The 2020/21 football season has truly been unpredictable with teams that took unexpected long breaks coming back strongly as champions.
Across Europe, Inter Milan (10 years), Sporting Lisbon (19 years), Rangers (10 years), Lille (11 years) and Atletico Madrid (7) ended their title droughts.
Perhaps, Hearts of Oak watched or read about these clubs and took inspiration because their league title drought has also come to an end. The Phobians are champions of Ghana for the first time in 12 years.
Credit goes to, first and foremost, Samuel Boadu who transformed the team from relegation contenders into champions, plus all the registered players. However, for the players, five were exceptional and they deserve the spotlight.
Below are Hearts of Oak’s five key players:
Kwadwo Obeng Jr: Arguably not a fans’ favourite but they do appreciate his drive, determination and hard work which culminated into double figures in terms of goals.
The striker, from the onset, proved he would be key for Hearts in their bid for the league as he bagged a brace against AshantiGold in the club’s first game of the season. Doubts may have crept in when he was firing blank, but he recovered when it mattered the most for the Phobians.
He has five goals in the last 10 games with his most important, undoubtedly, the late equaliser against Ebusua Dwarfs in Cape Coast last week.
Daniel Afriyie Barnieh: At the business end of the season, the Phobians needed inspiration, they needed someone to take matters into his own hands in important games and fortunately for them, Afriyie Barnieh turned up.
The 20-year-old scored the biggest goal of his young career against archrivals Asante Kotoko. No doubt the second half stunner supersedes his brace for the Ghana U-20 team in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in March this year, because the goal against Kotoko, a team that rejected him not long ago, literally settled the tight title race. Both teams were tied on the same points, so whoever won stood a better chance of winning the league.
That goal won’t be forgotten anytime soon with the player, right now, the most adored by Hearts’ fans. Aside from his goal, his overall performance this season has been really impressive. Barnieh gives his all anytime he plays. He tracks back to defend and in attack, he uses his pace effectively, well.
Raddy Ovouka: No doubt, one of Hearts’ best players in their title victory. His consistency has been top-notch, something the Phobians lacked in the past at the left-back position.
Ovouka headed into the season with doubts having endured a frustrating time since his transfer in 2018, but he will end it with his head up high, not only because he is Ghana League champion, but because his contribution was immense.
In the big games, he shone – scored his debut goal in Hearts 4-0 thumping of WAFA and excelled in both legs against Kotoko. Ovouka’s fantastic performances has made him Congo national team player.
Ibrahim Salifu: Fair to say, this season Hearts of Oak fans got most of their calls right, including the signing Ibrahim Salifu. They had watched him and knew he would change their side if brought in so they mounted pressure on board who succumbed by signing the player from Eleven Wonders.
At Eleven Wonders, a lowly rated club in the Ghana Premier League, he was their best player, but could he do it for the Phobians? A question he answered diligently with 3 goals, 8 assists and 8 Man of the Match awards for Hearts.
Salifu is a strong contender for Player of the Season award and wouldn’t be out of place to predict victory for him because his influence has really been huge for Hearts. Some say, without Salifu, Hearts wouldn’t have won, a statement which is easy to agree with. He brought a lot on board, especially creativity in the final third, where the Phobians lacked it earlier in the season.
Benjamin Afutu: Afutu’s late mother would be proud of his son’s achievement with Hearts. The woman died during the Covid break and that might have been the reason for Afutu’s slow start to the season.
Afutu, a key player in the cancelled season, struggled in the first round in which he enjoyed 90 minutes on four occasions in 14 appearances and played as low as three minutes.
This got fans worried, with some encouraging him to work hard. He heeded to the advice and has been unplayable in the defensive midfield role in the second round.
He demonstrated his powerful runs into opponents’ half, mostly tidy tackles and goal scoring abilities in the critical part of the season to aid Hearts win the league.
He is set to end the season with five goals – Hearts of Oak’s third-highest scorer.
By: Enoch Fiifi Forson|3news.com|Ghana