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Opinions of Friday, 19 April 2013

Columnist: Adom-Mensah, Yaw

Asante Kotoko we have new competitors.

Given any form of business there are three fundamental and indispensable factors to manage. First, there is in-house skill-set, secondly, service or product delivery mechanisms and lastly the environment, otherwise market or competitor trending. The state of any of these fundamental three factors affects either in a bidirectional way. Therefore we find the quality of service or product delivery of a business is a derivative of the quality of the in-house skill set and vice versa.

Likewise, the dynamics in the business environment is a bidirectional byproduct of the two other factors. Consequently, it is consistent that product, service or brand quality in a sense determines the business value relative to competitors and to service, product or brand appeal – this in essence is business management 101. If any business apparatus fails to understand this, that establishment will not be sustainable either in product/service delivery, market prominence or in the pursuit of attracting qualified labor, worst still where the combined effects of all these are prevalent, that entire business will fail.

Asante Kotoko is Ghana’s most successful club. A statement of fact and not debatable, off-course Accra Hearts of Oak follow closely and in terms of who has been most successful over the last decade plus or minus 3 years, then is it undoubtedly, Accra Hearts of Oak. Recently I read a comment by the CEO of Asante Kotoko, KK Sarpong (PhD) which greatly puzzled me to the extent that I had to find a brief moment to comment on where I believe perspectives should be heading. If the comment is credible the CEO of Kotoko inferred that players earn about GHC500 a month and therefore when contracts promising 20 – 30 thousand GHC per month come in sight (referring to contracts to other African teams), they have to let the players go. The CEOs secondary attribution was also because of family pressures and the player’s personal growth, exposure and development. Daniel Nii Adjei was cited as one player whose mother requested for the club to release her son! KK Sarpong subsequently claimed they reinvest such “colossal” sums to support gate proceeds, add sponsorship, pay salaries and “get going”. Well, a very coherent and logical assessment.

The point remains that Kotoko have won two African champions league trophies and 22 domestic league titles and numerous FA cup triumphs. Nonetheless the sad reality is that approximately 45% of the club’s active support base – defined as supporters who are likely to open support the team at local match centers, usually between the ages of 20 – 35 have not witnessed the euphoria of Africa club glory. At best, the older set in this cohort only hold imaginary memories from infanthood. Contributing to this trophy drought off course was the club’s decade of decline in the mid-1990s to early the 2000s when Ashanti Gold and Accra Hearts of Oak reigned in Ghana football. Implied, Kotoko were not even competitive in Ghana let alone to think of Africa. If we isolate these dark ages, we still find that the dynamics of contemporary football has changed. I once listened to the legendary Rev Osei Kofi assert that he never touted to play in Europe because of the love of Kotoko. Coherent and true but this view is likely to fail the “brand – test” and does not replicate in today’s world because the Kotoko brand has been relegated to the four corners of Ghana and to the domain of the few esoteric historians who still write with white chalks on black boards. In addition, football has transcended beyond the nascent and embryotic periods of trial and error. Footballing as an addictive hobby is no more and the students of football have to endure a large set of evolving rules and regulations implemented by various interconnected supervisory bodies. Football or soccer as it is known in North America like other sports has evolved into the circles of main stream regular live sustaining activities. Many of us reading this opinion are either teachers’ at all levels, lawyers, engineers, medical practitioners’ and so on. In our various professional dispensations, we work hard for excellence and to be associated with the leading brand in our fields for personal satisfaction and mostly for professional growth. If you are a teacher in school A in district A, you will work hard and where institutional structure permitting strive to move to school B in district A at the least effort if the latter offers better conditions of service which for teachers include, quality of student body, remuneration and institutional prestige – this evolutionary process will continue until as humans we are unable to move again or we reach a point of capacity exhaustion. It is this same trajectory that follows football and consistent with all conventional business frameworks.

I want to make a point – to say, Kotoko is competitive in Ghana but highly deficient in Africa, we will not even boarder to discuss competiveness in Europe because an exponential disproportionality has rendered Ghana and Europe incomparable in terms of the game of football given that we all implicitly agree that for instance Kotoko and Manchester United or Kotoko and Chelsea or Kotoko and Real Madrid and so on are not competitors. By agreeing that they are not competitors we unilaterally agree that on any given day, granted that all internal and external influencers remain constant, Asante Kotoko will play second fiddle to any of these teams compared. What we are not saying is that Kotoko will be defeated 1000 times if they meet Manchester United 1000 times.

To assess why I claim Kotoko have fallen out of competition in Africa I define and measure competiveness. To measure the competiveness of an entity, you access opponents’ ability to match competitors in areas of resource mobilization and in capacity building. If your competitor can remunerate approximately 2/5 of your players (in-house skill) up to 50 times what they are earning and relegate the value of your team’s goodwill or brand name assuming prior significance, then you are not a competitor to the buyer. A proposition which holds true, because no team in Ghana can buy 2/5 of Kotoko’s players and pay them up to 50x what they used to earn and in the process render the Kotoko team brand less important. Paying players 3x or 300% percent of their current earnings is not sufficient enough to dislodge the competition proposition between team A and team B. Granted, the case of Berekum Chelsea for instance is not applicable.

Where for instance a brand-less team (non-existent goodwill) is purchased by an ambitious person or institution who subsequently acquires more than 2/5 of players of a particular team, the giving team ceases to be competitor of the receiving team until a delay for rebuilding passes. It is important to note that in such circumstances, the goal of this ambitious person or institution is to increase competitiveness in the environment (league) through rapid in-house skill strengthening and not to make the giving team less competitive, but where this scenario holds that is a single team sells at least 2/5 of the best players, it is implicit for the giving team to become less competitive leading to mergers, acquisitions et al which infamously is very unlikely in football involving traditional giants. Fortunately however, purchasers in these instances target the entire competitor scope for wider breath and diversity and also for practical reasons and hence they seek players across all teams and not from only a single team so all giving teams continue to remain competitive.

If Kotoko can only afford to pay players and build capacity only to the tune of USD350 per month per player, then they are not in competition with the big teams in Africa. The very reason Microsoft is unable to purchase 2/5 of Google engineers, they remain competitors. It will help the KK Sarpong administration and Ghana football in general to research and publish the average player salaries across the major footballing nations in Africa. Where the average of these is more than 3x the average of Ghana player salaries, then there is a bigger problem, however if this is an isolated case of 1 or 2 two teams being extremely “wealthy” then this is a false positive, a data outlier and special measures should be instituted to tame the predatory “venom” of that particular team. Regarding family pressures to sell players, well there is this antic saying that Ghana Airways collapsed because friends and family abused the “flight immunity” to transport mortars and pestles to overseas for free.

Football is not played on serendipity because if a competitor is lucky to “spot” a Ghanaian player, and according to the Kotoko example that player will be sold to the competitor and even if 5 or 6 of such players are in demand. To re-emphasize, serendipity does not play football! And may I ask why a team like Kotoko can no longer gibe their contemporaries in the 1970’s and 1980’s in every aspect of the sport? To the extent that Kotoko wins the league and it is like Amidaus annexing the trophy? Perhaps, these teams are the new competitors of Kotoko. Good luck to you all.