|Moses "Mospacka" Armah, Owner of Medeama Sporting Club|
Medeama SC had a largely blissful season that ended in despair. A season that ended contrary to the plan.
The Tarkwa club were on top the Ghana Premier League table as the most consistent of three inconsistent title chasers from late in the first round to the middle of the second round, spanning 10 match days and close to four months.
And when they were finally knocked off their perch, on match day 24, they failed to recover from the shock of the fall.
Until the penultimate match day, the Mauves and Yellows were still in the hunt. A trip to Cape Coast to face Dwarfs saw them lose by two goals to one - effectively ending their hopes of winning a first ever Premier League title.
That disappointment cut deep - it was a representation of a deeper sense of letting not only themselves down, but the whole of Wassaman, and the whole of Western Region of Ghana.
The Western Region has failed to produce a league champion since 1977 - when the traditional Sekondi Hasaacas won a unique first-round only league.
Medeama, for a huge chunk of the season, seemed to be that club that would bring joy to the people of the region after close to four decades of a trophy no show, with fellow regional clubs Wassaman United, Hasaacas and Eleven Wise all languishing in the lower divisions.
Owner Moses Armah wanted to see results; he wanted an indication that his investments were working. He had bought the erstwhile Kessben FC for a record $600,000 in 2010, just so he could get access to premier league football, and after tasting it for two seasons, the thirst for success began to rise.
They had began this season on the back of two consecutive fourth-place finishes, and this season was supposed to see them upgrade their ambitions, given the fact that the Brong Ahafo based duo of Aduana Stars (2010) and Berekum Chelsea (2011) had won the league, laying bare a realization relatively newer and non-traditional clubs could lay hands on the title with the right attitude and preparation.
Massive motivation landed in the form of a three year deal with mining giants Goldfields worth $384,000 at the beginning of the season (and in fact, another major deal in mid season, signing a one year deal with Ghana Manganese company worth $80,000). There was added pressure to live up to the belief and confidence reposed in them.
The club sensed an opportunity, and took steps to be in the position to take it. The transfer market was keenly screened, with as many as 10 players being brought in at the beginning of the season, including Tema goalie Joseph Halm, defenders Samuel Enzoemaba, Richmond Nketia, Victor Ayire and Henry Entsir, midfielders Bismark Asiedu and Joseph Gordon - who all went on to prove to be influential squad players.
Coach Bashir Hayford decided to stay on for another season with the club, his superiors at the board level knowing his track record of winning the title before (with Kotoko in 2008) would prove crucial in their own ambitions to make history.
They started the season well, actively and constantly being in the mix of the top three teams occupying the top of the table in shifts week in week out, each struggling to establish consistency that would provide an edge to establish a gap. By the end of match day 14, Medeama emerged table toppers, going on to consolidate their place at the top by beating Tema Youth 1-0 at home on the final day of the first round. "
Stability unexpectedly disturbed
Coach Bashir Hayford left, quite quickly and mysteriously, four months before his contract was due to expire.
Mysteriously because, well, he left a club that was on top of the table and with a genuine chance of winning the title to a club that was struggling to claw back into the top four race. Quickly because he signed for them as fast as he quit. Hayford's only public reason he gave was the fans were unappreciative of his massive efforts.
The board decided to promote assistant coach Shaibu Tanko to head status. Tanko found the seat Hayford left behind hotter than he had thought it was.
His first game saw Medeama travel to Tema to defend the 1-0 loss they had inflicted on Tema Youth in a return encounter. Tema Youth were struggling, flirting with the relegation zone. But they managed to thrash Tanko's side by four goals to nil.
Barely three matches and a single win later, the board dropped a bombshell and sacked Tanko, citing his inability to show a desired level of commitment. Assistant to Tanko, Evans Adottey (who had previously been head of youth development at the club), was given the nod to finish the season. Thrown in at the deep end.
Medeama had actually changed coaches two times right in the middle of a title pursuit, but still somehow managed to personalize the top spot by making it their own, with close challengers Kotoko and Berekum Chelsea simultaneously slipping when they did.
Adottey - Medeama's third substantive coach of the campaign - knew anything apart from maintaining top spot till the end would result to him being compared to, and judged on Bashir Hayford's standards
Adottey got off to a winning start, beating King Faisal 1-0 in Kumasi. It was particularly interesting, as Hayford's Medeama had failed to beat Faisal at home in the first round.
Things looked good. Adottey himself acknowledged the fact that they held the keys to their own destiny. “I’m determined to fight hard and maintain top spot. My boys are also similarly determined,” he said.
"We have ourselves to blame if we fail to win [the league]" defender Henry Entsir similarly echoed after a -1- draw with Berekum Arsenals in one of their numerous games at the top.
Medeama had the ball in their court. There was only one thing that could mess up their most priced dream, and this was themselves.
The raging pressure eventually consumed Adottey and his charges. Maybe being at the top, or the constant awareness of it's significance, coupled with their title inexperience, weighed on their displays. The anxiety. The responsibility. The fear.
Asante Kotoko and Berekum Chelsea, both previous winners who just knew how to chase a title, went hard, breathing down their neck, feeding off their inexperience and insecurity.
Two consecutive losses to Amidaus Professionals and Liberty Professionals on match day 23 and 24 respectively resulted in Medeama relinquishing the top spot.
They slipped to third, and from then, won only two out of six games leading up to the end of the season.
One of the games they failed to win was a crucial clash against fellow title challengers Berekum Chelsea on match day 27. That game, played in Berekum, saw Medeama lose inexplicably by three goals to nil. “Things just didn’t work for us the way it should," coach Adottey summed up.
What made the loss even weirder was the fact that they had gone into the game on the back of a morale boosting 3-0 home win against RTU, and that Berekum Chelsea had themselves lost by the same margin to a strong Hearts of Oak team coming into the game.
That, coupled with the fact that they (Medeama) had beaten Chelsea 1-0 in the first round and also knocked them out of the FA Cup, meant they clearly had the mental upper-hand.
That loss proved pivotal. Including the points they lost from that game, they lost in total eight points up until the season ended. Adottey and his boys would have - per what subsequently ensued - won secured the title had they not dropped these eight points.
They eventually finished fourth on the log with 50 points, six points off champions Kotoko. And like Entsir had said, they knew they had themselves to blame.
Adottey v Hayford, in search of the cause of failure
This argument was inevitable. People had always had this as a comment in waiting - waiting to be aired when the relatively inexperienced Adottey lost control and lost the title. And it didn't help that he eventually did lose control and lose the title.
But he didn't do too bad either, given the circumstances, and more importantly, compared to Hayford. The differences didn't represent a gap that huge, but sometimes even the smallest differences prove to be mightily significant.
Both coaches were generally inconsistent to be fair, and both oversaw spells that saw a low number of goals scored (13 in 13 games for Adottey and 18 in 15 games for Hayford).
In fact, there's an argument for the fact that despite Hayford seeing them to the top before his departure and Adottey unfortunately leading them off it, Hayford's rise was largely dependent on the failings of competitors Kotoko and Chelsea. So much so that he topped the table after the first round even though he had dropped as many as 15 points.
But Hayford was the more consistent, relatively, going four games without a loss on two different occasions as well as winning two consecutive games on four different occasions. In fact, he managed to keep Medeama on top despite multiple injuries that hit his squad; there was a point, match day 11, that they had as many as nine key players on the injury list
Adottey could not manage two consecutive games on a single occasion.
His 13 league games in charge of Medeama was co-incidentally against the same opposition Hayford faced in his first 13 league games (of 15) before leaving the club (reverse of the same first round fixtures in the second round). This interesting situation makes it hard not to compare their output.
Whilst Hayford bagged 24 out of a possible 39 points (W-7, D-3 L-3 GF-14 GA-8), Adottey bagged 19 (W-5, D-4, L-4 GF-13 GA-8). This meaning Adottey's tally trailed Hayford's by 5 points. Those five points would have, per the points tally of champions Kotoko, placed Medeama second on the log.
A further two points and they would have won the league. There's something interesting here.
Adottey took over when Medeama had garnered 31 points. This meaning even if he had managed Hayford's tally of 24 points from those 13 identical games, Medeama would have (with 55 points) still - per Kotoko's league winning tally - fallen short. They would have still needed two more points to better Kotoko's winning tally of 56. Where could they have gotten these points?
You get the sense from this perspective that one of the critical periods that led to Medeama losing the league title was during that short era that saw Hayford leave and Tanko come in. A hiccup that cost them dearly. During that time, spanning two league games, Medeama dropped 5 points, against Tema Youth (4-0 loss) and Hearts of Oak (1-1 draw).
Hayford had won those two same fixtures (3-1 against Hearts and 1-0 against Tema Youth) in the first round. If he had been in charge, Medeama would have surely amassed at least two points - those two points they needed (from a possible nine) which, with the benefit of hindsight, would have won them the title. Sometimes, it's the little details.
Essentially, the difference was not only that Medeama failed to rise up to the occasion at vital points of the season (a feat that experienced teams like Kotoko - who won the title last season - took advantage of) but also because of Hayford's premature departure.
“We can’t say his departure has not affected us. He had been with the team for close to seven years,” Medeama chief Anthony Commey admitted. “From Kessben FC right through to Medeama and so knew the ins-and-outs of the team.
“And so naturally when he left there was a gap and that I believe it has affected us a bit."
The inexperience was telling. That is where the Hayford argument becomes strong. Given his title winning experience, it's logical to think he might have just edged it for them. Indeed, if Hayford's tally of 30 points out of 15 games had been replicated in the second round, the title would have headed to the Western Region.
Looking back and looking forward
It's been a long ride for Medeama, a journey they can learn a lot from. The disappointment was harsh, but they'll be grateful to it when they finally get their hands on that elusive league title.
The key to winning a marathon is to know when to be careful not to lose concentration; to know that it's essentially down to how hard you finish, and not how well you start. Medeama in the end, lost the title. It was practically theirs for the taking.
But that mentality to pursue a league title actively over 30 games without messing up at key points can only be acquired with experience.
Coach Adottey's loss of the control of the steering wheel proved costly, but there's potential in him. The gaffer impressively handled the team all the way to the FA Cup final after all the instability that rocked the club.
Adottey has learned. And he wields that passion for the club, having been there when Hayford 'abandoned' the club and when Tanko's commitment's as a lecturer prevented him from discharging his duties to the maximum. It also says a lot how he managed to beat his former boss Hayford when AshGold met Medeama in Tarkwa.
A few good buys and this priceless experience of having been in a title race will help him turn most of Medeama's eight draws and eight losses into wins.
There are lessons to be learnt from how changing coaches disrupted their league progress and momentum, eventually costing them the title.
A positive that could be lost in the engulfing disappointment, but that can serve as a source of inspiration and strength looking forward, is the fact that despite their failure to seize a priceless opportunity, they still managed to reduce the gap between themselves and the title by 11 points (as they finished 17 points adrift of Kotoko the season before this one.
Continuity at this point is essential.
Fiifi Anaman, 233 Football
@fiifianaman on twitter.