‘Hearts Eleven – It’s a mighty team’ is a line in one of the famous cheer songs of one-time African Champions
Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club Limited (The Phobians). The performance of Hearts of Oak in this season’s Onetouch Premier League however falls short of the word ‘mighty’. If any one who does not know the history of Hearts of Oak is told of the might of this 97-year old club, he will be left with no choice but to open his mouth in disbelief.
Appalling will be a mind word to describe the total performance of Accra Hearts of Oak this season. And I do not intend to mince any words on this piece. For a traditional club with 19 league titles in their cupboard, this season will go down as one they will want to forget quickly. A cursory assessment of events under the oak tree will tell any discerning mind how the Phobians planned to fail.
A combination of cocky feeling, wrong choices, management shocks, low player morale, player indiscipline and technical inadequacy cost the defending champions their title and left them with a deflated ego.
Many Cooks Will Give a Mid-table Performance:
From Dobrev through Zito to Lamptey:
For just 30 games, Hearts of Oak managed to use 4 coaches. It all started going wrong with the dismissal of Mitko Kostadinov Dobrev who had led the Phobians to their last league trophy. As if sacking Dobrev was not enough, the Steven Akwetey-led IMC appointed amateur deputy coach Karim Zito, A Kumasi Asante Kotoko reject who had too much porcupine(Kotoko) blood in his veins.
Clearly, Zito did not have the mental fortitude and technical capacity to manage a giant club like Hearts of Oak. Hearts probably found out too late that they had made the mistake of the century with Zito’s appointment. The damage had already been done, Zito was off to Gabon to construct a portable CV.
In the interim another amateur, Samson Lamptey (a.k.a Zagalo) acted while Hearts held talks with several potential coaches. Enter Chelsea FC-linked Israeli import, Eyal Lachman who started with a common sense approach – Use what you have to halt the mess. Lachman succeeded in halting the mess and building some decent stack of performances.
Lachman would however leave too early before any meaningful change could happen. Thanks to a messy administrative set up, the Israeli import resigned. He could not take the age-old phobia wahala. Lamptey was brought back. Four coaches in one season! So much instability in one season and there were Phobians who expected the cup! Terrible, to say the very least.
Building on the Sand:
Karim Zito was assigned the duty of laying the pre-season foundations. He had plenty of time and management confidence. Some of the players who emerged tops this season were available for grabs. One would have expected better a better pre-season, but Zito made a mess of it, preparing the team for its present mid table mediocrity.
A Team Not Ready:
Zito gathered 28 unfit and mentally unprepared players and dropped five of the best players – F. J. Bossman, B. D. Bortey, F. J. Bossman, T. Menson and L. Quartey. It is strange to think that but for these players, Hearts would have been relegated. Player discipline problems started taking deeper roots especially among players whose salaries and bonuses had not been paid and were beginning uncared for.
Zito’s poor man-management led to serious disciplinary problems and waywardness in camp. Team manager Sabhan Quaye did not help matters with his unstructured and inconsistent administration of justice. Sacking some players from camp while others who may have committed similar crimes remained did not help either
Wasting Money on Scraps:
It is no brainer that a winning team requires quality players. This season, Hearts registered up to 49 players. 14 of them were new. Of the 14 new players, only 4 were above average – S. Amoasi, K. Abanga, T. Jibril and Okyere. Of these 4 above average players, only Abanga remained till the end of the season. Amoasi went to school, Jibril on trials in at Athletico Madrid and Okyere went back to his service base.
Of course the then management did not help matters with funds for recruitment. Rather than spending money on some of the quality players available at the Feyenoord Academy and other academies, Zito and his management spent their energies chasing and splashing valuable money on average players. Meanwhile other players had not been paid their bonuses and salaries.
There are many quality players who would give everything up for a Phobian jersey, but Management did not see the need. They rather went for cheaper options. Amidst all of this, strangely somehow, the Phobia Board and Management expected a performance. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Sleepy Off Season:
Perhaps the Phobians expected to gain several points from the GFA disciplinary committee than on the pitch. Preparation was thus not important for them. From my point of view, Hearts’ team preparation can be seen in three phases – gather the boys, get fitness training and play friendly matches. They gathered the boys alright, got their one week military training (in the name of fitness) and played some wishy-washy friendly games.
Throughout the pre-season, Hearts played only 3 quality games. They beat Black Meteors by a penalty goal and lost to Liberty and Gamba All Blacks. Now, instead of getting on their toes, they went about comforting themselves with wins against sub standard teams like Starky FC, Freedom Fighters, Aduana Stars etc. No wonder when the real season began they were off form, off solutions and off balance.
Nostalgia Feels Nice…But Costs Leadership Crises:
After all the brouhaha, the mantle to rearrange Hearts of Oak fell on the Israeli Lachman. The man showed lots of promise at the beginning of his tenure. At least Lachman halted the decline and restored some real discipline. Qualified players got their chance and Hearts appeared to be on the journey of restoration. Fans were getting their voice again in Lachman’s early days until age-old Board-Management wrangling reared its ugly heads. The entire Steven Akwetey-led IMC resigned.
The Nostalgia began. The Board went for Harry Zakuor and Zakour in turn went for Ishmael Addo, Kwaku Essien and Charles Taylor among others. Pretty much a hopeless situation which did not help matters at all. These players did not do as much as the fans expected. Eyal Lachman did not have any use of them, Harry Zakour disagreed…the fight became bloodier. Harry asks Hearts to choose between himself and Eyal. He finally takes the bows out. Vincent Sowah Odotei takes over. Lachman leaves! Back to Samson Lamptey. The musical chairs goes on. William Yates puts it nicely:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
Mid Table Mediocrity :
On the pitch, Hearts of Oak were just shambolic. Their fans deserted them for most part of the season due to poor performance. As defending champions, placing eighth on the league table speaks volumes. It tells of a pseudo champion who probable has been winning the league unfairly in times past. It is totally unacceptable for the Continental Club Masters to drown this way. They could not even manage a top-four place.
Hearts of Oak won 33.33% of their games this season compared to the 53.3% wins they got last year and 57.69% some ten years ago. On the potency of their attack, Accra Hearts of Oak scored 31 goals in 30 games. This was an improvement over the 31 goals they scored in the 2006/2007 league however the team did not reach the goal scoring form of 1997/1998 where they scored 38 times in 26 league games and in the famous year 2000 they scored 57 goals in 30 games.
Hearts’ defense cost them their title. They conceded as many goals as they scored this season (31). Last year, Hearts conceded only 15 goals. A better defensive performance than Kumasi Asante Kotoko who conceded 17 goals.
So which teams gave Hearts of Oak their worst nightmare. I must mention Gt. Olympics. The Wonder club revealed all the loopholes in the Phobian team on Matchday 1. However, on the aggregate, Ashgold SC, King Faisal, Tema Youth, Heart of Lions and RTU all beat Hears of Oak this season. Zaytuna FC were a major party spoiler as they beat Hearts at least once this season. Away losses to All Stars, Kessben FC and Hasaacas worsened the woes of the one-time dreaded champions.
Dry Bones Shall Live Again:
The tale of the Phobian mediocre season will not be fully told if some hope is not transferred to the Rainbow club. I am convinced the poor performance of Hearts will continue if these root causes are not addressed. The team did show flashes of promise. Hopefully midfield engine Kofi Abanga will climb the learning ladder. Hopefully, the Board and the Management will run Hearts of Oak a bit more professionally. Hopefully, Hearts will invest into quality materials and hopefully, Hearts will win a few out-of-the-pitch points and they will be back to the top. The FUTURE doesn’t look all that bright though, but the best thing about the rainbow is that when it appears, ALL shall know that it has arrived!
So how will Kotoko lose their title?
Learn from the predecessors.