FC Nania won the MTN FA Cup a week today. Predictably, much of the focus in the lead up to the match and after the team’s win was on owner/coach/chairman/inspirer/Mr. All things to the team, Abedi Ayew Pele. Any team that has the best player Ghana has ever produced as its head even in a non-playing capacity is bound to generate lots of headlines. After all, his retirement has robbed Ghana’s journalists of the chance to use the word ‘maestro’ in every other sentence if they so wished.
Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that as integral and instrumental as Abedi is to Nania’s cause (he’s Nania’s Abramovic after all) it is a pity he stole so much of the limelight. A visit to Nania’s training grounds will show Abedi very involved in his team’s affairs. As with many clubs however, there are many people in the background that make it easy for Abedi to impart his knowledge to his players. There are also many who are always at Legon to make sure the club continues to run even in his absence.
Ahead of their semifinal against Berekum Chelsea, there was mention of Annor Walker as the coach of the team. By the time the final came around, Mr. Walker had disappeared. No word on whether he was sick, had been fired, resigned or just taken the day off. Anyone who has any familiarity with Nania will note that he was right on the bench. He was not prowling along the touchline like his employer but still a close look showed that he was interacting with some of the players at various points in the match. It was disheartening to note that he hasn’t been credited at all with Nania’s success in the way a Steve Clark or a Ray Wilkins is in the English premier league. Not even a mention as a co-coach.
For me, this was even more sad given the way Nania played. They played together. They fought for each other. They played to instruction and were disciplined. Kotoko had the more physically imposing players and better athletes but what Nania lacked in size they made up for in heart.
One moment apart from the goal stood out for me in reflecting Abedi’s leadership, the players’ respect for him and the collective spirit of the team. In the first half of extra time, Kotoko had a chance after eventual goalscorer, Evans Omani, lost the ball in his own half. After the chance was spurned, Abedi screamed at Omani no doubt chastising him for how easily he had lost the ball. His next move though showed how deep his understanding of his own players and the game is. He substituted his starting striker,Salifu Nuhu who had begun to tire. Rather than doing a like for like swap for Nuhu, he put the well built Musah Yakubu on the right and shifted Omani who was himself a substitute up top as the lone striker. For if Omani didn’t have bulk, he had speed and was fleet of foot, useful at that stage of the game against tired defenders. It was no surprise that he came up with the winner, a cheeky little back heel the Kotoko keeper clearly wasn’t ready for.
All in all, it was good to see the underdogs win.
A few complaints however. The turnout for the game was pathetic if you ask me. For a club that boasts the biggest following in Ghana, I was surprised that Kotoko fans alone did not fill the stadium. The Kotoko fans and haters of Kotoko, many of whom no doubt live in Accra should have filled the stadium. After all, there was no direct competition from any of the European leagues. Also, considering the hype that was generated with the presence of John Barnes especially, I expected to see the stadium close to full.
Often, Ghanaian fans complain about the quality of the games. This was not one of those matches to miss because of quality because it was a fun match to watch. The one concern may have been the referee who was not consistent at all. The importance of a good referee cannot be underestimated. Fans dislike feeling like they are watching something pre-ordained. And sometimes, it seemed as though the referee had bought into the narrative of Nania being so much an underdog that they could not commit hard fouls. Anyone watching the game could see that they gave as good as they got in that regard.
To that end, as the match wore on, I was reminded of the words, “If you are a big big tree, there is a small axe, ready to cut you down, ready to cut you down.”
Belated congratulations to the “small axes” of Nania.