Yaw Acheampong’s Sharks; finally out of the woods and champing at the bit.

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Five match weeks ago, Elmina Sharks were in a sticky wicket. Sharks had amassed no more points than matches played; eight, following a 1-0 loss in Accra to Legon Cities.

“I don’t want to blame my players for the defeat. It wasn’t fair on the referee’s part. It wasn’t a penalty. The referee awarded a dubious penalty” Yaw Acheampong said before storming out of the post-match conference angrily. While Elmina Sharks are not expected to win every game, the circumstances they found themselves demanded they excelled on the pitch too. Which circumstance?

In January 2019, the Bank of Ghana approved a reclassification request from G.N Bank – a company owned by Sharks owner, Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom. Subsequently, the bank was reclassified to a Savings and Loans Company, amid the central bank’s financial sector clean-up. As it was with most of the financial institutions that were affected by the exercise, depositors panicked. Panic withdrawals followed. Lest I forget, Gold Coast Securities, another of Dr. Nduom’s companies, was not spared. Consequently, the company’s capacity to approve customer withdrawals was affected as thousands complained of being refused for amounts as low as GH₵ 2,000.

Confidence in ‘Brand Nduom’ took a massive hit. Now, while the rest of the country sympathized with depositors and even the company’s staff who had been laid off following the reclassification, the playing team and staff of Sharks were left in the lurch. Though assurances were given, there was an air of ambivalent around the club as what the storm meant for the club. However, the severity of the situation would soon unfold. For six months, players and staff reportedly went without pay. It was to be expected since the club and for that matter, all employees of Groupe Nduom – the mother company – were all paid through G.N Bank accounts.

Before long, some the of club’s best players left for pastures anew. Emmanuel Ampiah, the club’s left-back and member of the gold-winning Black Stars B team at the 2018 WAFU Championships left for Nigeria. Shortly after that, Richard Attah, one of the best goalkeepers in the country left at the expiration of his contract for Hearts of Oak. No prizes for guessing why Sharks could not keep him. A few other exits followed.

For all these reasons and more, Sharks needed to prove it could get sufficient water through its gills. That while not being an island, it had solid torsion bars. That’s for the neutral. For Nduom, this was the time for an arm of the conglomerate to give him hope, possibly credibility.

So when Yaw Acheampong stormed out of that press conference on February 4th, it was not just because of his disgust at the officiating. Neither was it about the journalist’s probe for answers. It was, in part, disappointment over the fact that the performance did not quite match the results. But if there is one thing about football results, it is this; performances catch up with results sooner or later.

In Sharks’ case, that is what happened. 5 matchdays later, Yaw Acheampong’s men have jumped eight places on the league table to move to 6th position. In that time, they have won four matches out of five, drawing the only other game they did not win. With 13 points out of 15, Sharks are the most in-form team in the league; the best in that period. But how did it all happen?

A good mix of defensive solidity and an expansive brand of football has done the trick. Sharks have not deviated from the principles of solidity; moving in unison to maintain a good shape, being first to the ball, and defending the space rather than the opponent. While these have been visible, Acheampong’s consistency with his back four; Daniel Obeng, Ishmael Hammond, Issaka Mohammed, and Denis Mensah has made this easier. Skeptics may point to the fact that Sharks conceded in four out of the past five games, but it is also worth mentioning that they are conceding fewer chances, while the full-backs have been significant in the team’s attack. Denis Mensah and Daniel Obeng either tuck inside to give them midfield superiority, or they push up to join the attack, creating overloads that enhance quick combinations with an attacking midfielder and the side winger.

There have been adjustments further up the pitch too. Emmanuel Addington and Benjamin Arthur have provided the flair and steel, setting the tone for the team’s play. The pair has conducted this symphony orchestra that keeps producing tunes so melodious, they can hypnotize Dr. Nduom to forget his banking woes, however brief it may last. While their control of the game can improve, their pass selection and timing of the same allows the team to transition quickly and create chances before opponents regroup. Last Sunday when Sharks beat Liberty Professionals 3-1, it was without either of them. The responsibility fell to Edmund Asiedu and Isaac Donkor and boy did they deliver! They maintained the status quo and ripped apart Liberty Professionals in impressive fashion. It may be one game but to have replaced them and kicked on is only possible if you have depth in the squad.

Upfront, it is all about authority and a sense of responsibility. A sense of responsibility because every team that goes through adversity, needs players that will step up, perform exceedingly to lessen the burden. That is what Benjamin Bernard Boateng and Benjamin Tweneboah ‘Neymar’ have done. While the former has supplied the goals – 7 of them, the latter has been creating chances for fun, emerging as the man of the match on three occasions this season. The last of these came versus Liberty.

Through it all, Yaw Acheampong’s control over his diamonds has been remarkable. His management of the squad has been good enough to maintain harmony and tranquility in the dressing room even though some of the big names have found game time, hard to come by. Take, for instance, Tweneboah. Before Sunday’s match, the winger had not started any of Sharks’ five league games. Former Medeama and Asante Kotoko winger Richard Mpong has not started every game either; three out of the last six matches. Yet there have been no tantrums. If anything at all, they respond well and play a blinder on their return.

So it is no fluke that Sharks ended their rotten run, beating then league leaders Berekum Chelsea and after that, Medeama S.C, the derby win with Dwarfs, a credible draw with Hearts of Oak and Sunday’s thrashing of Liberty. It remains to be seen how long this run will last but this has all the makings of a credible team.

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