‘HEARTS DEM SUGAR’: The Incredible Rise of Afriyie Barnie, Hearts Of Oak’s Latest ‘Golden Boy’
Ghanaian football and music have always had an inexplicable connection, and, to keen observers, that relationship took another turn — a golden turn — last week.
On June 23, Ghanaian singer KiDi released his second studio album, titled TheGolden Boy, filled with songs which typify the young man’s rise, growth and development in the music industry.
Days later, another young entertainer hitting all the right notes used an altogether different medium to produce yet another performance that cast him as ‘the golden boy’, in his own right, for Ghana Premier League side Accra Hearts of Oak.
For much of this season, Daniel Afriyie Barnie has ticked all the right boxes and emerged the sort of phenomenon — the sort you’d pay to watch — Hearts’ fandom haven’t had for some time now, lighting up recent performances with thrilling party pieces.
There was that stunning ‘rainbow kick’ Barnie pulled off quite exquisitely against Great Olympics’ Eric Bonsu a couple of weeks ago in the ‘Ga Mashie’ Derby, also the cheeky dummy to leave two of his markers for dead before setting up Kojo Obeng Junior for Hearts’ opener in their Matchday 30 win over Legon Cities.
But nothing Barnie has delivered thus far this season has pleased Hearts fans as much as last Sunday’s goal against Asante Kotoko, an outrageous volley that won the ‘Super Clash‘ for the Phobians and edged them closer to a first league triumph in over a decade.
All that, though, is only the fancy side of the boy who is fast becoming a man. Push all those tricks, flicks and dummies to one side, and you’ll find a player who has had to overcome adversity and then some — a story of bravado, mettle and stoicism.
They say the best steel is forged with fire and ice; Barnie, in his current form, has ice in his veins and fire in his eyes. Only three years ago, though, all he had in him was potential and hunger. An unknown at the time, he was cutting his teeth at third-tier side Madina Republicans.
The lower leagues in Ghana can be the most grisly environment for any footballer to develop in. The lack of visibility – a consequence of limited media coverage and little fan interest – means a player would have to be twice, maybe thrice, as good as their peers in the top-flight to get noticed.
That, perhaps, is why Barnie went under the radar for so long despite his obvious talent and the volume of work he put in. Even a four-week trial with Kotoko — who he scored against last Sunday, to his deep satisfaction — failed to yield a breakthrough, nearly five years after KiDi secured his as winner of the MTN Hitmaker show.
Played out of position the whole time, Barnie did not impress the technical handlers of the Porcupine Warriors and was deemed not good enough.
“I was disappointed, but I just told myself I was young, and I would continue to work hard,” he would later say of his brief experience with the Kumasi-based club.
That resolve landed him at Hearts not long thereafter, and, although the club’s decision to sign Barnie was a huge gamble then, they’re certainly not regretting it now.
The first few months were tough. The young forward was indecisive and frustrating to watch, even becoming a figure of fun after missing a one-on-one scoring opportunity against Ashanti Gold last season.
He might have been pardoned for that miss, but certainly not for the gobbledygook he offered post-match in trying to explain his failure to convert that chance. Barnie was roundly ridiculed for his struggle to articulate properly in that interview, but it was the latter part of his submission that we really should have paid attention to.
“So I think next time,” he concluded, “I’ll raise my head, and watch the goalposts, and put the ball inside the net.”
It did sound a lot like KiDi’s much-trolled “I’ll be back” claim after his Artiste of the Year disappointment at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards last weekend, didn’t it?
Well, if KiDi is in need of some inspiration, Barnie’s recovery from his own setback provides plenty of that.
He has, indeed, made good on his promise, and not just in terms of goalscoring. Barnie is generally more mature on the ball now, plays to the strength of his teammates and, despite his young age, is a leader on the pitch.
Having a winning mentality is a crucial part of the development of modern players. Barnie, fortunately, already has it imbibed in him, thanks to his heroics with Ghana’s Black Satellites, whom he captained to win both the WAFU Zone B U-20 Championship and the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations.
It hasn’t all been Barnie’s work, though. He has had invaluable help, especially from Samuel Boadu, the head coach Hearts appointed earlier this year. The former Medeama boss has a gift for improving players and, in just three months, has helped take Barnie’s game to the next level.
There is still another level — true greatness — to reach, though, and Barnie needs to improve to get there, especially with regard to his finishing. He seems on track, and once he masters that, Hearts could have a complete forward on their hands.
But Hearts faithful won’t have to wait till then to chant Barnie’s name, as long as he continues to entertain and get the job done. They’re used to cheering for No.18-shirted darlings, after all, from Ishmael Addo to Prince Tagoe and Mahatma Otoo.
Barnie may yet surpass all three in stature — Addo is unarguably a notch too high, if we’re being honest with ourselves, kind to Barnie, and respectful to the legend — but even if he doesn’t, the 20-year-old would be content with being what he now is for Hearts: ‘the golden boy’, just like KiDi… only without the peroxide.