Ghana cannot rely anymore on its usual soldiers to carry its hopes in Africa, but that situation has only bred a refreshing dawn
By: Sammie Frimpong
Times have changed.
Historically, the trio of Asante Kotoko, Hearts of Oak and Ashantigold had made Ghana proudest in continental action. Between them, these clubs have contested 16 African finals and won five, with Kotoko and Hearts claiming the chunk of those.
These days, however, those so-called traditional clubs don’t seem to want it enough when presented with the opportunity to dignify the country on the biggest stages. Kotoko have been stopped at the first hurdle in their last few attempts to win a first African crown since 1983 often by sides unfit to dust the Reds’ trophy cabinet, Hearts nearly reached the group stage of the Caf Confederation Cup last year after recent failed tries but ultimately let themselves and everyone else down when tested by Esperance de Tunis, while defending league champions Ashantigold — losing contestants in the inaugural Caf Champions League final back in 1997 — succumbed tamely to little MO Bejaia earlier this year.
But just why are they not cutting it anymore?
Well, there could be a variety of reasons: ill-preparation, misfortune, intensified competition, or a plain lack of hunger — take your pick.
Despair not, though. There exists a new generation of clubs that do not have any of those problems — or, even if they do, they rise above them. You could call these Ghana’s ‘New Generation’ clubs: outfits not quite old enough to have witnessed Hearts’ and Kotoko’s glorious days in Africa but, armed with wealthy benefactors and no ‘history’, are certainly resourced and motivated enough to desire making their own mark in Africa.
In recent years, these have picked the baton from the ditch in which the usual runners left it and have kept Ghana’s flag flying in Africa.
That boom started, it seems, with Berekum Chelsea in 2012. Champions in only their third season in the national top-flight, Chelsea stormed to remarkable heights in the Champions League that year, throwing more illustrious sides unto the ground and stomping them all over. A 5-0 thumping of Raja Casablanca at home, en route to the so-called ‘money zone’, stood out, and the demolishing exercise Emmanuel Kyeremeh’s boys had embarked on continued in the competition’s group phase. Thrown into tight Group B, Chelsea did anything but flatter to deceive. In four games against Zamalek and TP Mazembe — two of Africa’s very successful — they won twice and drew as often, losing only to Al Ahly, unarguably the greatest of the continent’s clubs. In the end, they were just a point away from a historic place in the semi-finals.
Four years have passed — during which Kotoko have failed spectacularly in three quests and Ashgold have had their own mission prove a fiasco, as mentioned at the outset — before another Ghanaian club, young but ambitious like Chelsea, has treaded the same path. They’re Medeama SC and, after hurling down Al-Ittihad Tripoli, Al-Ahly Shendi and — even more resoundingly — Mamelodi Sundowns, are in the group phase of the 2016 Caf Confederation Cup. And think not for a minute that the Tarkwa-based club would be fazed by the prospect of six games against Mazembe, Tanzania’s Young Africans and Ashgold’s aforementioned conquerors.
Should the Yellow and Mauves also keep punching above their weight and perhaps go a step further than Chelsea did by emerging unscathed from that admittedly tough pool, it would be confirmation of the bittersweet fact that the continental face of Ghanaian football is taking on a different complexion. Heck, even if Medeama fail to do any more after getting this far, that conclusion holds. With time, others could only be expected to build on it.
Times, indeed, have changed.