Into the mind of Kotoko's Didi Dramani
Kotoko officials agreed to hand the team over from Maxwell Konadu to Mas-Ud Didi Dramani after a roaring 2011/12 season in which the reds clinched the title with games to spare. In his first Super Clash, Dramani faces an enigmatic Hearts led by an even more mysterious David Duncan.
The coaching style - and thinking - of the new Kotoko man may say something about how he'll approach the game, argues supersport's Gary Al-Smith. The first hint of his nature came from the way he handled the Black Maidens to third place in the recent Under-17 Women's World Cup - attacking oriented, defined wingplay and possession-inclined.
"Just keep the ball"
He came into the coaching limelight when he was in charge of Guan Stars in the north. Of particular note was his ability to get into the minds of his players in tough situations. "When he was with Guan Stars, Didi was notorious for his calculating ability. Before he spoke, he will think and think and think," Kotoko's Fatawu Mohammed tells supersport.com.
Fatawu, who has known his current boss for at least eight years, himself has not started for the Porcupines this season because of injury, but his belief in Mas-Ud's style is deductive.
"Everyone in the team respects his style and also what he has achieved, and that is how his thinking will affect us. He likes to keep the ball and he will shout at the players to keep the ball rather than hit long balls."
Indeed, Didi's thinking is very similar to the man from who he took over. Konadu used a 4-3-2-1 on the way to winning the league, but the players at his disposal at not all available for Mas-Ud's use. And that is why he's gone for the defined 4-3-3.
"He likes Barcelona a lot, and he has spent a lot of time studying their system," Stephen Abugri, former coach of King Faisal, also tells supersport.com. That nature has informed the use of players who keep the ball - Helegbe, Michael Akuffo - and attackers who can do same - Kofi Nti Boakye, Ben 'Aguero' Acheampong.
Abugri and Dramani were always clashing in the Middle League between 2004 and 2006, on their respective roads to the top. Although Abugri is currently jobless, his mutual acceptance of Dramani's way of doing things is clear. "Didi likes his teams to have a blend of strength, conditioning and flair, which is hard to achieve especially in our football climate."
Playing to his strengths
The current Kotoko team does not have the conditioning of the days of Herbert Mensah's Porcupine Warriors, but Didi will count on flair when Sunday's Super Clash kicks off. "We have a lot of ball jugglers in the team - from defence right down to attack, and we have noticed that the coach has been emphasizing strength training since he came," Michael Helegbe tells supersport.com.
At their final training session - on Saturday morning - before the big game on the morrow, Dramani experimented with his preferred 4-3-3. But he also took the unusual step of trying a 4-5-1, as an insurance measure.
"Just like the Barcelona teams that he likes, he understands that possession is key, but he wants to make sure all territory is covered," said a member of the coaching staff after Saturday's session.
That is why Richard Mpong, despite having an unimpressive run the season till date, may get a starting place on Sunday. "Because of Kotoko's recent success, our style is far more predictable than Hearts," Mpong told supersport.com earlier this week, admitting that despite not playing too well this season, he will not be shocked if Didi throws him in the starting lineup.
Winning fifty-fifty balls across the field will be key, and Michael Anaba is usually the man for the job. But supersport.com understands that Didi worries that Anaba is a known quantity, and so he'll throw in Issa Yakubu, who has struck a good partnership in Kotoko's midfield so far.
As for Mas-ud Didi Dramani himself, he has told reporters of his expectations from Hearts' starting lineup - despite the change of coach.
"I don’t expect to see a different Hearts team on Sunday. They have a new coach but I don’t think he will change anything just within this short period of time. We are putting the final touches together and I am very sure victory will be ours."
Kickoff is at 3pm on Sunday. Stay with supersport.com for more buildup features.