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Written By Albert Kotey - The clap, cheers and praise showering were so much that I had no option than to visit the Ajax Park situated in the University of Ghana one Friday. My only motive was to watch the new ‘Messiah’ who has entered the Phobian Jerusalem. His name is Kenichi Yatsuhashi, a Japanese American as they labelled him has gradually become the toast of the rainbow fraternity. His training modules according connoisseurs are different from the expatriates we have seen over the years. My observation however was not far from that of the bookmakers.

Prior to the above, the appointment of Kenichi was greeted with mix feelings from all and sundry. Only a few gave him the benefit of doubt but most went ahead to even lambast the leadership of Hearts of Oak for such an ‘infantile’ decision. The media were the worse culprit; they ridiculed everything about him including going to the extent of being racially discriminatory. I won’t forget the infamous tag of ‘Facebook’ coach by Kotoko fans and the ‘Toyota Engineer’ by some former board members of Hearts of Oak. These happened in his earlier struggles in the pre-season after Hearts played abysmally in the GHALCA G6 tournament.

After some signings however, confidence brewed itself in Hearts of Oak, the club sounds fit, new stars born and new playing model adopted, christened SUSHI football. Sushi according to my Japanese source is a small cake of cold boiled rice, shaped by hand or wrapped in seaweed and topped with pieces of raw or cooked fish, vegetables, or egg. I got confused as to how a Japanese delicacy could find its way in Ghanaian football circles. Then I was told it is the favorite food of Kenichi hence the adoption by the club as the new Phobian philosophy. Though innovative, if you ask me I think Sushi goes beyond food.

As the league commenced, I realised Sushi is indeed a football philosophy which clubs found difficult to contain in the first 5 league matches, especially when Hearts played away from home. After the first round which comprised of the fifteen games, I have come to the conclusion that Sushi is not the panacea to Hearts of Oak’s problem, contrary to the strong belief of majority of the Hearts supporters.

Sushi is a ‘fabricated’ copy of the famous Italian Catenaccio.  It also looks like Diego Simeoni’s Tiki Taka antidote but Sushi lacks the originality to find itself in our soccer books. In reality, it looks metaphorically like ‘kokonte’ which has been beautified on the surface with palm oil to let it look like a scintillating ‘Asante Fufu’. This is not in a way to discredit the achievement of Sushi, especially with the brilliant away performances it has yielded. My disbelief stands on the fact that it is not a league winning philosophy. Nonetheless, the Sushi philosophy is a typical 4-4-2 formation with well-defined roles for the 4 midfielders. It relies on two central midfielders; one acts as a roaming midfielder whilst the other holds and acts as cover up. The left and right wingers are supposed to be fast to complement the efforts of the two strikers who occasionally operate from the wings. The four defenders should always be on guard and resolute to foil any impending danger.

However one of the deficiencies of Sushi is the use of specific time and space in the practicing of this philosophy. Sushi in my opinion operates effectively only in the second 45 minutes of the stipulated 90 minutes. This is evident in all the 15 games played by hearts of oak in the first round. After 8 away games Hearts have won 4 and drawn 4. All the goals that culminated in the wins were mostly scored in the second half. Apart from the goalless draw they recorded against Ebusua Dwarfs and Techiman City FC, the equalizer against Aduana Stars and Dreams FC came in the second half respectively.

Another weird deficiency of the Sushi, is its unadaptable nature in home matches. It is very pathetic that Hearts of Oak find it difficult to win their homes games. A lot of conspiracy theories have been propounded for this soccer amnesia. Football pundits are at a loss why this absurdity is happening, considering the history of our domestic league which favors clubs when they play at their favorite grounds. It will be a tall order for a club to win the league without amassing considerable points at home. It would be the 8th wonder of the world if Hearts should do this.

It is also important to note that Sushi is very predictable .Apart from the rivalry match against Kotoko which pundits will admit could have gone either way, in other home loses, coaches were able to disarm the Sushi weaponry. I was therefore not surprised George Lamptey of Liberty Professionals claimed that the Hearts game was his cheapest so far. I can say unequivocally that Sushi football lacks variation and technical purpose. It is a one phase style regardless of the opposition Hearts meet. This style cannot survive 30 games and win the league. This is not to say that Hearts of oak cannot win the league. In fact Hearts is the only club which has the brightest opportunity to annex this year’s league considering the performances away which also doubled as big matches. So the return fixtures should be an academic work but the home games cannot allow me to sneak my neck out.

One cannot critique Sushi without touching on the materials used for the philosophy. I must admit that the materials in this year’s league are evenly distributed. All the 16 clubs have some players who can change a game at any time. With respect to Hearts of Oak it is how roles are given to the players. Strangely Eric Kumi has lost shine after his impressive display in the Medeama SC game. Ollenu Ashittey who operates efficiently on the flanks has been drafted to do deep midfield work. Mustapha Essuman has been given a holding role in midfield instead of the roaming where he has been the unsung hero. There is a clear confusion on who partners Robin Gnagne. The inconsistency towards the choosing of Richard Akrofi and Vincent Atinga has started to have negative effect in the defence strategy .You cannot win a league with experimentation.

 The painful straw to break the sushi camel’s back is the aggressive stands taken by Kenichi towards his employers. For those of us who have had the chance to visit Hearts secretariat and some of its offices it’s a source of pride to see frames of legends and Phobia heroes displayed at every wall and corner. I was appalled to hear news that Kenichi broke some of the frames due to some misunderstanding after a meeting with members of the Strategic Committee. It has also come to the notice of the public of how he disregarded the board and its leadership and other hierarchy of the club to the extent that he sacks them when they come close to the team. On his social media freaks, I leave that to the public to judge due to the complex nature of his background and the delicate nature of that aspect of modern media. Westernization is not always civilization and taking an entrenched position against your employers is a recipe for disaster.

To sum it all, Hearts is sitting on time bomb with the kind of strategy adopted by Kenichi to execute the Sushi. It will be a great opportunity for the entire Phobian fraternity to use the league break to iron out all differences. The fans will never forgive this leadership if Hearts of Oak does not win the league after several years of emptiness. Until that is done, Sushi may not be the panacea.

Albert Kotey


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