendary Ghanaian coach Emmanuel Kwesi 'EK' Afranie,himself  a well-known stern disciplinarian. He is also a youth football specialist, having had three stints with Ghana's Under 17 team since the early 90s.

Afranie, affectionately referred to as “Coach hene”,  is responsible for implementing Charity Stars philosophy of instilling belief in and developing youth players – not necessarily for market purposes, but also as a way of helping the players make something of their lives and their community. A way of making Darkoman-Bubuashie  better place.

“Our philosophy youth development philosophy coupled with our style of play has won as many admirers,” Amoah says. “It initially started out with a primary community focus, but now, we recruit players from all over the country. Most of our boys who played today have been here since they were 12. We camp them, feed them and put them in schools too.”

“Charity has a unique style of play that sets us apart from all the other clubs around this area. You can see our surroundings are dominated by mechanics and they love good football,” he continues. “They call us “the Barcelona of Bubusashie”. I think it is that which has made us garner a lot of support.

“There have been countless products,” he adds. “We've had the likes of Obed Ansah [currently playing for Hearts of Oak], Bawah Mumuni and Jonathan Quartey amongst others.”

There are other really good players at the club too. Attackers James Arthur [actually an Under 15 player], Paul “Eto'o” Ayongo and Frank Abbeyson were a handful for the Liberty defence with their pace and strength, whilst left back William Denkyi also looked very agile and innovative. “Denkyi was actually the National Under 17′s first choice left full back this year,” Amoah says proudly.

“In fact, our club was able to produce five players for the national Under 17 team,” Amoah reveals.

One of the five players was striker Emmanuel Boateng. The 17-year-old has been hailed as Ghana's most exciting goal scoring talent in recent years. He scored a whopping 47 goals in 30 games for the National Under 17s, and was unlucky when an injury robbed him off the chance to spear head Ghana's attack at the African Under 17 Championships in Morocco earlier this year.

Boateng, currently recovering from a knock, was there at Charity Park to watch his team against Liberty. He was wearing his National Under 17 shirt, with his surname boldly emblazoned at the back above the number '13′.

“It was always my prayer to play for the national team,” a shy Boateng tells allsports.com.gh . He joined Charity Stars as an eight-year-old nine years ago, and has risen through the ranks, aided by his direct explosiveness up front.

After having played in 'justifier' [trial] which his manager had asked him to attend whilst in school, he was “lucky and blessed” (his own words) to have been selected as part of 30 players amidst hundreds of other youth talents to play for Ghana's famed Black Starlets. He would make his selection count emphatically, going on to become easily the team's major outlet of goals – crowning it with a golden boot for the Under 17 category at the Guinness National Player Awards.

“I'm not a skillful player,” Boateng, who joined Charity Stars as an eight year old, admits. “But I have the strength, the speed and the power.”

His exploits with the National Under 17s earned him a trial at Portuguese top flight side Rio Ave earlier this year, which he passed successfully. “It went really well,” he says of the trials at the club Ghana International Christian Atsu played on loan at two seasons ago.

“The coaches said I have what it takes. I'm hoping to sign for them in May next year when I turn 18. But in the meantime I'll leave for Portugal in January to prepare till then. There's another Ghanaian player there, [Alhassan] Wakaso, who is actually the younger brother of Mubarak Wakaso. He was very nice to me during the trials. Hopefully he'll help me settle”

Boateng is confidently sure of making it straight into the first team, and doesn't foresee the customary passage way through the club's academy. On whether he is fully aware of how rare and almost impossible it is for a player in Ghana or Africa to go straight from third tier to top flight in Europe, his lips part in a warm smile and he says calmly, “I'm very proud to be able to do that. And I'll take the opportunity fully. I won't let anyone down.”

Boateng, who says his dream is to play for  a top European Club, will hope his time at the Vila Do Conde based-club is successful enough propel him towards greater heights. And he has the talent, desire and more importantly, discipline to make it happen.

He is future is undoubtedly bright. And when he does make it, the people of Darkoman-Bubuashie will be proud of their own. Charity Stars would have changed another life.