For six years, from 1997 to 2002, Accra Hearts of Oak won every single season of the Ghana Premier League, even throwing a Caf Champions League triumph into the mix.
Such was their dominance at the time — unparalleled and unprecedented in the history of the Ghanaian game — and it’s why, lately, Phobians can’t help but look back longingly on those years of plenty; these days, Hearts have little – nothing, really — to celebrate.
The last time Hearts won the league — and their most recent significant piece of silverware, for that matter — was in 2009, when a Samuel Afum brace helped them defeat Sporting Mirren on the final matchday, narrowly beating archrivals Asante Kotoko to the title.
The gnawing lack of success ever since has been bad enough but, even worse, Hearts have on occasion felt the very real threat of relegation from the top-flight. In attempting to reverse those miserable fortunes, a lot has been tweaked — leadership reshuffled several times over, players signed and dumped at a startling rate, coaches hired and fired between blinks, etc. — but all that has added little value to the club or, more specifically, its trophy cabinet.
It has felt, at times, that a camel could go through the eye of a needle easier than Hearts could win the league anything worthwhile — that’s how bad the capitulation has been. Always hopeful of a revival at the beginning of each season, the collective mood of Hearts fans switches to dejection in the end, creating a seemingly perpetual cycle of disappointment. The latest campaign began with the same high expectations yet, barely a month later, Hearts have already changed course, and we’re not quite sure where it would lead them this time.
Just about the time news broke at the end of November that Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Frederick Moore had quit his job, head coach Edward Nii Odoom was replaced by Kosta Papic — the man who all but won Hearts’ last league title — before the Week 4 clash against Karela United. It was on the next matchday that Papic took charge in the dugout, against Dreams FC, overseeing a vastly improved performance that was rewarded with Hearts’ first win of the season: 3-0 the score.
The team’s movement was fluid and the verve palpable, with previously sidelined players like Nurudeen Abdul Aziz and Michelle Sarpong trusted with starting berths. The message was clear: Papic would be ruthless in chopping and changing where/when necessary, guaranteeing none a secure place. Young Umar Manaf was brought on midway through the first half for the ineffective Frederick Ansah Botchway — another bold move the previous coach was never quite inclined to make — and it worked a treat.
Three days later, for the outstanding Week 1 fixture at Aduana Stars, Papic stuck with the Manaf-Botchway switch in an otherwise unchanged side. Aduana, undoubtedly, provided a sterner test for Papic, one that Hearts failed to pass.
A combination of profligacy and indecision on the part of Hearts’ front trio — Patrick Razak, Michelle Sarpong, and Kwadwo Obeng Jr. — rendered the team’s tireless industry futile. Even a late penalty, taken by Congolese import Raddy Ovouka, was missed, and Hearts fell 2-0 in Dormaa.
“Like I said before the match, it is going to be upside-down: one match you lose, one match you win,” Papic said after the midweek loss. “It is something like that until we start to be stable. Probably it is not clear yet, but it is coming. It will come.”