There are no questions about whether the lack of competitive local action will be telling on Ghanaian side Asante Kotoko in their 2018-19 Caf Confederation Cup campaign.
The sole country representatives in Africa this term, the Porcupine Warriors are set to play as guests to Kenyan outfit Kariobangi Sharks in the first round of the championship on Saturday.
On face value, the Kumasi-based outfit can count some joy on the fact that having secured a walkover into the current round of the competition following Cameroon’s inability to present an opponent for a preliminary round challenge, a place in the first round already beats last season’s preliminary round exit.
But Kotoko are a club known for their ambition, fight, and grit; not the kind of side that will settle for a “having already beaten last season’s record” feat. They know no boundaries. They’re fearless. They will try to ride against the storm, giving all they can.
But genuinely, how far can they go?
In the absence of competitive local action, which has been on hold since a bribery and corruption scandal rocked Ghana’s FA in June, Kotoko turned to the obvious and only available option of friendlies to get their team into gear.
On Sunday, they wrapped up preparations for Africa with a convincing 3-0 victory over Ghana’s national U-23 side. But that was an opposition put together for less than two weeks, a team very much in its elementary and formative days, a side comprising players who, like Kotoko, have not played a competitive game since June. Not much meaning, then, can be read into that result.
There were earlier friendlies against Inter Allies (3-0 win), Wafa (1-0 triumph), Medeama (1-1 draw), Unicorn FC (2-0 victory), Burkinabe side Save African Child (3-1 win) and Berekum Chelsea (3-0 triumph). The results look good. That they scored in all of these games is refreshing, and the form of new Burkinabe signing Sogne Yacouba and Guinean recruit Naby Laye Keita leaves nothing but joy. But truth be told, these are matches against sides that have largely been competitively inactive as Kotoko.
There are some other worries too.
Head coach Charles ‘CK’ Akonnor only took over the team in October. His first competitive game set to be Saturday’s big clash, there are concerns about whether two months is enough to drill the team into a formidable continental conquering side.
There have also been questions about whether the former Hearts of Oak boss knows his players enough, considering the number of new faces brought into the team for the African campaign. Following Kotoko’s confirmation of playing in the 2018-19 Confederation Cup on October, 10 new signings were made, seven of whom have made the 18-man squad for Saturday’s game.
Over the past few years, one of the common lines for the poor performance of Ghanaian clubs in Africa has been how local league action – either a complete lack of it, little or bad/late timing – took a toll. That is a challenge awaiting for Kotoko too.
The Porcupine Warriors could – and are actually expected to – scale this first Kariobangi Sharks hurdle. But sooner or later, reality will dawn.
Like Medeama, Aduana Stars, Ashanti Gold and all the other teams that were affected by the troubles of the insane local league in recent times, Kotoko will be paying the price of a situation they contributed little or nothing too.
The other concerns about the team make the inevitable so heavy.