For more than a decade, prior to the appointment of Samuel Boadu as their club’s head coach, all that fans of Accra Hearts of Oak had known were misery and mediocrity.
Hearts went through that period without winning a single major trophy, the longest barren run in over a century of its illustrious existence, a plight that only worsened with each passing year.
Coaches came and went, as did entire squads, but nothing seemed to work, leaving the club hopelessly nostalgic about a time – in the distant past – when they hardly left any laurels for other sides to pick.
Hearts’ big-club wheels kept spinning, but they hardly moved. The appetite to succeed remained strong, through it all, but failure – their new normal – didn’t seem so revolting a prospect anymore.
To reverse that, a cultural reset – an overhaul of the entire institution’s mentality – was needed, sorely.
More than anything, that’s just what Boadu delivered in abundance when handed the reins in March 2021.
The bar was pretty low, courtesy of his predecessors’ successive slip-ups, so Boadu didn’t really have to outdo himself in a bid to ingratiate himself with the fans, but he went the whole nine yards anyway.
It didn’t even matter that he had arrived without the reputation of a winner; Boadu was determined to forge one. And, before long, he’d completed that work in some style.
Just five months into his tenure, Boadu fetched more silverware than Hearts had seen in the preceding 12 years. He bagged a Double, in the form of the Ghana Premier League and the FA Cup, thereby – by default – crowning Hearts champions of a third domestic competition, the FA Super Cup.
A clean sweep, yes.
With a finger-snap, a golden touch and a sprinkling of charisma, Boadu had switched the lights on and brightened a gloomy club. His tactics were great, having devised a system that brought the best out of the collective yet afforded plenty of room for the expression of individual brilliance.
And, speaking of individuals, Boadu did bond well with his players, one of whom – tireless midfielder Emmanuel Nettey – he even chose as ‘best man’ a little later on his wedding day.
Hearts looked very much like a tight-knit family off the pitch; on it, unsurprisingly, they were formidable. All credit for that went to Boadu, the man who had breathed life into Hearts’ dry bones, covering them with flesh and sinew, building them up into a team delightful to watch and dreadful to face.
To the fans, who sang – literally – to his tune each matchday, Boadu was the chosen one, the Moses who’d led their hitherto parched side from the wilderness to the Promised Land, the messiah they’d long waited for.
The milk and honey of sweet success tasted great enough, yet the Phobian faithful, keen to make up for lost time, hadn’t yet had their fill. If Boadu had delivered this much after joining mid-season, there was every reason for confidence that the luxury of a full pre-season would yield even more.
Those lofty expectations were soon dashed, however, as the well of goodness started to dry up.
A chastening return to continental inter-club football didn’t get the 2021/22 season off to a great start, and Hearts failed to recover. The team didn’t win a league game until their fifth, and they’d be victorious only in 11 of the next 29 fixtures, ultimately finishing sixth (a whopping 19 points off the top).
Hearts did, at least, retain possession of the FA Cup, serving their fans some end-of-season cheer, but the dark clouds over Boadu didn’t really go away; they only parted slightly, at best, permitting a sliver of respite to shine through, and maybe just enough room for an anticipated rainbow of hope — but that never manifested.
Hearts had finished the previous league campaign poorly, not winning any of their last five games, and they picked up where they left off that winless streak this term, still waiting for a first victory after three matches.
To be fair, they haven’t had any easy fixtures thus far, starting the season with a trip to Dormaa-Ahenkro – of all places – to face Aduana, where Hearts lost, before back-to-back derby duels versus local adversaries Accra Great Olympics and archrivals Asante Kotoko.
Hearts drew each of those two games, thankful for a couple of late equalisers that left supporters celebrating as though they’d actually claimed all the spoils.
While you can’t begrudge them for feeling that way, given the circumstances and opposition, one can’t help but notice just how different things were in the immediate period after Boadu took charge, when results like these would have been deemed two points dropped rather than one gained.
Remember Boadu’s first game against Olympics as Hearts boss?
The would-be champions were held to a 1-1 draw, and the post-match verdict was that they deserved so much more.
And Boadu’s maiden ‘Super Clash’ encounter?
Hearts only won 1-0, but with a performance that could have seen Kotoko buried under more goals.
How, then, had it so quickly come to this, with the bare minimum suddenly seeming so much more valuable than it was really worth? And, given the direction in which the team appeared to be heading, just how much goodwill did Boadu still have in the bank?
The boardroom, for a while, was split right down the middle – as is almost always the case – between members who believed Boadu could get Hearts flying again and those who made no attempts to conceal their skepticism.
It took a while – and perhaps one bad performance/result too many – but a consensus has now been reached and the call made: Boadu’s race in the Hearts dugout is run.
Around lunchtime Tuesday, news broke that Hearts have “parted ways” – that’s what they call sackings these days, yea? — with Boadu and his assistants, bringing to an end a really difficult year or so.
The best way to assess the 36-year-old’s stint, though, is to gauge and weigh his overall impact.
Boadu carried Hearts to the sort of heights they probably never thought they’d reach again, before returning them to depths they probably never thought they’d reach again. Still, it would be rather unfair to Boadu’s legacy to say he has left Hearts just where he found them.
Balance the scales of his reign accurately and you’d find Hearts an upgraded entity – with a recent record of success to draw and build on – and his successor, whoever that may be, wouldn’t have as daunting a challenge as Boadu did in taking them to the next level.
Boadu reminded everyone involved with Hearts what it meant to win – and win big – and that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. His own stock has risen significantly, and Boadu’s status as a Hearts legend – even if a little diminished by the subsequent decline – is secure and remains untarnished.
That much was evident in how, on his last matchday as Hearts’ trainer, he was embraced by the eternally grateful fans as warmly as on his first.
And that, really, should be the enduring memory of his time in the capital.
Enn Y. Frimpong – Ink & Kicks