His arrival at the club certainly generated excitement — Accra Hearts of Oak haven’t signed a player of a higher profile in years, even decades — but also legitimate doubts about just what Sulley Muntari, one of the greatest midfielders in the Ghanaian game’s modern history but whose sun has long set, could still offer.
On Sunday, in one of Hearts’ more intense fixtures of the Ghana Premier League (GPL) season, against city rivals Accra Great Olympics, Muntari gave a glimpse of what to expect to both skeptics and hopefuls.
Despite ending up on the losing side, Muntari, on his Hearts debut, shone. A 77th-minute substitute for full-back William Dankyi, Hearts’ new No.10 unsettled the Olympics midfield and breathed life into his own team’s play.
Late on, as Hearts chased the game, Muntari came as close as anyone to fetching a point, when he slyly tried to creep in a goal directly from a corner-kick; at the end, the home fans — though disappointed by the result itself — were appreciative enough to applaud his shift.
But while Muntari deserves immense credit for his work rate and performance, even at his ripe ‘old’ age, his attitude was even more endearing. The hot-headedness and impulsiveness that blighted the early years of Muntari’s career is no longer a feature of his game, and that can’t be a bad thing.
Also admirable was how he chose to reject Hearts captain Mohammed Fatawu’s offer of the armband for the remainder of the game, doing so rather politely; he even went further to strap it right back around the younger man’s arm.
On the pitch, Muntari was a positive, calm and insightful presence, and is expected to help bring stability to the team. Muntari’s reasonably high fitness levels allow him to roam the pitch, and it is such stamina and penchant to attack that could make him a key component of Samuel Boadu’s side in the coming weeks.
He tops it all with the invaluable experience collected from his time at top clubs in Europe, from which the younger players could also tap. In many ways, Muntari is the archetypal Boadu player, the kind who excels in a system that prizes hard work, industry, and that extra bit of quality in the centre of the park that Hearts haven’t quite had this season.
Admittedly, Muntari no longer delivers consistent Rolls-Royce performances — at 37, he’s neither the strongest nor the quickest — but he rolls along like a good old ‘Smiling Benz’ (don’t expect too many literal smiles, though, as that’s the one thing the Muntari package doesn’t guarantee), boasting a degree of technical ability still right up there with the very best in the world.
It is too early to make a snap assessment of late-stage Muntari, especially on the evidence of a cameo appearance, yet the weekend’s teaser was a worthy watch. Love him or loathe him — and both viewpoints come with strong cases — Muntari’s commitment, desire, and leadership traits are intact.
He may be the last of a dying breed but, clearly, this serial winner has a little more to give before it’s all over.