Even through his discomfort, Accra Hearts of Oak head coach Samuel Boadu must have cracked a smile, revealing immense relief and pride.
Boadu was at the hospital, not in the best shape, but news of his Hearts team’s victory over Elmina Sharks that evening — their first win of the 2021/22 Ghana Premier League season, five games in — had brought him some much-needed good cheer, a long-awaited end to a difficult few weeks.
That was the relieving bit.
Then there was the reason for Boadu’s pride: the fact that the result had been masterminded and delivered by his long-time assistant coach, protégé, and buddy.
Nobody appreciates the workings of Boadu’s unique mind better than Obeng, with the pair having worked together for quite some time now, but there was still some apprehension among Hearts fans after the head coach fell ill not long into the Sharks game and was whisked off for prompt medical attention.
Could Obeng steer the Phobians, for 70-odd minutes, in a game that they couldn’t afford not to win?
By full time, those fears had been banished, even if the margin of victory was ever so fine. Hearts won by a single goal, a strike from new arrival Gladson Awako which was deflected right past the Sharks goalkeeper just as the game was entering its final stretch.
But here was the detail that really spoke to Obeng’s credentials: just eight minutes prior, he had brought on Awako for his league debut as a Hearts player.
It’s easy to argue that the move wasn’t so inspired, after all. Perhaps it was already in Boadu’s pre-match notes that Awako would come in at some point. Still, that it was Obeng calling the shots all by himself by the time that decisive change was effected, or even the fact that he remained faithful to his boss’ original plan (if, indeed, that was part of the script at all), entitles him to significant credit.
Boadu returned to post for Hearts’ next game on Sunday, a trip to Cape Coast to face new boys Accra Lions in what was, technically, a home game. But he was clearly some way off peak shape, not bouncing along the touchline in his characteristic intensity.
In fact, Boadu was hardly spotted anywhere near the touchline, choosing to stay largely in the dug-out while ceding considerable ground — and much hands-on responsibility — to his No.2.
Obeng was the face of the bench in a second consecutive game, his voice being heard and his presence strongly felt as Hearts fired in two goals in quick succession shortly after the hour-mark. Switching this game, too, in Hearts’ favour was some smart tactical thinking and tinkering, the consequence of a couple of effective substitutions that added bite to the team’s bark upfront.
How much of that was down to Obeng?
Not very much, perhaps, with Boadu back at the helm; not that it matters very much, anyway.
Obeng only had to handle the task that had been assigned him for the evening, and he passed with top marks. He doesn’t appear to operate quite at boiling point, unlike the usually fiery Boadu, but Obeng has shown himself to be very much a reflection — maybe not yet a mirror-image, but close enough — of his mentor in terms of intelligence and actual coaching ability.
There have already been suggestions, seeing just how so-not-himself Boadu was over the weekend, that some time off would do him a great deal of good. It’s unlikely that would happen, but Boadu’s willingness to take a few steps back — literally — should help bring Obeng’s own largely latent leadership qualities to the fore.
His apprenticeship continues for now, but Obeng is already showing traits of becoming his own master someday. It’s exciting to watch, however long this spell in the limelight lasts.