Ghana’s Chelsea enjoying the high life
It is no surprise that the name of a club in Ghana’s Premier League might catch the eye. After all, on the country’s top flight schedule you will see the likes of Mighty Jets face off with Dwarfs or King Faisal’s Babes or even Hearts of Oak test their courage against Heart of Lions. However, seeing the very familiar name of ‘Chelsea’ planted at the top of the Ghanaian table has caused more than a few double-takes.
While their considerably more illustrious London namesake have been suffering through a rough patch, the West African club have amassed a seven point lead, and with traditional heavyweights Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko off the pace and defending champions Aduana Stars eight points back with 14 matches to go, Ghana's unheralded ‘Blues’ are in with a serious shout of winning their first competitive trophy of any nature.
What’s in a name?
Formed just over a decade ago as Semereka FC, the club revealed their ambitions in 2004 by taking the name Chelsea around the time the entire continent was falling in love with the English team with the African presence. Having originally taken shape in a regional town named Berekum, 400km northwest of Accra near the Côte D’Ivoire border, the club moved early in their history 80km away to Bechem to avoid local competition and was known as Bechem Chelsea. But after reaching the top flight, they moved back and took the name Berekum Chelsea, thus setting up a striking local derby with Berekum Arsenal, named for another London club.
Whatever their name, home has been sweet for Chelsea this season, and they have begun to develop a reputation similar to the Didier Drogba and Michael Essien-led Blues: hungry for success and not afraid to challenge the established order. They have claimed 22 out of 24 possible points at their home ground, Golden City Park, allowing just two goals in eight matches. That has allowed them to improve on their last two seasons in the top flight, when they finished fifth and eighth. The relative newcomers have picked up in more consistent fashion this term, drawing at Hearts of Oak, beating the champions at home, knocking off early pacesetters Kessben and then coming from two goals down away to humble Asante Kotoko 3-2. That win not only solidified their title credentials, but it was a first-ever victory by Chelsea over the former African champions in Kumasi.
This success has been something of a surprise because in many ways it has been a tumultuous season for the club. Lee Addy, a rising prospect with the national team who won the league’s Defender of the Year Award the last two seasons, moved to Europe in the Autumn, and the club has gone through a succession of coaches even since the end of last term. However, they seem to have found their man in the form of Ghana U-20 coach Orlando Wellington.
Wellington, who was an assistant on the team that won the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009, signed with Chelsea in October just two days after leading the Black Satellites to qualification for the 2011 African Youth Championship, and he will keep both jobs. It was an issue with his previous club, but the coach has settled in well and he says the team are wary but confident. "We know it will not be easy [to win the league], but we have played well, trained well and are very determined and confident that we can hold on and become champions," he said.
Chelsea’s collection of promising talent is such that they had the most players, seven, called up to Ghana’s 30-person preliminary squad for the African Nations Championship (CHAN), which is a continental tournament made up of players in the domestic leagues. Remarkably, they had four attackers picked, including the promising duo of Emmanuel Clottey and Bismark Idan. Clottey, who has had a small amount of experience on loan in Europe, has drawn plaudits this year with his pace and composure in front of goal. He leads the team with six goals so far, and he recently made his first full international appearance. The compact but explosive Idan, who was the league’s top scorer with Kessben FC last term and has netted four times so far this term, is being tipped to possibly follow Clottey to the Black Stars.
The other two attacking players in the team are well-regarded also. Emmanuel Osei Banahene is a powerful young striker with a marksman’s eye, while the fourth is forward Obed Owusu, who won a cap with the national team in 2009. Also part of the CHAN squad are the impressive midfield duo of Yaw Alexander and Mohammed Abdul Basit, who has tallied five times this season, and left back Alfred Arthur.
It's a balanced team with plenty of exciting options. Perhaps none at the level of Drogba, but Ghana's Chelsea have demonstrated great self-belief and determination this season. This strength was on display this past weekend when Owusu scored a screamer with the last kick of the game to beat Mighty Jets 2-1 and maintain their seven-point lead at the top of the table. But the high-flying Blues are trying to keep their feet firmly on the ground. “It’s not yet over," said the goal-scorer after the victory. "There are 14 matches left until we can say we are champions. We have to fight hard and approach every match seriously like we did today. “