Accra Hearts of Oak would find some comfort in the fact that only one club – which just so happens to be Asante Kotoko, their archrivals – has managed to successfully defend a Ghana Premier League title in the last decade.
Still, the Phobians would have wished that their own defence of the league crown they won in the 2020/21 season wasn’t the pathetic effort it turned out to be. They finished sixth, with a whopping 13 points less than they amassed in their triumphant campaign and 19 behind new champions Kotoko.
To place that difference in perspective, you could shave eight points off Kotoko’s tally of 67, add that to Hearts’ 48… and the former would still win the league with some ease, while the latter only narrowly emerges in second place; that’s how poor Hearts have been.
It’s not just the steep decline in results; it’s also the stunning drop-off in standards, despite the fact that Hearts arguably made a net gain with their pre- and mid-season transfer business.
Their start to the league season was grossly underwhelming – only registering a win on the fifth attempt, and getting just 11 more – but head coach Samuel Boadu was adamant his team would gather momentum and recover lost ground.
If Hearts stumbled at the beginning of the campaign, they were all over the place by the end. Their last five games brought their longest winless streak, with Hearts losing their final four by an aggregate score of 10-2.
A run like that – and especially a defeat like that with which they finished the season a week ago, 4-1 at home to relegation-threatened Real Tamale United (RTU) – would have made the typically emotional Boadu bristle.
This, after all, was a man who looked like his whole world had come crashing just before Hearts’ coronation party kicked off in July last year, following a controversial yet narrow and totally irrelevant loss to the West African Football Academy (WAFA).
On this occasion, however, in the aftermath of a heavy defeat that was also bad enough to deny Hearts a ‘top four’ finish, Boadu seemed an exact replica of his team: strangely subdued, drained of passion. It was like he didn’t even have the energy to be fuming properly, not breathing fire as usual and with no steam coming out of his ears.
To be fair, though, Boadu hasn’t been himself all season.
His name, from the terraces, isn’t sung with gusto anymore, and he no longer generates the strong feelings he once stirred up among the Hearts faithful. He doesn’t appear to retain the implicit faith of the club’s supporters, while his superiors and subordinates may have cause to reconsider their own confidence in him.
So often, Boadu has cut the forlorn figure of a washed-up magician who can’t seem to recall the spells that once made him so powerful and left his audience awestruck time and again.
Something, clearly, is gone.
That something, most likely, is his very presence, diminished ever since he was rushed to the hospital midway through one league game – the first Hearts won, incidentally, against Elmina Sharks.
Boadu has subsequently missed a number of games, having had to delegate some matchday duties to his able assistant, Hamza Obeng; but even when he’s been around, the 36-year-old hasn’t always been his spirited self.
With all that behind him, then, if Boadu felt anything after the RTU game, it must have been, largely, relief that this ordeal of a season is over – well, nearly over.
While the lights on Hearts’ top-flight ambitions went out rather early, they’ve managed to keep some hope for silverware alive in the FA Cup. They won that, too, last season, and will maintain possession of it if they overcome Bechem United, the 2016 champions, in Sunday’s final.
It would be Hearts’ third successive appearance at this stage of a competition they have won more than any other club, at a venue – the Baba Yara Stadium, Kumasi – where they’ve picked up quite a few cups in the past.
But against a Bechem side that would be playing much closer to home, and which has impressed so much this season, Hearts would have it all to do. Reputation and history alone won’t cut it, and Boadu must muster any desire and intensity left in himself and his charges for this grand season-closer.
It’s almost certain what defeat would mean for Boadu: a dismissal that has never seemed too faraway throughout the season.
What victory guarantees — beyond the giant trophy on offer and a return to continental football — is less of a certainty, however.
At best, it could be what saves his job, restoring belief – some of it, anyway – that Boadu still has the physical and tactical ability to drag Hearts back, stronger, next season.
And at worst – if the end is, indeed, as irrevocably nigh as it seems – then this is Boadu’s chance to make sure he signs off on his own patch, Kumasi, on his own terms, and with fond memories.