Frimpong Manso: Kessben FC was my baby project

BY: George Ernest Asare
Frimpong Manso

In his heyday, Frimpong Manso commanded much respect on and off the field. He had a reputation as a skillful and tough defender and a leader on the field.

When he hung up his boots after a distinguished career leading Kumasi Cornerstone to win the WAFU Cup, and establishing his greatness with Asante Kotoko and the Black Stars before a spell in the Gulf state of Kuwait, the man nicknamed “Mayanga” turned his energies to developing talents as a coach.

In the first part of an exclusive interview with the Graphic Sports’ George Ernest Asare, Frimpong Manso looks back at his playing career and opens up on his passion for the football development as a coach in spite of the challenges he has encountered so far.

Graphic Sports (GS): You have not been in the news lately. What have you been up to?

Frimpong Manso (FM): I am still into coaching and was handling Nkoranza Warriors, a Division One side, before the COVID-19 pandemic brought football activities to a halt.

Before then I went to Cote d’Ivoire to handle Stade Abidjan between 2017 and 2018  and returned to coach Warriors.

GS: How would you assess your time at Stade Abidjan?

FM: Because I could not communicate in French, it became difficult to relate with players and the management very well at the initial stages. It was not easy for me because I had to work through an interpreter who was my assistant coach from Nigeria.

Another hurdle I encountered with Stade was that their training ground was a three-hour drive from Abidjan where the players and I were based.

It was one of the key reasons that I decided not to extend my contact after one season with the club.

However, our performance was not a bad, especially considering that target of the team was not to fighting for the Ivorian league title; they were just interested in maintaining their place in the league.

GS: It means the conditions were not favourable for you to stay...

FM: They are a traditional club and the management was slow in adopting change and innovation to accelerate the development of the team, and this was in conflict with my style of coaching.

They ignored any new proposal I brought up, and travelling six hours daily just to train and prepare for competitive matches was not easy. The players complained a lot about fatigue and it was understandable.

GS: How did you land the Nkoranza Warriors job?

FM: After I left Stade two years ago, I pitched camp with Nkoranza Warriors. However, I later took over as coach of Techiman Eleven Wonders when the ban on Ghana football was lifted, but I left them because I did not get the quality of players needed to compete in the Ghana Premier League as the club’s management appeared not ready to invest in quality players needed to get good results. That explains why I returned to Warriors.

GS: How did you make the transition from playing to coaching?

FM: I left Kotoko in 1995 for Kuwait to start professional football with Al Shabab and two other clubs. I spent four years with Al Shabab which had started investing in youth football at that time. After playing for about six months, I was made the captain of the team, which placed a huge responsibility on me.

I was, therefore, doing the work of the coach on the field, which pleased him very well. Things worked well for me in Kuwait so I later joined Al Salmiya for a season and won bronze during the Pan Arab Club Championships in Egypt.

In 2001, I returned home to begin my coaching career because I did not want to play in the local league again.
GS: Why didn’t you want to return to the local league in Ghana?

FM: I did not want to play partly because of the behaviour of the fans who see experienced players as old hands and cast insinuations on them at the least opportunity. I also wanted to start my coaching career in 2002.
GS: How did it all begin?

FM: Some Denmark instructors came to Kumasi to run a coaching course which I participated in. After the course, they invited me alongside Bright Obeng and David Duncan to Denmark to continue with the course.

However, it was Duncan and I who went to Denmark about five months to continue with the course. When we returned home, I took over the Ashanti regional under-15 team as my first local side and we participated in the schools and colleges competition.

In 2003, I was assistant to Abdul-Karim Razak as part of Kotoko’s technical team to win the Ghana Premier League.

GS: How did you get the Kotoko job?

FM: I was invited by the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, to see him at the Manhyia Palace. When we met, he told me that he was handing over Kotoko to Razak and me. He had earlier met with Razak and told him about his plans, so I gladly accepted the offer and we started working together. We worked very hard to win the league for Kotoko which had not won the league for a long time.

GS: So what next after Kotoko?
FM: From Kotoko I started a project which was my baby and later gave birth to Kessben FC.  It was one of your colleagues, Listowell Yesu Burkason, who contacted me to join him to start an academy.

Listowell was by then residing in the United States of America and since it had been my vision to start an academy I became interested in the project, so I organised some young players and selected the best among them to start a youth team.

After training the team for some time at Prempeh College, we decided to register the team as a Division Three side and named it FM Sports after my shop.

Incidentally, our training ground was also used by the workers of Kessben for routine fitness exercises on Saturdays.

A worker at Kessben named Kwabena, a photographer, approached me one day and hinted that Mr Kwabena Kesse, the Kessben owner, wanted me to take his workers through their weekend exercises, to which I agreed.

Later, Kwabena told me Mr Kesse said he was interested in joining me to organise FM Sports to make it more formidable for our mutual benefit, and since I was not hearing from Listowell who started the team with me, I agreed to allow Mr Kesse to join me to develop FM Sports to another level.

Initially, he provided beverage and other food items monthly for the players’ upkeep. That was how Mr Kesse joined my project to develop football talents in the Kumasi Metropolis and its environs. I felt it was a good partnership that would give me an opportunity to give back to society.

This partnership continued until it was time to turn the academy into a Division Three side the I changed the name from FM Sports to TW Football Club in relation to a shipping company Kessben did business with. We started from the Division Three and progressed to the Division One. It took us two years to climb from the third division to the first division and a further two years to reach the Premier League.

And all this time, I was the sole technical man with the team and only submitted budget to Mr Kesse to honour to keep the team afloat.

At that time, the GFA sponsored me and Minuru Gamel, who was coaching Black Queens, for a coaching course in Germany. On my return,

I joined the team but we decided to change the name to Kessben FC when we qualified for the Premier League.

It was when we qualified for the Premier League that a lot of issues cropped up which I am reluctant to divulge because I want to consign them to history.

However, I can confidently say that Kessben FC was virtually my own project which I nurtured and developed from ground zero until we got to the Premier League when it was sold.

GS: What license do you hold at the moment as a local coach?

FM: I hold the CAF Licence A and can handle any Premier League side in Ghana. Apart from handling some Premier League sides, I also assisted Cecil Jones Atuquafeyo to handle the Black Meteors in 2006, and in 2008, I assisted coach Afranie to handle the under-17 national team.

In 2010, I was given the role as the head coach of the national under-17 team.

Apart from these roles, Coach Oti Akenten and I worked as scouts for the Black Stars for the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa. I was assigned to Australia and I regularly briefed the coach on the strength and weaknesses of our opponents.

GS: Why have you not been handed any national team since the 2010 World Cup?

FM: There was an issue during the time of Kwasi Nyantakyi [former Ghana FA  president] when I was handling the Under-17 national team.

He brought two boys from Wa All Stars to join the team. One of them, Zidah, was the skipper of the team.

Mr Kingsley Osei-Bonsu [Zico] of Bechem United and Mr Kojo Yankah were part of the management team.  While in Zambia for the first leg of our Africa championship qualifying match, Zico told Mr Awuah Nyamekye that our skipper Zidah was overage because he knew him personally.

When the issue came to me, I told that them that they had to handle it themselves [as the management team officials], because the issue they had raised was not about the performance of the player but status of his age, which was not part of my role as a coach.

I also told them that the ages of the players had already been approved by the GFA, so I was not the right person to handle the issue.

They called Mr Nyantakyi and informed him about their concern and his response was that the player’s card at Wa All Stars specified that he was within the age limit, so if they had any other reason to suspect that he was overage, they should handle it themselves.

We lost 1-2 to Zambia and when we returned home, Mr Nyantakyi told me to send Zidah home, and when I asked for his replacement, he declined.

While we were in camp at Prampram, one of players of Nyantakyi’s club also had disciplinary and other issues with the team’s management so it was agreed that he should be sent home.

GS: Did these two incidents conspire against you as a coach?

FM: These two incidents happened when I was in charge of the team, so the FA President took it personal and created a space with me.

In the first leg of our final round qualifier against Senegal at the El-Wak Stadium in Accra, the FA refused to transport the Senegalese players as a group to the stadium and rather transported them in batches, in taxis, and it infuriated the Senegalese who vowed to retaliate in the return leg encounter.

In the return encounter, we were stranded at the Dakar airport because there was no one to pick us to our hotel to prepare for the match. We spent close to five hours at the airport before we were picked to the hotel. It drained us physically and psychologically and eventually we lost the match 0-2 and were eliminated through penalty kicks.

This marked the end of my romance with the national teams in spite of my commitment and expertise.

Many of the coaches who are handling the various national teams have been offered several opportunities after failing to meet their target many times. Incidentally, I became a victim of circumstances since we lost to Senegal on penalties in 2010 and I have since not been offered another opportunity to handle any of the national teams.

It was after all these neglects that I started another project with Tony Yeboah, which I felt would mark another milestone in my quest to support the development of Ghana football.

GS: Tell us about this new project...

FM:  You know I have been very close to Tony for a long time. He informed me that he had some agents in Germany who were interested in developing youthful talents so I should join him to start such a project.

We started organising talented players to form a team at the juvenile level with the hope of competing and progressing from the lower to the higher divisions. However, when we got to the first division we became victims of bias officiating both at home and in away matches.

The situation was very irritating and it got Tony very infuriated. At a point, Tony called me and said he could no longer cope with the bias officiating and so he was quitting the project we had spend so much time and resources to establish.

We eventually sold the club, Yegoala FC, out to Professor Quarm, who is now a Member of Parliament, but it seems he is more interested in politics than developing the club to a higher level. I don’t know if the club is in existence or he has also disposed of it.

GS: How do want to support Ghana football?

FM: I would have liked to be part of a project which I am a partner from the onset, just as I started with FM Sport, but things are not working as planned. When I am directly involved in a project, I become a shareholder and, therefore, become very focused and committed in taking such a project to a level that would be very to all partners.

GS: Now that the Number 12 exposé has given Ghana football a new lease of life, would you consider getting Yeboah to resurrect the project you abandoned due to bad officiating?

FM: I know I can start such a project with someone in Ghana, but not Tony Yeboah because his interest in football died many years back and nothing can resurrect it anymore. However, I am considering contacting some friends who may come on board to initiate such a project

GS: Why has Tony Yeboah lost interest in football?

FM: I know him very much and since he abandoned his project he does not want to have anything to do with Ghana football.

His main concern was about bias officiating in Ghana football over the years. He said some referees came to him directly to demand money to officiate in his favour and when he refused, they conspired to bring his club down. At one point, he lost his temper and said he was no more interested in continuing to develop the club, so I doubt that he would even involve himself in football administration, let alone start another project.