It is well over a decade since the Phobians competed in the prestigious competition which they last won in 2000.And these crop of players, would be delighted to experience Champions League football on the continent.
The Phobians were confirmed as champions on the last but one game of the season following their 1-1 draw against Liberty Professionals.
The Ghanaian giants mastered the art of winning with style, verve and fervor. If their racking up of consecutive wins was sportingly illusory, the cheeky ease with which they dismantled opponents made them even more endearing. For the average football fan, the current Hearts of Oak team represented in totality what football should be all about, and how it should be played.
Indeed, the Phobians themselves have had some very good teams in the past – like the one that won the Ghana Premier League with a record 78 points, or even the group that went unbeaten in the 2003 league season. However, Cecil Jones Attuquayefio's class of 2000 was on a totally different level. For they remain the greatest of all.
Bolstered by a squad of depth and immense quality, Hearts made light work of every opponent, both domestically and on the continent, as the romped to the league, FA Cup and CAF Champions League titles. Nicknamed the 64 Battalion, this Hearts team had it all. They were a team of talent and eminence, fighters and leaders, brawns and brains.
Hearts' unprecedented treble success, though, came largely thanks to the influence and genius of Cecil Jones Attuquayefio. For if this winning machine of a team was the gold, Attuquayefio was the skilled miner who oversaw its digging and refinery.
When the gentle, bald-headed Attuquayefio was appointed coach of Hearts in 1998, his main task was to transform the team into one capable of competing on the continent. Despite being the most successful side in the county, it was somewhat embarrassing that the Accra giants had not won any African title in their 87-year history.
Attuquayefio would, however, go on to lead the club to the most successful spell in its history. He had achieved commendable feats with Great Olympics, Okwawu United, Stade Abidjan and Ghana's under-17 side, but the pinnacle of his coaching career was now about to unfold.
A club of great history, Hearts were by far the best Ghanaian side from the 1950s through to the 1980s. However, a massive power shift saw them overtaken by their rivals at the turn of the 90s. The Phobians had won 11 league trophies and six FA Cup titles before 1990, but the following years weren't as generous. A series of underwhelming results, coupled with a six-year league drought, left the club in a damning situation. Despondent fans, an aged squad and a lack of technical direction meant the turmoil at Hearts was fast approaching a crisis.
In 1995, the Hearts hierarchy made its first contact with Attuquayefio, having identified him as the right man to overturn the club's fortunes. They desperately wanted him to replace Petre Gavrila, who had just been sacked for failing to return the Phobians to the glory days. Gavrila had been in charge from 1991 – winning just one FA Cup – but the Romanian's failure to bring major silverware proved to be his undoing. His departure looked to have cleared the way for Attuquayefio to step in, until the 51-year-old's past scuppered the move.
The Phobians started that season like an angry Mother Confessor, 'confessing' every opponent before them. They ruthlessly dominated and battered opposition sides into submission. Hearts won each of their first seven games of the 2000 league season, including a 4-0 rout of bitter rivals Asante Kotoko. Their winning run was finally halted on matchday eight when they drew 1-1 at Power FC.
The 64 Battalion, however, went unbeaten in the first round of the league, winning 14 out of 15 games, scoring an impressive 39 goals, conceding just eight. The league was virtually won at this point, with Goldfields trailing by 16 points in second-place and Kotoko further behind by a whopping 18 points.
Although a rotational Hearts team was underperforming in the league, the story was totally different in the cup competitions. Attuquayefio and the 64 Battalion recorded narrow wins over Hasaacas, BA United and Dawu Youngsters, to set up an exciting final in the FA Cup against Okwawu United.
In Africa, too, Hearts were crashing all before them. They defeated Guinea's AC Haroya and DC Motema Pembe from DR Congo to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League. Paired in Group B with Lobi Stars, Jeanne d'Arc and Egyptian giants Al Ahly, the Phobians finally navigated their way to the final of the Champions League. And they did it in style: Hearts were unbeaten in the group, securing 14 from 18 points, scoring 12 goals and conceding just five.
With this, they set up a mouthwatering final against Tunisian heavyweights Esperance. With two crucial finals to come in the space of 28 days, there couldn't have been a better moment for Attuquayefio and his charges to finally write their names in gold. On 19 November, Hearts won a second successive double under Attuquayefio, recording a hard-fought 2-0 win over Okwawu United in the FA Cup final, Addo and Osei Kuffour getting the goals.
Accra Hearts of Oak remains the only football club in West Africa to have won a Continental Treble.
(A level 300 student, GIJ)
Source: Andrews Adunkwah.
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