It’s been 22 days since Kumasi Asante Kotoko last played a competitive game — in the aftermath of last month’s tragic motor accident that struck the club as it returned to base from a narrow 1-0 loss in a Ghana Premier League visit to capital outfit Inter Allies — and it’s going to be at least three more before that barren, lifeless streak ends.
Said return to action is set for August 6 — bar any last-minute glitch — when the Porcupine Warriors host nemesis Hearts of Oak in their outstanding Matchday 23 encounter. There’s been a lot of pre-match talk, mainly regarding Kotoko’s readiness for football of any sort less than a month after the incident. The club’s medical team — in consultation with the playing body and technical staff that suffered the brunt of the accident’s consequences — insist Kotoko are fit for action and communicated that decision to the league’s authorities, though some fans remain skeptical and unconvinced.
Physically, Kotoko’s players — with the exceptions of Ollenu Ashitey and Michael Akuffo who still bear significant scars — have been issued a clean bill of health to embark on the weekend’s assignment, but whether or not they are emotionally as prepared to handle the challenge can’t be revealed by an X-ray or laboratory test. And then there is also the small matter of head coach Steve Polack, himself currently recuperating from a knee surgery necessitated by the accident, possibly not being on the bench for the first ‘Super Clash’ of his young Kotoko career. The Englishman hasn’t just produced the tactics that have helped turn around a campaign that had been going awry for Kotoko before he joined mid-term; he has also been the side’s No.1 cheerleader, a motivator whose very presence inspires his charges greatly. His absence on Sunday, then, would do the players’ collective confidence little good.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, many argued that Kotoko would require at least a month to get themselves back into shape. However, the club has had to cram all of that recovery work into the space of three weeks, and we’d soon know just how successful the process has been. Whichever way you look at it, this is going to be incredibly hard on the players. Many of them are still boxed in a psychological glass cage, and expecting them to break through that barrier against their archrivals is a tough ask, if not altogether cruel.
Hearts, for a fact, won’t be in any mood to make things easy for Kotoko, given the fact that the pair are only four points apart on the table and are both not yet out of the title race. And neither would Kotoko’s own fans excuse a half-hearted approach, with the thousands expected to throng the Baba Yara Stadium anticipating a morale-raising show of strength from their lads. They’d hurl lots of love onto the pitch and expect the players to send just as much brilliance and energy the other way.
To put it simply, Kotoko cannot afford to merely show up and stroll through 90 minutes. Ready or not, they must turn up for the occasion — and they must turn up in their very best party costume.
By Sammie Frimpong