Many Ghanaian football connoisseurs are predicting the future of one-time CAF Champions League winners, Accra Hearts of Oak, affectionately called ‘Phobia’.
The current state of the club seems tremulous. It is no surprise to have seen the club take more than four months to appoint a substantive trainer after the exit of Serbian trained coach, Slavko Matic after the 2022/23 football season.
Accra Hearts of Oak enjoyed a fruitful post COVID-19 spell, with the club seeing a trophy each season. In between these periods, Glorious Accra Hearts of Oak has accumulated 6 trophies, four of which are major trophies; one premier league title (2020/21), two FA cups (2020/2021; 2021/2022), one super cup (2020/2021), and GHALCA Presidential Cup, defeating archrivals Kumasi Asante Kotoko on both occasions at the Accra Sports Stadium (2-1 and 1-0 in 2022 and 2023).
With 21 Ghana Premier League trophies, the rainbow club remains the most successful football club in Ghana. Despite their recent exploits, supporters and the administrative body of the club are unhappy with the performance of the lads in the just ended 2022/23 football season. Hearts of Oak occupied the 12th position on the league and were winless in their last six games, with a tiny possibility of relegation coming up prior to their last game.
In a way to bring back the glory days of the club and cheer up the fans of the Adabraka-based club, the board and management of Hearts of Oak have appointed former Go-Ahead Eagles footballer and assistant coach, Martin Koopman.
Koopman, who had a short stint with West Africa Football Academy (WAFA) becomes the 12th expatriate coach to take over the reins of the famous club in the current millennium, and the eighth foreign coach to be appointed by H.R.H. Togbe Afede (XIV) – executive board chair of the ‘continental club masters’.
Koopman succeeds Slavko Matic, who accidentally had to leave Accra Hearts of Oak due to a massive demonstration by the club’s supporters at the Kpobiman Training Centre. Koopman’s appointment comes after the club had announced Rene Hiddink as the technical director of the club [also in charge of youth sides – Royal Oak FC, Auroras and the women’s side – Oak FC). Both Hiddink and Koopman worked together at the Maldives only to reunite at Accra Hearts of oak.
Koopman comes to Hearts of Oak as an experienced coach who has worked under brilliant Dutch and Belgian coaches like Raymond Atteveld and Aad de Mos in the Eredivisie and the Eerste Divisie of the Netherlands.
Koopman may not be the trophy winning coach Hearts may have been craving for, but his resumé shows he established himself as one of the finest youth team coaches in Netherlands. He is credited with discovering the famous Dutch international Arjen Robben and has managed other big names. Notable amongst them is Africa’s best shot-stopper Peter Rufai in 1994 (at Go Ahead Eagles), former UEFA Champions League winner (2003), Jaap Stam, and Ivorian international Cheick Tiote (2010) at Roda JC in the Eredivisie.
What does Koopman bring on board?
After 15 years of active football in Holland, Koopman has amassed a lot of experience as a footballer and as a coach who has been in the business for over two decades.
As a right-back he possessed goal scoring and technical abilities which saw him contribute a lot to the teams he played. In his first season at FC Twenty, he scored three goals and was credited with four assists. Martin Koopman later became the top scorer for FC Twenty in two different seasons scoring seven (7) goals in the 1982/83 season and 9 goals in 1985/86 season. He comes at a time where the “Phobians” have managed to capture the services of the best right-back in the Ghana Premier League, Michael Ampadu, formally of Legon Cities, not forgetting the young energetic Yaw Amankwah Baafi who has the propensity of playing as a wing-back for the team. Suraj Seidu, Enock Asubonteng, Liventius Athur, and Dennis Korsah will all benefit from Koopman when the team is attacking from the flanks.
Coach Koopman preferred to play a 4-2-3-1 formation and this has been his best formation which brought him close to success at Roda JC when he led the team to the finals of the KNVB Cup to be beaten by Feyenoord 0-2 in 2008.
Dutch trainers are known to play very beautiful football known as the total football and epicure of attacking football. The 4-2-3-1 might not be the only formation he could evoke during matchdays, given that he has studied under coaches who play more of defensive style formations, the WW formation (3-2-3-2) and pure attacking formation and traditional Dutch formation, 4-3-3. These formations may suit the current squad of Accra Hearts of Oak especially the 4-2-3-1.
Koopman can succeed at Hearts of Oak
Current foreign coaches have had short stay at the capital-based club but some have come to win the hearts of many fans of the club and even people who may ordinarily not wish the club well. Kenichi Yatsuhashi is one coach who still lives in the minds of many Phobians but records may not favour him as the best foreigner for the club.
Kenichi came in after a disastrous season in 2015 and replaced the late Hebert Addo and Turkish trainer, Can Vanli Bahtiyar, who nearly took the club to the second tier of Ghana football. Kenichi in the first round gathered 28 points and accumulated 12 points in his first five matches but before he could establish himself, the Japanese trainer departed the club for reasons unknown to football lovers till date.
The ‘continental club masters’ are the only club to have won the league with a foreign coach in this millennium. In that season the Phobia boys beat Kotoko in the home and away fixture played at the Cape Coast Stadium in 2006/07 season. Bulgarian, Mitko Dobrev, led Accra Hearts of Oak to win the league in 2006/07 season and guided the team to a 22-game unbeaten run. Dobrev may not be popular as Kenichi but he still holds the record of being the first foreign coach to win the league title in Ghana and was voted, best coach of the season.
Kosta Papic would have been decorated with same title but for his premature departure in 2008/09 season. He left the Phobians as league leaders with a ten (10) points gap and seven matches to finish the season.
The successes of Dobrev and Papic can be attributed to the unity and camaraderie that ensued between supporters and the decision-making body of the club. Kenichi brought these two groups of the club together and almost succeeded with the club.
Now Koopman has also come at a time where the board and management have settled their differences and are ready to battle Medeama, Aduana, and Asante Kotoko for the 2023/2024 league title.
Accra Hearts of Oak under Koopman is bound to achieve success with the necessary support from management and commitment of the playing body. With a coach that understands the design of youth football, Hearts of Oak can see a proper transition of young talent from Auroras through to the senior team.
The appointment of Koopman is seen as a big step for Accra Hearts of Oak and as we zoom into the dawn of a new era, the club might patiently be looking to harness the fruits of a promising project in the Long term. It might take two or perhaps five to 10 years or even longer.
Below is a projection of how Hearts of Oak could set up and some of the players who may be key.
Probable Line-up: Richard Attah, Michael Ampadu, Dennis Korsah, Kelvin Osei, Kofi Agbesima, Glid Otanga, Eric Esso, Asubonteng Enock, Linda Mntage, Amankwah Baafi, Wannet Kashala. (4-2-3-1 formation).
Credit: Petras Anaab Ali
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