The Ghana Premier League (GPL) returns this weekend for its 2022/23 season, and the flavour – partly due to the admission of four new entrants – would be quite different from what we’re used to.
Competition, as always, would be intense at either end of the table, but there would be enough sideshows all through the division to engage those who seek them.
Ink & Kicks previews five of these:
REDEMPTION FOR BOADU?
Accra Hearts of Oak lost the title they won in the 2020/21 season to archrivals Asante Kotoko, and it came with a certain sinking feeling that Phobians who have followed the club’s fortunes for the best part of the last two decades would find depressingly familiar.
Hearts have only been crowned once in 13 years and haven’t defended a league title since completing an unprecedented sequence of six straight triumphs in 2002. Even so, the loss of their latest crown hit hard, and nobody got as much stick for it as head coach Samuel Boadu.
It’s a bit of a wonder that Boadu is still at post after Hearts’ underwhelming sixth-place finish – 19 points off the top, and without a win in their last five games – given the noise that drowned out the saving grace of FA Cup glory achieved right at the season’s end.
Boadu, having survived, is confident about making the most of the reprieve handed him. Champions Kotoko have lost their own trainer – a bigger surprise, perhaps, than Hearts’ retention of theirs – as well as a couple of key players, while their old foes are no weaker than they were last term.
In Hearts’ favour, too, is the fact that they have no continental assignments to distract them at the very start of the season (that’s Kotoko’s problem) – those don’t come until a little later – and that’s a good thing, considering just how much those commitments cost them last season and just how tough their opening fixtures promise to be.
If Boadu can go on to wrest the title back, that would be the perfect riposte to the doubters and detractors.
CAN DORMAA-AHENKRO REGAIN FEAR FACTOR?
Two-time GPL kings Aduana didn’t win a single game they played in the last three months of the previous league season – a total of 14 – and while that was alarming enough, even more concerning was the fact they were so vulnerable and uncharacteristically poor at their Dormaa-Ahenkro home, the Nana Agyemang Badu I Park.
They won just seven of 17 games there, suffering four losses (some of them quite historic), and it would be utterly impossible to establish themselves again as serious title challengers if they don’t sort out those home woes.
Aduana have refreshed their squad with some new additions and have reappointed familiar faces – Paa Kwesi Fabin as head coach, assisted by W.O Tandoh – to the helm, reinforcements that fans hope would restore their darling club to happier times.
It’s not just charity that begins at home, as Aduana know only too well; title-winning runs do, too.
THE ‘SLAM DUNC’, FINALLY?
Six years after he was last in charge of a team in the Ghanaian top-flight, David Duncan is back on the domestic scene.
In that time, he has picked up valuable experience elsewhere, including a stint as assistant coach for the Black Stars, Ghana’s senior national team, that ended only late last year. He arrives at his new station refined and refreshed and raring to go.
Duncan – already has fairly successful stints with Ghana’s three biggest clubs (Kotoko, Hearts and Ashanti Gold) on his résumé – misses the week-on-week rush, surely, and would be keen to show he still has the guts for it.
Umar Abdul Rabi, the relatively unproven interim trainer who handled Medeama for much of last season, leaves the club in a healthy place, and his replacement’s greater nous should be able to drive the Mauve & Yellow towards their long-standing target of winning the league: a target Duncan himself has fallen agonisingly short of reaching at previous jobs.
Having Duncan – as box-office as GPL coaches get – back should be all sorts of fun. Brace yourself for the ride, Tarkwa.
COULD OLYMPICS STAY GREAT WITHOUT ANNOR WALKER?
Another club in the Western Region, Samartex – first-timers, unlike veteran campaigners Medeama – have also been made a headline-grabbing technical appointment.
They’ve poached Annor Walker, who doubles as head coach of Ghana’s Black Galaxies.
How Walker’s switch improves his new team would be as worth observing as the effect his departure has on his immediate past employers, Accra Great Olympics, whom he transformed from perennial relegation battlers to one of the division’s more consistent sides courtesy of a couple of solid top-half finishes.
Yaw Preko – who deputised for Walker earlier in the latter’s Olympics stint – is now head coach, and his familiarity with the playing body’s general composition should ease the transition, while the high-profile signing of former Udinese star Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu could yield an improvement in standards, if not necessarily in results.
Olympics, under Walker, were worth more than the sum of their parts; without him, would they still add up to that much?
WHO RULES TAMALE?
For decades, Real Tamale United (RTU) were the sole club of choice in the capital of Ghana’s Northern Region, and that claim was only strengthened last season when they returned to the Premier League after seemingly endless wandering in the wilderness of lower-tier football.
A year later, following the city’s rallying behind them to ensure a narrowly-secured survival status, RTU find themselves with genuine competition for the ‘Pride of the North‘ moniker in newly-promoted Tamale City.
City were the last to book their ticket, and they had to work a little harder than the three other newbies to get here, but they’re ready to prove themselves no less worthy of a place in the top bracket.
They are, reportedly, well-resourced to do so, but it takes much more to realise those objectives, whatever those may be. RTU would wish them well, of course, but you can be just as sure that the former wouldn’t have those wishes fulfilled at their expense – not when local bragging rights are up for grabs, anyway.
The two sides have already done battle at Division One League level, but the stakes are far higher now and both would be expected to lift their game accordingly to meet the upgraded challenge.
Each club has its own devoted set of followers, true, but there are the hearts of neutrals (if, indeed, there are any) to be won, and that’s where the real battleground – outside of the Aliu Mahama Sports Stadium, of which they share tenancy – would be.
And we won’t have to wait too long to see where the early advantage could go: the GPL’s first-ever Tamale Derby is booked for Matchweek 4. Ready?