By Sammie Frimpong
Like Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, the pride of Ghana’s two grandest clubs, Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko, has been the fact that, irrespective of the extent to which football has shed its skin over the years, they have very much belonged to the masses.
TIME FOR CHANGE? | Hearts MD Neil Armstrong-Mortagbe
Whenever their respective supporters perceive affairs of the clubs being run unsatisfactorily, they seldom hesitate to make their opinions known, and such constructive criticism is given prompt attention almost always. In truth, there has never been a real threat of either club slipping into the profiles of the likes of Berekum Chelsea, Heart of Lions and Medeama: outfits owned by single - or a consortium of - wealthy, ambitious men who steer every move towards set targets of success on the pitch and off it.
And, largely, such resilience has not been a bad thing for Kotoko and Hearts, has it? At least both have been spared the random spasms of instability that is often provoked by such trigger-happy, self-willed benefactors.
Perhaps though, as ace broadcaster Christopher Opoku suggested on one social networking forum sometime last week, it might be about time Kotoko and Hearts considered allowing themselves to be swept along by the wind of change, namely, by getting privatised. Opoku's reasons were that both teams have dire financial issues and would need heavy investments of cash to propel them towards greater heights, the peak of which, in Opoku's argument, represents a taste of continental success of which the clubs and their fans have long been starved.
The merits of his case are certainly worth considering, and many - judging by the general complexion of comments the original post received - seem to concur.
Still, the suggestion of Kotoko and Hearts being sold off sounds a bit too touchy and radical, perhaps due to the deeply rich and intricate history each boasts, yet the predicament of both clubs at present warrants no less. Internal politics, external interference and turf wars have shred any good ideas recent administrations of both clubs might have had, rendering neither capable of making any real progress. Consequently the story in both camps has largely been one of a step taken forward grossly negated by a thousand backwards.
Of course, a more 'acceptable' alternative would be to assign management of the clubs to business-minded technocrats, in lieu of the unwritten code that seems to dictate that none but known fans of the clubs can be elevated to such positions of responsibility. In modern history, it is Kotoko who have had such a 'truly' professional administration when the club was entrusted to entrepreneur Herbert Mensah but, of course, we all know just how that experience fared. The anti-climax reached by that era has since become a sour reference point for some in the Kotoko fold. Some professional people have since been assigned to handle duties in various capacities for both sides, yes, but these have mostly earned their roles more for the clubs' colours they identify with than whatever actual qualifications they may have.
Contrary to what fears some may entertain, the nature of Kotoko and Hearts would not be altered much by private ownership; one only need to observe the transformation European clubs like Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have undergone since walking similar paths to realise any major changes would only be for the better. To a significant extent, those clubs are still very much for the people who have always supported them; they have not lost touch with their respective bases.
TIME UP? | Manhyia should wean itself from Kotoko affairs
In reality, a move in that direction could prove a little more complicated and sensitive in the case of Kotoko, given the club's inextricable links with the Ashanti monarchy that dates nearly a century back into history. And, for a fact, it would be highly unthinkable to imagine the reigning Asantehene, Life Patron of the club, relinquishing inherited ownership of Kotoko to some affluent yet success-driven megalomaniac. Still, that should not prove much of a problem, should it? Kotoko can afford to, with proper guidance and tactfulness, usher themselves into a phase of refreshing modernity while still retaining that cloak of regality they have strutted about in with pride for the most part of the last 79 years. Hearts have no such binding ties and should be able to experience a seamless transition, were they to consider that possibility.
Granted, there might be genuine doubts over whether individuals can afford to fund the huge budgets of both clubs, but certainly those claims cannot be verified unless such an experiment has been undertaken and proven unfeasible or otherwise.
In spite of all that has been argued above, though, there would always be some who would carry lingering reservations about such a move yet, with the sport globally evolving and the pair requiring urgent injections of cash and 'independent' personnel, it could only be in the clubs' best interests. Put simply, they cannot compete with the Al Ahlys and TP Mazembes should they remain in their present deprived states. Sooner or later, the Porcupine Warriors and the Phobians would be obliged to adjust to changing trends and improving standards by re-structuring their make-up.
And, should they see reason in doing so, they certainly would not lack suitors, would they?