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Ghana Premier League Review: Positives, Hearts and Kotoko rivalry, relegation fight, coaching, challenges and more

2 months ago
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The 2020/21 Ghana Premier League ended in July with Hearts of Oak winning their 21st League title in history. The Phobians won the double after adding the MTN FA Cup to the League crown. In this article, Sports Journalist Samuel Zigah talks about the positives, the Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak rivalry, the relegation battle, coaching and more. Read on for the details:

As the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League has ended, it is time to review the season seen by many as one of most exciting campaigns in the history of the league in recent times .

After days, weeks and months of a difficult showdown, the marathon finally reached its finish line with the curtains closed awaiting the arrival of a new campaign thus the 2021/22 football season.

It’s certainly an incomplete conversation without a review of the 36 match days in the Ghana Premier League. For the first time an 18-team competition was organized, with fans, journalists and all the stakeholders involved, for diverse reasons craving for more even though at some point the agony of stress reared its head.

For the Broadcasters(TV and radio crew), officials, players, coaches and technical team members of all the 18 clubs, the anxiety in playing and preparing every three days will finalise and make them rest for a few weeks before they go at it again.

Hearts -Kotoko Battle

Accra Hearts of Oak are champions of the football season, cementing their name by emerging as the winners of the Ghana Premier League and the MTN FA Cup.

This season can be touted as the most competitive league season in a decade, with two of Ghana’s biggest clubs, Hearts of Oak & Asante Kotoko, going neck to neck in a keenly contested title race.

The title might have been sealed on the penultimate matchday but the title race was absolutely intensive, highly competitive enough to keep both set of fans following the league religiously like they used to do in the past.

Of course the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League was one of the most competitive seasons but the narrative would not be entirely complete without the controversies of officiating, crowd control etc.

After a goalless draw in the first round of the League – Daniel Afriyie Barnieh made the difference when the two sides clashed in the second round of the campaign. Indeed, that win gave Hearts of Oak their first League title in 12 years.

 

Coaching

That aside, it was a season where we experienced the comeback of some experienced coaches (both expatriates and locals) who left their mark in the Ghanaian football spaces in the early 2000’s .Talking about former Hearts of Oak trainer Kosta Papic who made a return to the Phobian family but later triggered an unceremonious exit in the course of the season. Also, Asante Kotoko welcomed former Ghana National team coach Mariano Barretto into the Porcupine family, with the Portuguese bringing a different twist and vibe to the local game.

Former Black Stars coach and current Ghana U-17 coach, Maxwell Konadu also made a return to the local game after he was appointed head coach of Legon cities with a few games to end the season. His task was to rescue the team from the shackles of relegation and he ended up accomplishing his task at the end of the campaign. But before Konadu, the ever experienced gaffer Bashir Hayford also took over Legon Cities at some point, a side with high ceiling and a lot potential, but strangely could not deliver the goods as expected.

One character who should be proud of himself is Hearts of Oak gaffer Samuel Boadu who led the team to end their trophy drought. Boadu and his Assistant (Hamza Obeng) both formerly of Medeama SC made an in-season switch to the capital and immediately turned the fortunes of a sinking Hearts of Oak team by aiding them rack up maximum points amidst certain vital signings (Salifu Ibrahim and Caleb Amankwaaa) to ensure that they go head to head with their eternal rivals Asante Kotoko for the bragging rights.

A league where you have the likes of Maxwell Konadu, Mariano Barretto, Dr Prosper Nartey Ogum, Yaw Acheampong , Annor Walker, Evans Adottey et al coaching , there will always  be a variety in the brand of football.

Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko dominated the league but sides like WAFA, Accra Great Olympics and Karela United-who dominated the top spot for a greater part of the first round, also exhibited what they are best at, irking their names in the good books of local football loving fans.

*Relegation Fight *

Former FA cup finalist Inter Allies, Ebusua Dwarfs and Dansoman Liberty Professionals ended up being relegated even though they fought until the final seconds of the league season but it was not enough to secure their top-flight status.

Knowing the winners of the league before the final day, we experienced a final game day where the excitement and attention was focused on which clubs were bowing out.

With Inter Allies already aware of their fate, it was now a battle amongst the likes of Elmina Sharks, who had a daunting task of facing second placed Asante Kotoko away from home, Legon cities who were hosting Techiman Eleven Wonders who had already consolidated their spot in next season’s League. Cape Coast Mysterious Ebusua Dwarfs also in the mix and then Liberty Professionals and King Faisal who were facing each other on the last day.

Quite an interesting pack of games. At the end it was Liberty Professionals and Ebusua Dwarfs who were unlucky with their fight to retain top-flight football.

Challenges

It was a very tough season for almost every stakeholder of the game, from fans, audience, the commentators, journalists and most importantly, the players, as the lack of crowd inside the stadium-just to cheer them on, coupled with certain structures put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic made things very difficult.

With the various League venues only allowed to accommodate just 25% of the stadium capacity dealt clubs a huge blow with respect to motivation and even finances. But at least, half a loaf is better than none, unlike during the first round of the campaign where greater part of the games had no fans allowed inside the venues at all.

The season also experienced chock-full disciplinary decisions on referees, coaches and the players. Ideally, one should not be worried about the correctional measures meted out to sanitize the game but a pick of the lot is how repetitive some of these actions surfaced -which clearly stresses on the need to put in more effort to keep all stakeholders informed about their role in making the game beautiful in our bid to bring back the love and ignite passion.

With all these happenings, it goes a long way to highlight how next season could obviously experience massive improvement from all quarters [officiating, discipline, Television coverage, crowd control etc].

Star players:

Karela United FC striker Diawusie Taylor made the headlines throughout the season – he won the top scorers award and earned a place in the senior national team. Gladson Awako’s class for Great Olympics, the physical brilliance of Justice Blay for Medeama SC and the superb dribbling ability of Rashid Nortey was eye catching. Daniel Afriyie Barnieh ended the season with three winning medals – the most decorated Ghanaian player in the entire season.

The 20 year old won the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations as captain of the Black Satellites before winning the Premier League and the MTN FA Cup. One of the talking points in the Asante Kotoko team was Fabio Gama and Ismail Ganiyu. The duo played a huge part in the clubs fight for the League title. James Bissue’s classic goal against Legon Cities is a goal of the season contender.

That stunning half way line goal is one of the positives that will headline the just ended League season. And how about Benjamin Afutu and his influence on the Hearts of Oak team – Afutu missed only four League matches and played in all the games in the MTN FA Cup. A season to remember and a moment to savour for the 25-year old midfielder. One of the unsung heroes in the season was Augustine Boakye of WAFA – brilliant play maker who was a delight to watch all season.

Finally, Dreams FC captain Michael Agbekpornu was a pillar in their set up. He featured in different positions, played in central defense and midfield.

In departing, it’s worth commending the Ghana Football Association for putting together a very successful and competitive season – first full season since 2017. Let me end my piece by applauding partners, StarTimes, Macron, NASCO Electronics, MTN, Melcom, InterCitySTC and ZAZ for believing in the product. The issue about alleged betting and match fixing is currently under Investigations so I wouldn’t want to touch on it for now. But generally, It was a great season without doubt.

GFA COMMUNICATIONS