|Hearts and Liberty Professionals before the game. It ended 1-1, Tamimu Muntari's (Liberty) early first half strike cancelled out by a late Richard Yamoah (Hearts) header in the second half|
ACCRA --- It was at this same venue, against the same team. Last season, Hearts of Oak had finished off city rivals Liberty Professionals by the end of the first five minutes. Two quick-fire goals meant the Phobians had made sure the contest had ended before Liberty could say Jack; business done nice and early.
This season, to say the story was different wouldn't do justice to what happened.
What happened to Hearts in the first half of Wednesday’s mid-week clash against Liberty Professionals would be hard to explain. It was jaw-dropping stuff. It was bizarre. If one scene from the half summed up their woes, it was the image of star striker Gilbert Fiamenyo holding on to the ball on the edge of the box for close to 20 seconds, screaming his lungs out for support from lackadaisical teammates who didn’t show a scintilla of interest in either moving into space or relieving him off the ball. There were countless times when they would be on the defensive end of a counter attack – about three defenders facing five attackers attackers – and their players would muster the audacity to walk casually, as if nothing was at stake.
The 20-time national champions looked like a group of eleven impostors – amateur footballers posing as professionals. It was the worst performance you would ever see, a gut-wrenching show of cluelessness. These were a group of players who had turned up at their own show and taken seats to see themselves perform. It was so bad – and so sad - that at a point you felt they would stop the game and apologize to their obviously disappointed fans for such a glaring show of unacceptable standards. There wasn’t a single thing they did right; not even the slightest indication that this was a serious football team. There was a sense of soullessness about them; no hunger, no urgency, no sense of duty, no organization, no coordination, no attitude, no creative spark, no sense of purpose – just a display of mind boggling incompetence and sheer mediocrity from players who looked incredibly passive. It was so surreal that at times you could see their visitors visibly overwhelmed by how easy it all looked.
But perhaps assessing things from that perspective would be taking something away from the brilliance of their opponents. And goodness knows they do not deserve that. Liberty Professionals – with one of the smoothest attacking machinery you would ever see - went through a basically non-existent Hearts midfield with stroll-in-the park ease. Led by the graceful Kennedy Ashia - a player who stood head and shoulders above every single soul on the pitch – the sharp and inventive Dansoman boys exuded exciting technique and speed – laying into Hearts, thrusting them mercilessly as the gaping holes in defence served as the facilitating lube. Above all, though, it was their telepathy that was enchanting. “They played with a lot of coordination. If anybody coughed, the other person knew what he wanted,” Hearts coach Herbert Addo praised. Only a bluntness in attack kept the score line tidy. “They gave us a hell of a time,” Addo admitted. “We’ll not meet a better team than Liberty, from what I’ve seen so far.”
What was more mysterious than Hearts salvaging a point from a game they clearly deserved to lose was coach Addo claiming at the post-match presser that the 1-1 score was “fair”. That assertion was just the tip of the iceberg of Addo’s largely strange demeanor. The contrast between the debacle on the pitch and Addo’s calm, all is well-themed comments was startling. The accomplished tactician looked like a man conveniently detached from reality, a man unwilling to admit that his team’s showing smacked of danger especially going into next Saturday’s all-important clash with arch-rivals Asante Kotoko in Kumasi as well as a home tie in the CAF Confederations Cup a few days later against AS Police. With such big tasks looming, Addo’s claims of “we are ready” was admirable given the level of pessimism, but it seemed desperately incongruous off the back of such a shambolic display. It was all very strange, not least because of the fact that he later claimed, “I am an experienced coach and I accept my mistakes”. His blatant refusal to admit that things had been that bad – “I saw in their eyes that they wanted to win!” (Seriously!?) - was very conspicuous, which makes you wonder if it was him being genuinely delusional or pulling off a wild bout of mind games.
Even more dangerous was his defensive demeanor. Apart from a tedious lecture about a long list of excuses for his team’s difficult start to the season – ranging from injuries, lengthy recruitment period, players being on national duty, illnesses and cards - he also waded into the sensitive intricacies of antagonizing the media. He accused the press of being overly skeptical about his side’s poor start to the season, a run of form that has seen them win only once in five outings, scoring only six goals (five of which have been scored by one man, a worrying sign of over-dependence). He also hit back at the “ridiculous” entertainment of rumours by some radio stations that he had not been paid for months. “Has anybody complained about money? Not being paid? Salaries? Signing on fee? I have certainly not complained,” he retorted. “I’m a professional man and I work under a professional contract.”
Okay, so perhaps, Hearts had been that off because they were tired? “No,” he lashed out. “It wasn’t that they were tired. The training I give them is precise. It’s about coordination, and we haven’t got it yet. We are slower in analyzing [options when in possession]. But it’s football, and that is why we coach them. We have a lot of work to do.”
|High table at the post match presser. L-R: Liberty midfielder Tuaha Sheikh Hizzel, Liberty coach George Lamptey, Hearts coach Herbert Addo and Hearts striker Gilbert Fiamenyo|
To be fair, the pressure has been mounting on Addo and such a charged response was always going to come. But what was striking was that he seemed to show signs that his trademark tough skin had been compromised; that the frustrations was eating him up. For instance, his advice to the media to stop being negative about his side’s struggles was an appeal unexpected from a man whose years of experience should surely suggest he should be familiar with the media being addicted to sensationalism and negativity. “If you ask me positive questions, I will give you a sensible answer,” he said. “But if you ask me off the hook questions (uninformed questions without prior observation, according to him) then I will give you a left hook.”
After the presser, outside, a disgruntled fan had lost it and was making a huge scene. He paced back and forth impatiently behind the police barrier between himself and the Hearts team bus, where coach Addo was having a conversation with the Bus driver. A barrel-chested 30-something year old, the fan was bitter – venomous, too - blowing a gasket. “You useless coach! What do you know? Do you think your position here is cast in stone? That we cannot sack you? Even [David] Duncan we sacked him. You go to Kumasi and return and see what we will do to you. You wait. Just wait!”
The bad news for Addo – who commendably stayed calm and unresponsive amid the insults - is that things cannot be as ideal as he wants them to be. Somewhere in between the emotions of being disappointed by their team’s under-performance, Hearts fans are in no mood to be reasonable. Patience is a myth at a big club like Hearts – there’s a culture of unforgiving criticism and an inevitable eruption of knee jerk reactions when the going gets tough. Addo can only quell this unrest with results.
---Last week, I praised Aduana’s unbeaten run and asked how long they would be able to hold on? I felt I was jinxing it, and it turns out I wasn’t wrong. They lost.
---The interesting thing going into next weekend’s big Kotoko-Hearts clash in Kumasi is that both teams are in such underwhelming form. Kotoko travelled to Wa and failed to win. That’s eight points from a possible 15 for Didi Dramani’s Porcupine Warriors this season – an extremely poor return not only because they are champions and should be doing better, but because last season at this point they had 15 out of 15 points. It is extremely worrying to think both these clubs will be representing Ghana in Africa this season. They need to use this Saturday’s clash to sort themselves out. These giants need to start getting serious.
---AshantiGold are back to winning ways – and back on top of the table too. 12 points out of 15 – two points clear at the summit. Not bad at all for Bashir Hayford’s men, though it’s early days yet.
---WAFA got their second win of the season and are now six points off the top, three off fourth place. Settling into their stride?
--Sekondi Hasaacas are really looking good. Sitting in second place, coach Yusif Basigi’s men – who beat ended Aduana’s unbeaten run – are in Accra this weekend to Great Olympics. Olympics though. They have now lost three games on the trot and are still sitting bottom. Early days yet, but coach Kassim Mingle must be feeling like he’s in the same oven as Herbert Addo.
---Last Sunday, gangling Inter Allies striker Sherif Mohammed had not even been on the bench as his side drew goalless with Liberty Professionals. I was there, and I spoke to him (he’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet). He seemed convinced his time would come. The following Friday, he went to Kumasi and had a good outing against Kotoko where he struck the post. Five days later, and he scored a brace as Inter Allies won their first game since Match Day 1. Chuffed for him.
--Gilbert Fiamenyo was named Player of the Month by Hot FM, an Accra-based radio station. Five goals in five games, totally deserved. But there was a twist: it was presented in the weirdest manner. They actually pulled him apart from his teammates during half time and made the presentation on the touchline. Half time! With Hearts a goal down and the coach needing his players in the dressing room for a vital pep talk. Couldn't they have waited till the end of the game!? Or better still, why not before the game? It was unfortunate.
---Berekum Chelsea’s Stephen Baffour is now on four goals, breathing down the neck of top scorer Gilbert Fiamenyo – who hasn’t scored in his last two games. Pressure? “I’m not under pressure,” he says. “It’s part of the game, sometimes you score and sometimes you don’t.”
Wa All Stars 0-0 Asante Kotoko
Hearts of Oak 1-1 Liberty Professionals [Richard Yamoah : Tamimu Muntari]
Hasaacas 2-1 Aduana Stars [Frederick Quayeson, Amos Korankye]
B.A United 1-1 Heart of Lions [Francis Kyeremeh : Tanko Mohammed]
AshantiGold 2-1 Bechem United [Shaffiu Mumuni, Benard Morrison : Noah Martey]
WAFA 1-0 Medeama [Mumuni Zakaria]
Inter Allies 2-0 New Edubiase [Sherif Deo Mohammed 2x]
Berekum Chelsea 1-0 Great Olympics [Stephen Baffour]