Watching Accra Hearts of Oak stumble thus far in the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League season, it’s hard not to reflect on those famous words of Mia Hamm.
“It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there,” the American soccer great once observed.
For Hearts, that reality is fast materialising. Following the elation of winning a first league title in a dozen years has come the pressure of defending same, and Hearts aren’t finding the latter quite as fun as they did the former.
In truth, though, their struggles in the league didn’t start this season. For all the plaudits head coach Samuel Boadu and his Hearts side have received for the best part of the year, they haven’t won a league game since that June 27 result against their bitterest rivals which swung last season’s title race irreversibly in their favour.
They would go on to draw their next two games, before losing to the West African Football Academy (WAFA) even on coronation day. It could have been argued, at the time, that Hearts’ late-season slump was due to the fact that they already had their attention switched to the FA Cup (which they went on to win as well). Little did they know, though, that that poor run of form was setting the tempo for the next season.
Hearts, to their credit, managed to retain all but one player who starred in that Double-winning campaign — midfielder Benjamin Afutu Kotey the notable exception; more on him later — and upgraded the squad with several quality additions.
What should have been a more formidable side than before, however, has failed to meet those elevated expectations, with Hearts winless in all three games played. That two of their opponents, WAFA and Aduana Stars, finished third and fourth, respectively, in the 2020/21 campaign is completely insignificant; King Faisal, one of the worse-performing sides from last season, have now beaten both.
But even more worrying is Hearts’ profligacy upfront, without which Cities and Aduana would both have been at the receiving end of heavy defeats. Kofi Kordzi — the bulky striker whose return to the Phobian fold has more than filled the injury-enforced absence of last season’s top-scorer, Kwadwo Obeng Jr. — is doing his bit, but fellow forwards Daniel Afriyie Barnie and Isaac Mensah are yet to rediscover their best form.
There is more to Hearts’ woes, though. Another obvious problem area is how the team tends to surrender leads these days, something that seldom happened last season when, on 18 occasions that Boadu’s Hearts went in front, they failed to retain it only once. This term, they’ve already been pegged back twice after going ahead — and in consecutive games, too.
Some of that has to do with Hearts’ failure to satisfactorily replace the guy who made leads so easy to maintain and build on in 2020/21, the aforementioned Afutu. In his place, Boadu has tried trusted lieutenant Emmanuel Nettey and newcomers Salim Adams and Ushau Abu, but with little success. One of those experiments might work eventually, but right now none is.
Inevitably adding an extra layer of misery to Hearts’ current malaise is the fact that their archrivals, Asante Kotoko, are absolutely flying. Both sides are unbeaten, but only Kotoko have managed to win any of their games — all three, in fact — and the Porcupine Warriors are proving relentless in their quest to wrest the crown from Hearts.
Just four matchdays from now, the pair meet for the first time this season, and Hearts stand the risk of suffering greater shame, unless they can get their title defence back on track well before that edition of the ‘Super Clash’. Boadu, under more pressure than at any other point since he joined Hearts, has a mighty job on his hands.