As high-flying Ashantigold prepare to take on Asante Kotoko in a regional derby this weekend, Citi Sports’ Fentuo Tahiru argues that the Miners’ coach, C.K Akonnor, is the best among his local peers at the moment
Charles Kwablan Akonnor sprinting down the Cape Coast Stadium’s touchline, stopping abruptly before running in circles and then jumping into the open arms of his assistant in wild celebration – all in response to the second of three goals which helped clinch victory for his Ashantigold team against former employers Hearts of Oak on Matchday 2 of the new Ghana Premier League season – evoked memories of Jose Mourinho’s unforgettable reaction to Costinha’s late leveler at Old Trafford when his FC Porto knocked Manchester United out of the UEFA Champions League some 14 years ago.
That game in March 2004 heralded the arrival of the maverick Portuguese trainer: the archetypal story of a hardworking tactician finally getting a breakthrough after years of merely being regarded as one with great potential. It wasn’t quite the climax to the Mourinho fairytale, but the ‘Special One’ has had time and opportunity aplenty to establish his legend in the years that have followed.
Akonnor’s animated little jig could be viewed in similar light, although the parallels may seem far-fetched. Given that Ashantigold had been tipped to struggle this season, the Miners’ 3-1 win over Hearts was a remarkable feat however you view it. And while the players deserved the credit they were duly given, it is Akonnor’s tactical masterclass that deserves to be panegyrized.
“Tactically we were better and much disciplined. We knew exactly what we had to do to win this game and I think we did it well; we made them suffer to see the ball,” the 44-year-old gushed post-match.
Ashantigold are top of the Ghana Premier League table at the moment, dropping only two points in their opening four games and all appears well with the Obuasi-based side. Of course, some fans reasonably feel all of this is just a bubble waiting to burst, considering how tough the last campaign proved, and thus expect the team’s form to dip at some point in the season. A select few, however, are cautiously optimistic that something good could come out of this early-season blossom – and, yes, that would include Akonnor.
While he appears to be cruising at present, things have not always been like this in the one-time Ghana captain’s nine-year coaching career. After hanging his boots in 2009, Akonnor took charge of then GPL side Sekondi Eleven Wise, taking along fellow ex-international Nii Odartey Lamptey to assist him. He was later made the club’s Director of Football after the honeymoon period ended and results took a nosedive, experienced German Hans Dieter Schmidt replacing him as head coach.
When he joined capital giants Hearts halfway into the 2012 season and steered them to a 3rd place finish in the top-flight, it was believed the former Wolfsburg star had finally emerged from his cocoon and was ready to take on the world. Just 5 matches into the 2013 campaign, though, Akonnor was fired with the club a miserable 13th on the league table, boasting a solitary win from five games. It was a new low for ‘Slim Macho’, a dream curtailed even before it had begun.
“I had some really great plans for Hearts of Oak,” Akonnor lamented after his departure.
Retreating from the limelight, Akonnor took up a low-pressure job at Right to Dream Academy that prioritized nurturing young talent over winning silverware. For a man of his ambition, though, it was only a matter of time before he returned to the dug-out with a competitive club. Dreams FC – then in Ghana’s Division One League – came calling in 2015 and he accepted the challenge. Akonnor’s brief was simple: get the club promoted to the Premier League.
It was a risky job alright, but one that, perhaps more than any other, established Akonnor as a daring coach unafraid to fail. If things had gone otherwise at Dreams, Akonnor’s coaching career would have encountered another hitch that could have made his journey to the top even harder. Thankfully, it didn’t. He delivered, followed it up with a good season’s stint in the Premier League, only for the club to get demoted in the end despite a respectable mid-table finish – through no fault of his, let the records show.
Undeterred, Akonnor led another promotion charge for the Kweiman outfit, before quitting to join boyhood club Ashantigold with the nearly impossible task of guiding the 2015 champions to safety. Ashgold had suffered a shambolic start to the term that had seen them victorious in just two of their first 12 games, a run that culminated in the resignation of gaffer Bashir Hayford.
The move was particularly surprising to many, with Dreams firmly on the path back to the elite division while Ashgold looked certain to be heading the other way. Why switch, then, ‘C.K’?
”A lot of people might not understand why I made such decision to join Ashgold. I was comfortable at Dreams FC and remember I am also growing up as a coach and if I am able to take Ashgold from that difficult situation, people will remember me for that,” bold Akonnor told Abusua FM at the time.
Shrewd business in the mid-season transfer window was instrumental. Akonnor’s pertinence for prizing experience over all else prompted the arrival of old staggers like George Owu, Abeiku Ainooson and Theophilus Nyame. Experience aside, these three were hungry: Owu for a final fling, Ainooson for reputational repair, and Nyame for a second chance (or a third, if you will). Combine these factors with a coach looking to build something special for himself and you have the perfect recipe for success.
Ashantigold eventually survived relegation – miraculously, some argued, but that was all Akonnor’s work. Like mercenaries, those players were brought in to execute a specific task, one they carried out expertly. In the aftermath, two of them have moved on while Akonnor has since sought to build his own team.
That Ashgold are running rampant this season is not only testament to the virtues of hard-earned empiricism and the benefits of providing very decent players with a platform to revive ailing fortunes, but also to Akonnor’s shrewdness, a trait steadily built from a career of ill-fated decisions and what-ifs. That said, Akonnor’s dreams are bigger than Ashantigold. He is in pursuit of greatness and, if Ashantigold would be patient with him, Akonnor’s ‘macho’ will mature in no time.
By: Fentuo Tahiru/Citinewsroom.com/Ghana