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Opinions of Sunday, 3 July 2016

Columnist: Kwame Dwomoh-Agyeman

Much ado about Kenichi – The sad end of a loved gaffer

Twenty-six points from a possible 45, a fourth place finish at the end of 15 grueling matches, an impeccable away form unmatched by many in recent times, a fans favourite.

His stock seemed to be rising by the day. Yes, his name is Kenichi Yatsuhashi, and that is only a gentle reminder and for those without any specific sporting interests, he was head Coach of Accra Hearts of Oak until just over 48 hours ago.


From relegation certainty to just about surviving the Ghana Premier League, it was obvious going into the new season that the Phobians needed a change in their technical direction.

Coaches Herbert Addo and Dauda Lutterodt were tasked to shape the fortunes of the side following the sacking of tough-talking David Duncan earlier that season. The sacking of the latter would significantly affect the fortunes of the side such that but for some incredible legal gymnastics in picking up 3 points from their eternal rivals Kotoko, Accra Hearts of Oak were goners. Yes, candidates for relegation, a certainty going into the final few matches of last season.

The world and many a fan of the club woke up to the strange appointment of a certain Kenichi Yatsuhashi in October 2015. Sure the Phobians were going to announce a new manager for the upcoming season but Kenichi Yatsuhashi? Where did that come from? A not too inspiring CV only led to management being trolled for such a “ridiculous” appointment and that to be fair was a case of their vociferous fans being charitable.

Why a club with the accolade of ‘Continental Club Masters’ would go in for a youth development manager rather than an experienced head was baffling to say the least. The appointment had been made. It was up to the club to back the new manager with funds and the fans to troop to the stadium to cheer the side on match days.


His first official assignment was the G6 Invitational that was held at Essipong as a curtain raiser to the season. How the Phobians were roped in in itself was as farcical as Kenichi being tasked to win the tourney. A poor outing in Sekondi only got the vociferous and demanding fans calling for the head of the new gaffer. Had the right choice been made? A question that would have played on the minds of many a management member during those trying moments. Was the appointment turning out to be a wrong one? Two defeats in friendly internationals against Al Ittihad of Libya only heightened the anxiety surrounding his appointment. Something had to be done. A new season was looming and these performances only suggested worrying times ahead. The Japanese-American though had other ideas though.


I recall speaking to quite a number of Phobian fanatics at the start of the season and their expectations as well as that of the new coach. Pretty predictable, and to an extent, comical. “Why on earth would we go for a Japanese? Is he here to teach the lads the art of self defence or what? Quipped some of these faithfuls. A not too impressive win against New Edubiase on Match day one didn’t seem to turn any heads. The fans wanted more. The results in the next four games though were stunning. A 2-0 win at the Tarkwa TNA Park, where the Phobians had never won against Medeama set the tone for other fine results including a drama filled 3-2 win against Inter Allies at Tema. 13 points from a possible 15 points changed every negative appreciation of the gaffer. He was the best manager in the world for the Phobian family. He had succeeded in bringing the ever demanding fans back to the stadium. Record gate proceeds had management smiling all the way to the bank. It was a great time to be a Phobian again.


Life they say is full of surprises and these surprises someway somehow made their way to the camp of the Phobians on Match day 6. A stunning 3-1 reverse against league Leaders Wa All Stars at the Accra Sports Stadium on the back of two successive draws against Techiman City and WAFA had the critics in full swing again. For them, the manager only flattered to deceive with his early season form. A win at Obuasi on Match day 9 where they had not won in nine years got the fans believing again. The eternal super clash against Kotoko was on the horizon. How he would love a win on such an emotionally charged fixture. An Abdoulaye Soulama blunder would conspire to cost the Phobians all three points on the day, the loss too hard to take by the fanatics who had thronged the Accra Sports Stadium believing Kenichi was the man to make things happen. The Phobians were reeling on the couch. Further poor performances in subsequent games only intensified talk the manager was simply failing to grapple with the demands of the club. The club only picked up a mere 13 points from a possible 30 in their last 10 games of the first round. The early season form had surely been obliterated by their opponents.


Rumour’s have it that this startling decline in the team’s fortunes led to consistent exchanges of unprintable words at the clubs secretariat with some board members unhappy with their “employees” choice of words and actions at meetings. The battle lines had been drawn between management on one hand and the coach on the other. “Amicable settlements” were said to have been reached as the club clearly shied away from rocking the boat and pressing the panic button, or at worst sack the manager for his transgressions. After all, this was a manager with such high approval ratings and one who had this same management smiling to the bank after home games. The fans were vocal in crediting the coach with their return to the stadium. The under currents existed though as both parties tried to accommodate each other. After all, the club was only a mere two points away from league leaders Wa All Stars and in 4th place and tied on points with Kotoko and Aduana Stars. All the talk was that of a manager earning his wages. He was staying no matter what.


I honestly do not recall how often Kenichi was said to have been sacked by the club as it turned out to be one of such farcical proportions in the days leading up to his eventual departure. Guess only Jose Mourinho in his second spell at Chelsea or Louis van Gaal last season at Old Trafford were said to be on the verge of losing their jobs God knows how many times before it eventually happened.


He had been preparing the team for the second round of the season that we knew. What outsiders did not know was a supposed conversation between the coach and former Managing Director Gerald Ankrah. According to Kenichi, a verbal agreement had been reached with the former MD to undertake a course at seasons’ end. Normal in every environment for staff to enhance their profile but there was a challenge with this one. The earlier agreement was considered with the thought of the GPL being over at the time. As fate would have it though, legal issues affected the start of the new season culminating in a late start and eventually affecting Keni’s coaching program. With the current management averse to the idea of a manager leaving for a “mere” 25 days never mind that inuring to the benefit of the club in the long term, it simply would not be considered. Something had to give. Kenichi had to go. He had lost the support of key board members who would not support him this time.


An emotional Keni told Class Sports last Monday June 20 he was sad to be leaving the side. The emotion was all over him. His voice choking as he spoke. He had done his part. Got the fans back to the stadium. Got the players to play for him. Got management laughing all the way to the bank after home games. The fans have naturally not been excited by these developments. The world awaits who the next manager would be. Sergio Traguil he is.

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