Few phrases describe better what Samuel Boadu has turned Accra Hearts of Oak into since taking charge of the team at the start of March.
Back then, wins were as hard to string together for Hearts as passes were. Only two of the seven Ghana Premier League games that immediately preceded Boadu’s arrival had been won, in fact, and even those were eked out with some difficulty.
The first, a 3-2 victory over Ebusua Dwarfs, owed a lot to Victor Aidoo’s fierce penalty-taking technique (back when he could be trusted from 12 yards), while the other was secured by a solitary Isaac Mensah strike when Hearts visited Liberty Professionals.
The football itself ranged from barely bearable to downright revolting. There didn’t seem to be much that Hearts’ players — even the more creative ones — could do with the ball at their feet, their flow seemingly frozen.
But Boadu has thawed the ice, melting it into the sort of juice Hearts appeared to be lacking — ‘Boadu-ball’, they call it, of which regular visitors to this site would know we happen to be huge fans — and that has translated into some great results.
Hearts have won almost 70% of all games played under Boadu, including the six matches which led up to their Gameweek 28 ‘Ga Mashie’ Derby clash with city rivals Accra Great Olympics last Sunday.
Hearts were out to defend that proud record — albeit against highly motivated opposition — and they grabbed the early initiative, spraying passes with ease.
On an evening primed for good football, Hearts were resolved to offer nothing less, not at all fazed by the occasion and the threat posed by Olympics.
The pitch was their canvas, they the artists, and when the opener finally came, shortly after the second half started, it was indeed a masterstroke. Wielding the brush was midfielder Emmanuel Nettey, who delivered quite exquisitely.
Teammate Salifu Ibrahim’s corner-kick had been punched out of the Olympics box, but Nettey ensured it didn’t get far enough. Instead, with one swing of a foot, he sent the ball back in the very direction it had come from.
So fiercely did he strike it, so sweetly, that the shot couldn’t possibly have missed its address: top right corner, Olympics’ goal.
The players were, quite reasonably, ecstatic. Boadu turned his face and index fingers toward the capital’s dark skies, screaming words which quickly dissolved in the roar that met the goal; just a few yards away, his long-time assistant, Hamza Obeng, danced in sheer delight.
But that wasn’t the last time a Hearts passage of play would get the fans — their fans, at least — on their feet, shouting and applauding. Another of those moments came a little later, when forward Daniel Afriyie Barnieh pulled off the skill of the day weekend.
Pursued by Olympics defender Eric Osei Bonsu, Barnieh run himself into a dead end, on picking one of those lovely balls played over the top by skipper Fatawu Mohammed; seemingly cornered, the U-20 Afcon-winning captain had to find a way past his marker.
Which way, though?
There weren’t many options, to be honest, but Afriyie managed to conjure the most outrageous of them all. He channelled his inner Neymar Jr (or was it Augustine Okocha?) to produce a sublime ‘rainbow kick’ that completely took out and floored poor Bonsu who, to be fair, couldn’t have seen that ‘filthy’ little thing coming.
Extra marks, perhaps, for pulling off that ridiculous move in the ‘rainbow’ shirt?
Perhaps not, but everything noteworthy that Hearts had done up till that point — Nettey’s belter, Barnieh’s audacity, and even Isaac Mensah’s earlier disallowed goal (for that is what it was, agree or not) — evinced supreme self-belief, the hallmark of a team very confident of its ability to make the ball do whatsoever it wished.
But it was from that same pot of confidence, when it momentarily spilled over into complacency, that undid all of Hearts’ good work. Congolese left-back Raddy Ovouka, putting in another composed and assured shift, dispossessed Kwabena Boateng as easily as he so often does opponents.
Rather than seek the nearest outlet for a pass (a couple had opened up, actually), however, Ovouka lingered a tad too long, trying to swivel and maybe turn his man inside out. But Boateng was having none of it, nicking the ball off the otherwise unyielding Ovouka, before surging forward to whip it in for Maxwell Abbey Quaye’s thumping equaliser.
In the end, the reason why Hearts didn’t win was the very reason they nearly did: confidence, perhaps an overdose of it, that could either steer them closer to glory or see them miss that target for yet another season.
Boadu’s players are certainly brimming with the aforementioned quality — it’s why they’re still top of the table, even if only by fine margins — and how he harnesses it would make all the difference.