Thrilling end in sight for haphazard Premiership
IT will be business as usual this weekend with the Ghana Telecom Premier league due to resume after a three week break during which we were hailing Ghana football for the historic qualification to the World Cup.
Qualification for the biggest football event in the world has inevitably led to proclamations of how strong Ghana football has become and how there is still proof that this country is indeed a mighty football nation.
Yet, look beyond the monumental events of October 8, 2005, the heroics of the Black Stars and you will discover at least on the evidence of events in the local game, a system that is crumbling with each passing day.
The fact of a three week break itself is evidence of that. There have been so many breaks in the league, you will be forgiven for thinking it has been put on hold permanently. And the gulling thing is that the break has often been necessitated by issues that could so easily have been avoided.
This reason, every time King Faisal have been on call in Africa, the rest of the country has had to stop and wait under the pretence of backing the Kumasi club to victory.
It all started largely due to the constant bickering between Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko. It's a long story but effectively what Hearts wanted, Kotoko wanted too and the Professional League Board (PLB) tamely gave in, shirking it's responsibility as the overall authority over the GT Premiership. As a compromise, the other clubs then decided that every time, King Faisal played, the rest of them needed a break. And this has done great damage to the local league. With attendances falling on a weekly basis, the frequency of breaks has added to the unattractiveness of a league that looses its star performers at lightening pace. So while the rest of the world returned to domestic duties after the recent World Cup qualifiers, we in Ghana were waiting for King Faisal to clear their final and insignificant Confederations Cup game before getting on with the business. The PLB's excuse was that its decisions were based on the wishes of the clubs. It makes you wonder the essence of the body if it can't take the sort of decisions that anybody managing a product like the national league is required to do. More worrying should be the consequence of the regular breaks on investor confidence in the league. Ghana Telecom won't admit it but they are unlikely to be happy with how a product they are paying so much for has become a by-word for inconsistency and wayward planning.
The problem with the breaks is that it belittles the nation's drive for corporate sponsorship and undermines the GFA's effort at maximising revenue from broadcasting rights.
Television and radio are mediums that require great planning. When executives sit through their weekly meeting, an idea of what the sure banker events are organised and taking place matters.
Instead, if you have paid money to cover the Premier league and in turn sold airtime to advertisers, you are likely to repeat postponing benefits through no fault of yours.
We often admire how the likes of England, Italy and the big football nations organise their leagues. With one click of the mouse, I could tell Chelsea's remaining fixtures, their off days, international friendly days amongst others. In Ghana, it will be a totally meaningless exercise thanks to a PLB that appears just unwilling to act.
Thankfully though for the football purists, the football has not been as poor as the PLB's planning. It has not been vintage stuff but at least we are guaranteed the last day sparks going into the final round of matches. With five round of games remaining, there is a familiar look about the teams chasing the top price but at least this time too, there is the element of a third force with the real possibility that for the first time since the days of the then Goldfields, we could have a team outside Hearts and Kotoko winning the Premiership.
Kotoko sit on top of the league on 48 points just one above Hearts who are in turn a point ahead of King Faisal.
The three clubs are likely to fight for the league title straight down to the last day and my suspicion is that either Hearts will equal Kotoko's haul of 19 league titles or Kotoko will stretch it by another title.
There is still every chance that King Faisal can mount a serious last minute challenge but Alhaji Grunzah's side has been immersed in too much internal conflict to thrive in the demanding last days of the Premiership.
It leaves us with the intriguing possibility of a Hearts-Kotoko homestretch for the league title. And if I were a Hearts I will look at the remaining fixtures and think my team has a real chance of crossing the finishing line first. Kotoko's remaining five matches will test their character to the limit. This Sunday, they must confront and beat Sam Arday's Feyernood in Kumasi. Hearts travel to Kpando to face Heart of Lions but if they avoid defeat at one of the most difficult grounds in Ghana, it could prove decisive in where the league title ends up at.
The run-in for the Phobians after Kpando is lightweight stuff compared to Kotoko's fixture list. Bofoakwa Tano will host Hotspurs at Sunyani and Power FC will travel to Cape Coast to play Dwarfs. At Tema, Sportive face Arsenals, Okwawu and Hasaacas will clash at Nkawkaw whilst AshantiGold welcome Real Tamale United (RTU) at Obuasi. Liberty will be home to Faisal at Dansoman. After Feyernood, the Porcupine Warriors have to tackle two games they have traditionally struggled in all these years. There is a trip to Tamale to face RTU. For most teams, that means defeat. Kotoko must also deal with the threat of another title chaser and city rival King Faisal. They even have a final day date against fourth-placed Berekum Arsenals as well as a trip away Sekondi where Hasaacas will be all too glad to do the doo.
The next five weeks will be a major test for the two biggest clubs in Ghana and a test of the competitiveness in our local league.
With the most goals scored in the Premiership, 37 for Hearts and the least goals conceded the 14 goals for Kotoko, the upcoming race between the best attack and defence in the land will restore some badly needed excitement to a league fast losing its glamour and professionalism.