Berekum Chelsea – the gritty Ghanaians taking the CAF Champions League by storm

A cursory inspection atop of Group B in the ongoing African Champions League reveals an eyebrow-raising detail which surprises most of the game’s pundits and aficionados: debutants Berekum Chelsea are second in the standings after two games, lying above continental giants TP Mazembe and Zamalek and giving the other continental giant in the group, Al Ahly, a good early pursuit. Most people have never heard of Berekum Chelsea, but will be familiar with the English Premier League club they are named after, though the affiliation stops there. On his debut on Sandals For Goalposts, Joshua Ansah gives the lowdown on the gritty Ghanaians.

Can Berekum Chelsea mirror the continental exploits of their European counterparts?

Who they are

Formed in the summer of the year 2000 initially as Semereka FC, they were christened Berekum Chelsea FC in 2004. Four years later, the club got promoted to the elite division of Ghanaian club football – the Ghanaian Premier League – and managed a respectable mid-table finish in the 2008/2009 season in their debut top flight season. After another mid table spot the next season, Berekum Chelsea turned on the style and managed to win the Premier League in the 2010/2011 season to become, eleven years after their formation, the youngest club to win the Ghanaian Premier League, with three games to spare. This trophy qualified them for the CAF Champions League and, though they have been magnificent in the tournament so far, their African adventure has had a toll on their domestic performance as they could only manage a 7th place finish in the recently concluded Ghanaian Premier League, 18 points behind winners Asante Kotoko.

How far they have come

Berekum Chelsea are the main talking point so far in this year’s CAF Champions League.  Although they entered the competition as Ghanaian champions few expected them to have a major impact, if any at all, in their debut in the continent’s finest club competition.

The team referred to as The Blues (just like Chelsea in the English Premier League, who they are named after) started off well with a 5-0 aggregate win over Liberian LISCR FC, who entered the competition as Liberian champions. The man who has been the pivot of their campaign so far, Emmanuel Clottey, opened his account with a brace in that game. They then came up against Moroccan giants Raja Club Athletic who they trashed 5-0 in the first leg of qualifiers at the Berekum Golden City Park, with Clottey scoring his first hat-trick of the tournament. Raja  put up a good fight in the return leg but could not overturn the deficit only managing to make the aggregate score line more respectable at 5-3. They then faced another tough opponent in Coton Sport of Cameroon, who managed to get a clean sheet in Berekum and looked to make use of home advantage to progress in the second leg, but the Ghanaians, keen to add them to their list of scalps, earned a hard fought 2 1 win in Cameroon with Emmanuel Clottey scoring again, this time once to take him to the top of the scoring chats as the competition entered the group stages.

Emmanuel Clottey: the Berekum Chelsea striker taking the CAF Champions league by storm

The debutants looked doomed when they were drawn in the same group as three former winners of the competition and powerhouses on the African continent in Al Ahly {who hold the record for number of trophies in the Champions League(6), the Cup Winners’ Cup (4) as well as the Super Cup(4)}, TP Mazembe (who have four Champions League trophies, one Cup Winners’ Cup and two Super Cup trophies) and Zamalek (who also boast five Champions League trophies, one Cup Winners’ Cup and 3 Super Cup trophies). In such esteemed company, most expected the 12-year-old club with just one major trophy (Ghanaian Premier League champions 2010/2011) to be overawed, but the Berekum club have shown astounding grit and spirit. Having trailed at some point in both games in the group stages so far, and yet managed to remain undefeated after winning against Zamalek at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium, where they had to come back from a one goal deficit twice to win the game in the closing stages, and drawing the other away game to TP Mazembe despite trailing by two goals at half time. Clottey has scored all five of his team’s goals at the group stages to take his tally to eleven goals in the competition and is the competition’s leading goal scorer.

How far they can go?

Despite their performances some pundits still expect the West African side to fall if the pressure mounts, but the side will look to thrive under that pressure. Like star striker Clottey, anyone who underrates the boys from Berekum will be in for a shock, and, with the fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude they possess, The Blues could well go and shock the continent more. The debutants are far from the complete team, though, with a leaky backline and no back up for striker Clottey. Yet they still they could pull it off, as they have done so far, and hence should be approached cautiously. With two home games in the second round awaiting at the Berekum Golden City Park and two trips to Egypt for the determined Chelsea side, they have a tough task ahead. But in a year where the team which they are named after – and which they look to for inspiration – won their first ever UEFA Champions League trophy, don’t be surprised if Berekum Chelsea conquer Africa for good measure if just to set up a meeting in the World Club Championships with their mentors.

You can follow Joshua Ansah on Twitter.

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