HEARTS IN AFRICA: Five Players Who Could Be Key to Success
The last drops of champagne have been drained from the bottles Accra Hearts of Oak brought out to celebrate their first pieces of silverware — the Ghana Premier League title, the FA Cup and, by extension, the Super Cup — in a dozen years, and the Phobians are already preparing for the next challenge.
That challenge, making an impact in the Caf Champions League (a competition Hearts won 21 years ago, but which they haven’t graced in a long while), won’t come easy, and Hearts would need all the resources they can get, including players with relevant experience.
On his roster, head coach Samuel Boadu could pick out and count on these five:
Caleb Amankwah, following his mid-season arrival at Hearts, was only sparsely used as the team went on to sweep the domestic Treble.
With Africa looming, though, Amankwah could be more of an asset than he’s already been. He has had a sufficiently deep taste of the continental game, after all, having played for his former club, Aduana Stars, in the 2018 Champions League and Caf Confederation Cup.
In the latter competition, Aduana and Amankwah advanced as far as the group stage. That was three years ago, yes, but if he can summon those memories, Amankwah could be invaluable to the cause.
DANIEL AFRIYIE BARNIE
Daniel Afriyie Barnie had always shown flashes of the brilliance he’s undoubtedly endowed with, but it wasn’t until his participation at the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations earlier this year that the young forward’s quality came gushing out in all its glory.
His only goals at the tournament — two of them — won, for Ghana, the trophy he’d go on to lift as captain. And Afriyie has since not looked back; whatever that continental exposure stirred up in him, Hearts would need more of it to bubble forth in the coming days.
The acquisition of Gladson Awako from city rivals Accra Great Olympics, where he proved talismanic last season, already looks like shrewd business by Hearts, especially at a time like this when the club is gearing up for African adventures.
Awako, a champion of Africa and of the world at U-20 level, starred for the Berekum Chelsea side that made waves in the 2011/12 Champions League season.
A subsequent move to Congolese giant TP Mazembe kept him busy in inter-club action, with triumphs in the Champions League (2015), Confederation Cup (2016), and the Caf Super Cup (2016) to show for his exertions.
Put all that together and you have quite a catalogue that he — and Hearts — could draw from.
Nearly a decade since joining Hearts, Fatawu Mohammed is readying himself for only a second season of inter-club football, after skippering the team to long-awaited silverware last term.
Prior to last week, Fatawu’s only taste of continental football had come in Hearts’ 2015 Caf Confederation Cup run, and in Ghana’s Wafu Cup final finish four years later.
Courtesy of a late call-up to join the Black Stars for the recent pair of Qatar 2022 qualifiers, however, Fatawu has been able to refresh his reserves of international experience.
He didn’t make the matchday squad for the game against Ethiopia, and struggled on his debut last Monday when Ghana visited South Africa, but the cumulative effect would come in handy when he leads Hearts back to the African platform in a little over a week.
Someday, when Hearts fans reminisce to hail the men who helped the club end its 12-year trophy drought, Raddy Ovouka will certainly be one of the first on their minds.
The left-back has been an integral part of the team since joining in 2018, but it was in the 2020-21 season that the stars truly aligned for him.
And as Hearts prepare to test their might in the Champions League, Ovouka’s status as an import — and a full international, now a regular in the Congolese national team set-up with recent experience — will make him ever more essential for the team.