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Samartex feat, wake-up call for Kotoko, Hearts

The deafening carnival that characterised FC Samartex 1996’s official Crowning as the 2023/2024 Ghana Premier League champions in Samreboi last Sunday is expected to be a wake-up call for sleeping giants, Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak, to rise from their slumber.


The flamboyant coronation of the new kings of Ghanaian football, following a 2-0 victory over visiting Accra Lions in the ceremonial match at the Nsenkyire Sports Arena re-echoed the emerging trend in the local premier league.

Hitherto, the Premier League title was the exclusive right of Kotoko and Hearts who till date share the most honours between them. However, Samartex’s historic feat reinforced the new dynamics that is gradually reducing Kotoko and Hearts to toothless bulldogs who have virtually lost how they were dreaded by other clubs. 

Though Asante Kotoko (26 titles) and Hearts of Oak (20 titles) have been the dominant force since the first league championship in 1957, the past 15 years have seen the rise of single-owner clubs 

like Aduana FC, Berekum Chelsea, Wa All Stars (renamed Legon Cities), Dreams FC, and FC Samartex, while many traditional clubs have lost their influence in Ghanaian football due to a multiplicity of factors, including challenges with their ownership structure and a lack of clear leadership.

Just as Aduana FC won the 2009 Premier League as debutants, FC Samartex also made history in just two seasons in the top flight, as the league trophy made a journey through the Western Region when Tarkwa-based Medeama SC surrendered the title to their cross-regional rivals. The shift in power from Tarkwa to Samreboi, a town famed for its vast timber resources and thriving industry built around Samartex Timber and Plywood Limited, signalled a new era and a seismic shift in Ghanaian football.

Last season, the festive atmosphere that was witnessed in Samreboi, a town famed for its vast cocoa and timber resources, was on full display at the T&A Park in Tarkwa when Medeama Sporting Club, two-time FA Cup champions in recent times, also made history by lifting their maiden league title. 

As if  by design, both Hearts and Kotoko were completely out of contention for the title last season. Worst of all, longsuffering Hearts fans, especially had to wait till the final day in the last two seasons not to savour another league glory but to witness the survival of their idol club in the elite division. How the mighty have fallen.

While Hearts barely survived relegation by the skin of their teeth this time around, their city rivals and two-time league champions, Great Olympics, could not survive the tsunami, leading to their awkward landing in the ‘wilderness’ once again.

Though the league is over, the damage it caused was too debilitating for the followers of the three giants to grapple with as they continue to lick their wounds, hoping for a sudden turnaround to restore the status quo. 

As the grief persists in their respective camps, however, it remains to be seen what Kotoko and Hearts will do in the coming weeks in a frantic bid to pacify their supporters in the new season scheduled to kick off on September 15.

The Cinderella story of sensational Samartex was sharply contrasted by the rather sombre and reflective mood in Accra, Sunyani and Tamale, where local giants Olympics, Bofoakwa Tano and Real Tamale United, respectively suffered relegation to the Division One League after an abysmal season which saw the three traditional clubs finish in the bottom positions on the league log.

Success story

FC Samartex finished the season on a brilliant note with 19 wins, four draws, and 11 losses — a dominant run which saw them emerge as the highest-scoring side in the competition with 45 goals, averaging 1.32 goals per game.

For the past league champions, only Hearts, Kotoko, Aduana FC, Berekum Chelsea and Medeama SC will compete in the Premier League next season, with most of the traditional clubs around which Ghanaian football thrived many decades ago, such as Sekondi Hasaacas, Sekondi Eleven Wise, Cape Coast Dwarfs, Kumasi Cornerstone, Brong Ahafo United, Ho VORADEP, among others, now relegated to the lower divisions or are defunct.

FC Samartex's success in the just-ended league was achieved through strong leadership marked by strategic brilliance, improved team management, and unyielding home support. Wresting the league title from their regional rivals, Medeama SC, was planned and well executed at both the technical and operational levels, as the 'Timber Giants' dominated the competition in a manner that surprised many connoisseurs of the game.

The 'Timber Giants' experienced a quicker-than-expected turnaround after finishing eighth in their maiden premiership season. With a new head coach, Nurudeen Amadu, in charge, FC Samartex made a slow start to the campaign, with three wins in their first five matches but transformed their home ground into a fortress throughout the season, winning 17 out of 18 matches (they had a winning percentage of 93.75 at their Samreboi base). Coach Amadu's side ascended to the top position on the league log in the 14th week and maintained a stranglehold on that position throughout the second round. They stamped their authority on the competition and clinched the title, with two games to spare, in a manner that surprised football connoisseurs, especially as giants Hearts, Kotoko, and title holders, Medeama, struggled for consistency.

The club's president, Dr Richard Duah Nsenkyire, whose vision and leadership drove their ambitions, attributes their remarkable triumph to a robust recruitment policy, intensive pre-season preparation, and the integration of performance-monitoring technology, among other support systems. The league victory, he admitted, might have come much earlier than the club's strategic plan to dominate Ghana football by their fifth year in the elite division.

"The league victory came early because we gave ourselves five years of continuous improvement, scouting for the best players as part of our strategy to dominate Ghana football," he stated. This approach was bolstered by advice from Asante Kotoko's head coach, Prosper Narteh Ogum, who was close to managing the newly crowned champions until he made an eleventh-hour move back to Kotoko. However, he provided crucial insights on player recruitment and overall team strategy.
From technical changes, which saw the recruitment of Coach Amadu, strategic recruitment and early preparation, improved club structure and team management, improved player welfare, and effective stakeholder engagement and supporter mobilisation, there was a clear blueprint that drove this success, which has laid a marker for rival clubs in the coming season.

After their mid-table performance last season, the club's management and board reviewed their performance and made significant technical and managerial changes to reflect their leader's vision for growth and to ensure an improved campaign in the 2023-24 season.

He explained to the Daily Graphic that the club's success was rooted in scouting and acquiring the best talent to build a competitive team, and comprehensive pre-season preparation, focusing on intensive exercises away from distractions. "We improved upon certain things we did wrongly last season and prioritised preparation for the league by having an eight-week pre-season campaign at the Safari Valley Resort," Dr Nsenkyire said. This preparation included participation in the Nsenkyire Cup, a pre-season tournament that helped identify and address the team’s weaknesses ahead of the league competition.


Technological integration

Technological integration played a significant role in the team’s performance with the use of tracking vests to assess players' performance at training and the integration of video analysis and other tools that allowed the coaching staff to monitor and enhance individual player performances to devise effective game strategies using data-driven decision-making.
Prioritising the health and nutrition of the players through improved medical support from the parent company's physician ensured the players were in peak physical condition, made quick recoveries from minor injuries, and were available throughout the season.

At FC Samartex, improved corporate governance this season played an important role in the team's success, with committee-based structures 

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