Football | National

Hindsight: Where do broken Hearts go?

Hearts of Oak secured Premier League safety on the final day of the season. The circumstances surrounding Sunday's 3-2 win over Bechem United were embarrassing. Besides fielding a significantly weakened lineup, Bechem United conceded two suspicious goals. Joseph Kinful and Francis Acquah appeared to have ducked out of the way when it was easier to block Hearts of Oak's first and third goals.

If you know the league well, you know exactly what happened here. But Hearts of Oak has bigger issues beyond the league's integrity - or the lack of it.

The Phobians finished the season as the second-worst-performing team at home, having picked up just 27 points all season. Only relegated Bofoakwa, have an inferior home record.

On the road, they are significantly worse, having picked up 18 points in sixteen matches. That is an average of a point every game. Curiously, they were the second-best performing team away despite their low tally - 18 points.

It shows how poor the league is if the second-best performing away team amassed 18 points in 17 matches.

Before Sunday, Hearts had not won at the Nana Fosu Gyeabour Park since Salifu Ibrahim toe-poked the ball in on May 12, 2021. You will have to go as far back as 2013, to find Hearts of Oak's only other win, at the venue - a slim 1-0, over Bechem United.

In the last decade, the idea of Hearts being relegated has changed from an abstract concept to an almost reality. Last season, Hearts flirted with relegation and barely survived. The Phobians did not win any of their last five matches in the league and finished the season with 46 points, just four above the relegation zone.

This term, Hearts survived because Bechem United confused June for December. It would have been such a shame if Hearts had been relegated. But it would have been a true reflection of the current state of affairs. Hearts are not here by luck. There is a direct relationship between how the football team has been run and the results/performances on the pitch.

Na who cause am?
If you recruit relegation-caliber players, do not expect them to work magic.

The club's recent relegation struggles are on the club's board and the executive chairman. They have nurtured a culture of mediocrity and the result is what we see today. Unlike other clubs, it is almost automatic to hand out contract renewals to non-performing players. That is how the error-prone Richmond Ayi continues to steal a living after more than half a decade at the club. Curiously, the board is not able to secure its assets who are performing. Names like Benjamin Affutu-Kotey, Thomas Abbey, etc. readily come to mind. As we speak, Salifu Ibrahim is on the well-travelled path of running down his contract with no sign of a renewal.

Their mismanagement of the team is also why Richard Attah could look like a sumo wrestler and still be playing for Hearts of Oak.

The current board is new and cannot be responsible for this. However, the members who were retained from the previous board cannot escape blame.
This is the product of their work. Their recruitment policy, if they have any at all and management practices.

What needs to change?
In July 2023, Hearts hired Dutch trainer Rene Hiddink as the club's technical director. Nine days before his appointment, Hearts who were without a head coach, had already signed Kelvin Osei Asibey. Within days of Hiddink's appointment, the Phobians added midfielders Martin Karikari and Raphael Amponsah and center-backs Kofi Agbesimah and David Oppong Afranie to their squad.

Considering they began negotiations for these players before hiring any senior technical appointments, it is evident that these signings were made without any significant technical assessment. The technical director and head coach Martin Koopman, were essentially forced to work with the materials they were given, like many coaches before them, even if their ideas were not necessarily compatible with the profile of players.

That needs to change.

Recruitment needs to be handled by the club's technical director - who has not been seen since the beginning of the year but that is a matter for another day, or head coach - Aboubakar Ouattar.

Squad overhaul
The current squad needs to be overhauled. While the vast majority of them would not survive any proper assessment, there are still good players there.

Agbesimah, Asibey, Afranie, Amponsah, Karikari, and Michael Ampadu are good players who have been intoxicated by the rotten culture at the club. Ampadu was possibly the best right-back in the league despite the horrible conditions at the club. Hamza Issa scored 12 goals in his debut season. With the right technical guidance, he could do even better.

Martin Karikari's mix of explosiveness and dribbling ability were exciting. On many occasions, he was the reason Hearts were less predictable. However, he needs to learn to release the ball into the channels more often. His skillsets are more suited to playing closer to the box and in more advanced, central midfield positions so improving his associative play will help a great deal. Beyond the two goals and two assists, he also created a ton of chances in his debut season.

Beyond these lots, there is not a lot to work with.

After investing millions of cedis into the facility, Hearts needs to hand it over to actual football executives with the know-how.

The true value of the facility lies in its capacity to produce elite football talents for the first team and possibly other clubs outside Ghana.

In 2019, the Right To Dream Academy won the Junior Category of the 2019 Robotics Inspired Science Education (RISE) competition held in Accra. Last week, Tom Vernon, the organization's founder and owner, told JoySports' Fentuo Tahiru Fentuo in an interview that the Academy had provided scholarships worth $50 million for its 75 students in Ivy League Schools.

Last year, one of the recipients of the scholarships and academy products, Ousseni Bouda graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in International Relations. A month later, he was invited to the Burkinabe national team.

Traditionally, Tom Vernon's pet project should have limited their investment to multiple training sessions in a day. Not anymore.
The requirements of a modern football academy have changed. The best ones provide holistic education.

So Hearts of Oak's Academy cannot be an assembly of school dropouts, lazily assembled by failed politicians and football administrators who were last relevant two decades ago.

It needs bright, progressive, ideas and a network of scouts who can find talents that would otherwise end up at Right To Dream, West Africa Football Academy, etc.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.