Remember the halcyon days of Accra Great Olympics, when the club was a force to reckon with both home and abroad?
And yet there was once such a time when winning silverware at the highest level was achievable for Olympics, a time when they even reached the semi-final of the African Cup of Champions Clubs (precursor of the CAF Champions League).
With the sort of committed and talented players that other teams in Ghana’s elite division craved, legendary footballers decorated by the club’s famous blue and white stripes in the course of its rich 67-year history, Olympics flew truly high.
The capital-based side hasn’t operated at that level for decades, however, going without a major title since winning the FA Cup in 1995. For their last league triumph, you’d have to go back another 21 years — long before the professional era began in Ghana.
Much of Olympics’ story in recent years has been about survival, a battle to retain — or regain, depending on the prevailing circumstances – their status as a top-flight club. This season’s narrative, though, promises to buck the trend, with Olympics finding themselves in unfamiliar territory.
The Dade Boys currently top the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League table, having won 10 of their 18 games and collected a total of 33 points. Even better, they’re playing a brand of football — characterized by tactical intelligence, pace on the counter-attack, and hunting in packs — that has captured the imagination by entertaining and, at times, enthralling.
Credit for that turnaround and upgrade goes, primarily, to head coach Annor Walker. His relationship with the rest of the technical staff has been very vital to the club’s impressive season, freeing the players from the burden of pressure and expectation.
It has helped the team focus on what can be controlled and ignore what can’t, believing that it can — and will, on a good day — beat any side. The fearlessness with which Olympics play, a relentless and devastating pressing game, tends to overwhelm most opponents, anyway.
Walker’s players practice the ‘five second rule’, which requires that the team presses the opposition in the first five seconds after losing possession before, if the ball isn’t immediately reclaimed, easing off.
That recoiling, though, is only to lay in wait for precise triggers to press again: that cue could come when a pass bounces off a foot, or when an attacker looks down a tad too long at the ball in plotting his next move.
Whatever the scenario, as soon as their opponents’ options are limited, Olympics pounce. That’s not to say, though, that they’re terrible without the ball – far from it.
Possession, for Walker’s team, isn’t the be all and end all; it could be said, in fact, that Olympics are arguably at their most dangerous when out of possession.
Between games, on the training field, Walker’s experience as a youth coach remains crucial to the work he does, guiding his players individually to make them technically better footballers.
Well-traveled skipper Gladson Awako, who can legitimately claim to have seen it all, has benefited, and the younger guys — like Maxwell Abbey Quaye, Phillip Sackey, Jamal Deen Haruna and Samuel Ashie Quaye — have improved even more.
And yet Walker, always modest, isn’t so keen to take any plaudits for what Olympics have achieved thus far.
“I’m really proud of what the players have done,” he said in a recent interview.
“They’ve shown a lot of bravery at times to go and play and try and win games against the best.”
Surely, though, if Olympics are able to reach their seasonal targets — glory, or thereabouts, from where they stand now — Walker wouldn’t be able to deflect much of the praise that would inevitably follow, would he?