12.05.2004 Sports News

Is Schmidt The Saviour?

By Maurice Quansah
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Is Hans-Dieter Schmidt the man to bring back to Kumasi Asante Kotoko the Golden Fleece? Can the German coach outdo his compatriots' Ernst Middendorp, Ralf Zumdick and Hans Kodric who, at different times, failed to bring the club its lost glory in domestic and continental level.

When Schmidt crossed carpet from King Faisal to Kumasi Asante Kotoko last week as the club's newest coach, the German joined a growing list of 'endangered species' of football tacticians who have recently flirted with the premier league champions.In spite of the prestige that comes with handling a glamourous side like Kotoko, the club remains a dangerous minefield for coaches.

A determination to recapture their lost glory has resulted in the Porcupine Warriors experimenting with about 10 coaches in the last five years, with nothing more than a league title to show for that expensive venture. On the other hand, their arch-rivals, Accra Hearts of Oak, have achieved a lot more success — six successive premier league titles, the coveted CAF Champions League and African Super Cup — with just three coaches within the same period.

Since 1999, Hearts have benefitted from the technical guidance of 'Sir' Cecil Jones Attuquayefio who supervised four consecutive league titles and the continental titles in 2000 and 2001.Attuquayefio's decision to kill to birds with one stone — handle the Black Stars and Hearts at the same time — saw him losing the two jobs eventually.

Herbert Addo took over for two seasons and led the Phobians to their sixth straight league title, but after losing the crown to Kotoko last season, the axe ineviably fell on him two moonths ago, with Hearts falling on the expertise of Middendorp to rebuild the team back to the top of Ghana football.

Connoisseurs of the game believe that Kotoko's rather high turnover of coaches is creating technical instability and undermining their effort to stamp their authority on Ghana football, after tilting the balance of power from Accra to Kumasi last year. Here, the maxim "too many cooks spoil the broth" holds true for Kotoko.

The merry-go-round at Kotoko continued last week when Hans Kodric was fired for incompetence — only three months after golden Boy Abdul Razak was relieved of his job after guiding the team to their first league title in a decade. The musical chairs, Kotoko-style, reached its peak during the Herbert Mensah administration when seven coaches were hired and fired - Abubakar Ouattara, Ibrahim Sunday, David Booth, Christopher Darkey, Middendorp, Ian Porterfield and Zumdick -within a three-year spell.

Mr Mensah's predecessor, ex-Regional police Commander S.S. Appiah, exited with Coach A.K. Adusei in 1999, followed by the return of controversial Ivorian coach, Ouattara, who was sacked for alleged impropriety.

Perhaps inspired by the good old days, Kotoko fell on the 1983 African Cup winning pair of Mends and Sunday. Sunday was coach when Kotoko won their second continental trophy, while Mends was the centre forward in the victorious team. However, their new partnership on Kotoko's technical bench, with Sunday as the overlord, yielded little dividends and the axe inevitably fell on them.

While Germans look the preferred choice, Britons were the least favoured and had the shortest reign and left the club under a cloud of controversy.The fixation for expatriate coaches has come at great financial cost to the club, but the experiment has not been a failure as the Porcupine Warriors maintained a strong presence as the second force in Ghana soccer behind champions Hearts.

Middendorp, who has crossed carpet to Hearts, began the spadework and after two years in charge left the scene for Porterfield who took charge for three months. The former Chelsea coach was fired after a dressing room burst-up with his paymaster, Mr Mensah.

Cool-and-collected Zumdick, who once handled German Bundesliga side, Bochum, came in as an "injury time" substitute, and with little time at his disposal he put the finishing touches to the work began by Middendorp, steering Kotoko to the final of the Cup Winners Cup in 1992.

Despite beating Wydad Casablanca 2-1 in the epic final in Kumasi, the Moroccans ran away winners on the away goals rule.Exit Mensah's administration, and Zumdick expectedly followed his paymaster.

After a decade of drought, former Kotoko great, Razak, drawing on experience from his coaching stint in Mali, gave the club the Midas Touch. The 1978 African best footballer guided the Porcupine Warriors to strip Hearts of their six-year domestic terror as Kotoko celebrated their first premiership triumph.

However, in the strange world of football Razak received a rude shock when he was given the boot for incompetence at the peak of euphoria over the championship victory. Kodric's uneventful stint and his unceremonious exit did not surprise many followers of the sport. The German-born coach of Croatian descent, with unimpressive credentials, was virtually 'smuggled' into the club before the current Kotoko management took office.

New king, new law, it is said, and with danger looming when ASEC Momosas nearly gave Kotoko the knockout punch in the Champions League competition, with Kodric out of sorts with himself, he virtually signed his death warrant and it was endorsed by the supporters. The 'supporter power' strengthened the hands of Kotoko's management to pay off Kodric and flush him out of their system.

In a familiar case of 'dog bite dog', Kotoko stand accused of poaching King Faisal's coach, Schmidt, in similar manner as Faisal snatched Zumdick at the beginning of last season.

Schmidt's successful association with Faisal — guiding them to third position in the league and winning the Coca-Cola Top Four tourney — therefore strengthens his hands to succeed in his bigger challenge at Kotoko.

Retaining the league title is a must for Schmidt, but the litmus test would be how far he can take Kotoko in the continental competition, especially with rival Hearts also in contention.

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