Rival fans dubbed him ‘social-media-coach’. Pundits predicted his dismissal before the league properly begun. His preseason sham was a laughingstock and left many bemoaning. Others argued that, he actually never existed but an embodiment of a figment. His credentials left much to be desired as the 46-year-old novice prepared to take over the reins at one of Ghana’s most prestigious and oldest clubs, Accra Hearts of Oak.
The grey-headed sensei, Kenichi Yatsuhashi lacked topnotch profile that would have left the Phobian fraternity drooling and pumping up their hopes of coming close to annexing the league, something that has gone missing from their trophy cabinet since 2009.
The Japanese trainer vowed to work things out as his early days at the club glaringly lacked luster. “I understand the frustrations of the fans but I believe we are working really hard to get the team to the level we all desire”, said Kenichi “The players have shown willingness which is key so I believe I will get the team to the level we all desire”. Those were the courageous words of Kenichi after the GHALCA Top 6 competition, where his team had started improving on their early preseason form.
He started off the season with a late win against New Edubiase United. Now here’s where all the sophistry surrounding the mysterious sensei started unfolding.
Hearts of Oak had not defeated New Edubiase in their previous three (3) meetings in the league. Edubiase had beaten the Phobians home and away the season before the Japanese took over. It was easily the game that was going to vindicate the pessimists and critics with regard to the grey-headed sensei. The first half was barren and things were falling apart until the 79th minute when Samuel Yeboah latched onto an incisive cross to win all points at stake. Kenichi would go scot free for this week. The subsequent week was going to tell the tale pretty well.
Medeama SC, who are Ghana’s sole representatives in Africa this year had not tasted defeat in their own background for twenty-one (21) games. The Mauves had gone unbeaten against the Phobians in their previous seven (7) league encounters. Mauves were tipped to end Kenichi’s fairytale ride with ease. Once again the first half had nothing to pick between the two sides. Nonetheless, the 77th minute saw one of Kenichi’s discoveries Cosmos Dauda shoot the Phobians into the lead. Hearts held their resolve until the 92ndminute when Eric Kumi fired home the cushion goal for the Japanese.
Kenichi had won his first two games in charge of his first ever professional club against all odds. He was beginning to carve a niche for himself but it was still early days yet. However, there seem to be a mysterious pattern of play developed in the Phobians, they seem to find their mojo vastly in the second department of games.
Hearts would go on to draw their subsequent game versus a beleaguered Mysterious Dwarfs. The energetic Japanese entertained Bechem United in Week 4 of the league. Samuel Yeboah opened the scoring in the 37th minute but Hearts of Oak once again scored two goals in the second half via the boots of Mustapha Essuman and Isaac Mensah in the 53rd and 67th minutes respectively. Hearts won 3-1.
At this stage, the Phobian fraternity were beginning to believe Kenichi indeed could turn fortunes. Women and children alike were singing the mysterious sensei’s praise. He had begun to turn heads. But many a pessimist still waited and hoped to see how he would capitulate very soon.
Inter Allies scored two quick second half goals proving a sterner opposition than expected, Kenichi had just 30 minutes to pull out any magic wand. Isaac Mensah pulled one back on the 69th minute mark before Kenichi exhibited his tactical prowess, throwing everything at the the opponents. He brought on Ibrahim Musah, who equalized on the 81st minute before clinching all points in the 90th minute. Musah’s incredible brace went a long way to underline how Kenichi’s boys are ruthless in the second half of games.
Does the pattern emanate from sheer effective training or psychological theatric?
Hearts had started winning their supporters back; their best start to a league season since the early 2000s. The club turned out to be the league’s cash cow as their avid fans followed them to every league center.
Hearts lost their next game against Wa All Stars, a side that has been a torn in their flesh. The Phobians had won just one of their previous five (5) games. They were humbled 3-1 in their own backyard. Once again, Hearts’ consolation goal was scored in the 50thminute through Ibrahim Musah, in the second half.
Perhaps, Kenichi’s charges had begun feeling the pressure and the overwhelming expectations took a toll on them. They drew goalless at Techiman City and drew one-all with WAFA. Csomos Dauda scored the goal for the Phobians in the 70th minute. Second-half magic still at display even in their hard times eh?
Hold on, the mysterious second half template was going to be tested even more in the next three games when they come up against defending league champions , AshGold, a venue they had never won a game close to a decade, archrivals Asante Kotoko and Brekum Chelsea who had never lost a home game since 2012. Surely Kenichi should fall someway somehow along the line or?
Hearts scored the first goal in the 53rd minute before adding a second in the 60th minute thanks to Cosmos Dauda’s prolific feet. Kenichi broke a long-held jinx against one of the country’s very top teams, AshGold. Hearts however lost narrowly to archrivals Kotoko in a very cagey game. Noteworthy that Hearts and Kotoko games are practically inexplicable given the intricacies involved. Hence, better described with fewer words.Cheers. Moving on, Samuel Yeboah scored on the 60th minute mark to end Brekum Chelsea’s four-year unbeaten home run. Something only the mysterious grey-headed sensei’s sophistry could explain.
A feat admittedly unparalleled. No brainer.
Hearts defeated Hasaacas 1-0 in their next game as Isaac Mensah scored an early goal in the 7th minute. First half winner, pretty rare uh huh? Kenichi’s recent away draw with second-placed Aduana Stars seem to underline what he’s been doing all season. He’s slowly restoring Hearts to their rightful place, even though he’s been knocked out of the FA Cup by a lower tier side Samartex. Dauda Cosmos equalized in the 67th minute against a well-drilled Aduana Stars who had won five (5) games on the bounce before meeting Hearts.
Amid all his alleged controversial shenanigans vis-à-vis management, the charismatic former coach of Societa Ise FC Junior Youth U15 and CONCACAF International Coaching license holder is surely writing his own page in the history books of Hearts of Oak regardless whatever happens in the near future.
His hard-work and fitness-centered training is paying off unequivocally. Hearts have scored fourteen (14) of their (16) league goals in the second half of matches, representing eighty-eight (88) per cent. The Phobians have also recouped five (5) points from losing position in the league.
The mysterious second-half sensei is unbeaten in seven (7) away matches, winning four (4) and drawing three (3). His side has scored the highest away goals, nine (9) and conceded the fewest goals away from home, four (4). His amassed fifteen (15) points from seven away games is six (6) more than second placed Kotoko on the away performance log.
Kenichi and Hearts occupy the top spot on the league log after thirteen (13) weeks, truly a dream only few of the Phobians had fancy before the season kicked off. With seventeen (17) games to go, it remains to be seen whether Kenichi will keep pressing hard for the ultimate that has eluded his club in a pretty long while or perhaps get soaked in the fairytale and resort to just playing to the gallery.
The Phobians have won the league twenty (20) times, a haul only bettered by rivals Asante Kotoko with twenty-three (23). If there’s any chance of the Phobians annexing their 21st league title, ceteris parabus, then surely the mysterious second-half sensei, Kenichi wouldn’t have a better shot at it than now.
By Nana Owusu (@alfowusu)