There’s no denying that 2020 has been a year to forget, with a global pandemic bringing the world to a halt. Thankfully though, things are slowly returning to some sense of normality. We can watch live sport again, albeit on the television, we can socialise in bars and restaurants and for some, it’s back to work. Soon enough, spectators will start filling stadiums.
Forget Covid-19 and the overarching existential doom that surrounds everyday life in 2020. Football is back in the country and the Ghanaian Premier League is set to return in November. Yes, you read right! The football league that has thrilled football patriots since the days of yore returns next month.
Accra Hearts of Oak are finally back in business next month, when they continue their push for their first league title in decade.
Should the Phobians achieve this feat, it will be a perfect end to a season that saw Edward Odoom strengthening the depth of his squad with Nigerien international, Abdourahmane Mamane Lawali; Abednego Tetteh ; Nigerian forward Danjuma Kuti; Nkoranza Warriors teenage sensation Isaac Mensah, former skipper Nuru Sulley and Patrick Razak.
Unquestionably, Abednego Tetteh, Patrick Razak and Danjuma Kuti will bring top level quality to the Phobians’ frontline, and the trio represents three excellent pieces of business from Chief Executive Officer Frederick Moore ahead of the next football season.
But for Hearts’ current attacking crop - more so the younger ones - the pressure is on to impress head coach Edward Odoom. Among the players who need to get in Odoom's good books and prove they are worth their salt are Michelle Sarpong and Abdul Manaf Umar.
The pair enjoyed relatively successful debut campaigns during the Normalisation Competition – being promoted from Auroras - and between them contributed 6 goals and 7 assists in all competitions.
But numbers like those wasn’t enough to regain their places in their side in the truncated league as the duo struggled to stake a claim in the Hearts team. Umar had his position taken by Frederick Ansah Botchway with Daniel Afriyie Barnie edging past Sarpong.
As the quality of Hearts’ attack increases with Tetteh, Kuti and Razak’s arrivals, so does the competition. Healthy competition is always useful - as has been evident for the rich attacking options of Asante Kotoko - but it means that someone will be forced aside.
In Hearts’ case, that could be Sarpong and Umar. It's a harsh reality for the young footballers who have been crucial for the Phobians, and to see him shoved aside after a stellar debut campaign would be a slap in the face to the perceived 'youth revolution' that Odoom is overseeing.
Between now and the commencement of the season, both need to prove to Odoom that they are undroppable. Prove to Odoom that the added weight of expectation and pressure is something they thrive on, rather than buckle under.
Sarpong and Umar also have a chance to prove that youth does have a future at Hearts, and should be believed in - rather than returning to the days of money being splashed out left, right and centre on 'big' names whose arrival sparked unbridled elation among supporters but...
So this season not only sees the club look to push on and fulfil their league title destiny, it provides the platform for Michelle Sarpong and Abdul Manaf Umar to move past last season’s struggles if they are to stand a chance of helping Hearts achieve that feat.