Kim Grant’s arrival at Hearts as the club’s next manager and technical director was received with a pandemic of astonishment.
What had their leaders seen to want to take Grant to Accra over any highly-rated manager and the fans against his appointment echoed those very sentiments only with the added caveat of few neutral football lovers knowing barely who he was.
Contrary to public opinion, the Coach has brought a fresh new outlook to a once looked fragile for most part of the decade. In the former Black Stars forward’s setup, players have improved both technically and tactically, with solid defensive principles creating the ideal platforms for midfielders and attackers to excel. Grant’s team generally defend well. He’s a coach in the purest form.
Grant’s methods have brought style as well as confidence into a team that was bereft of inspiration. His Hearts side are thrilling to watch, playing brave, attacking football with an emphasis on quick passing and heavy pressing high up the pitch.
What is even more appealing is Grant’s reformative influence on the training ground. He has been credited with the transformation of players like Benjamin Afutu, Daniel Sarkodie, Raddy Ovouka and Robert Addo, who were deemed by many as simply not good enough for the club; error-prone and lacking the ability to play Grant’s fast- passing style.
Instead of sidelining them, he kept faith in them and after countless hours of joyful practice and play, the aforementioned players have become mainstays in the Hearts team that is currently placed first in the Zone B of the NC Special Competition with some impressive performances and results.
The Phobians have won 7, drawn 1 and lost three scoring 16 and conceding 7 in the process. His obsessive attention to detail goes beyond moving in tandem; meticulously preparing his players for their individual opponents.
In fact, a trait which in no doubt has attracted the club is his notorious dislike of the transfer market. The prospect of delivering signings for a coach to work with, rather than him meddling in the selection process, has suited the club perfectly. Millions have been wasted on players who barely grace the pitch.
The gaffer repeatedly discussed the gaping hole in the playing body when he assumed office. Results – and the performances behind them – served to prove he had a point, the backline looking alarmingly poor as they concede goals and chances at an unsustainable rate; the midfield lacking the steam to support both the defence and the attack and the attackers’ profligacy in the final third.
Virtually unknown until Kim Grant’s arrival at the club, Manaf Umar and Michelle Sarpong have instantly warmed themselves into the hearts of the Hearts fans and neutral football lovers alike with his consistent spellbindingly performances while married to a nonchalance action style.
At Hearts, there is an excellent spine for him to build around. Richmond Ayi has been superb this term and is arguably one of the best goal custodians domestically (His recent Black Meteors call-up corroborates this claim), while Alhassan Mohammed is a confident ball-playing defender who is certainly thriving in Grant’s more progressive system.
Benjamin Afutu is the sort of athletic box-to-box midfielder Grant loves, with Sarkodie complementing his effort in a double pivot system while Manaf operates as the 3rd midfielder in Grant’s preferred 4-2-3-1. What's more, full-backs are given the freedom to bomb forward by him, meaning Christopher Bonney and William Dankyi have the chance to return to their best form, plus there is plenty of energy and determination in the exciting attacking quartet of Fatawu Mohammed, Manaf Umar and Michelle Sarpong behind Joseph Esso
Things haven’t been rosy though as he encountered difficulties in settling on a system that would suit the available materials. This led to his side losing to Elmina Sharks and Karela FC. This factor only served to heap pressure on Kim Grant, and reports suggested the next two games would be decisive in terms of his future.
Something had to change from that inept display, and Kim Grant shook up both his formation and lineup. Gone were the relatively diffident duo of Malik Akowuah and Kojo Obeng Junior in a 4-3-3 formation, the boss instead opting for a 4-2-3-1 with robust and mature midfield duo Aminu Alhassan and Benjamin Afutu protecting the defence.
This allowed the trio of Abdul Fatawu, Michelle Sarpong and Manaf Umar to provide striker Joseph Esso with plenty of chances, the Phobians creating no less than 10 chances in a 2-1 win over Ebusua Dwarfs.
The game in Accra saw the Phobians look laboured, cumbersome but also powerful. Through sheer will power, they navigated a difficult tie and gained three points.
“Aside from experiments, I was trying to find the right solutions,” the Hearts coach admitted after that win when questioned over his previous struggles. “It’s not easy to experiment at Hearts after all, but I was trying not to completely revoke my 4-3-3, instead of making a few adjustments. Now I think we’ve found a good system and shape, so I’ll modify a few players, but try to give a sense of consistency to the approach from game to game.”
Having set out his stall from the get-go is a positive sign at a club where the fans can place immense pressure on those in charge.
His partnership with the technical team and the Playing body has allowed him to grow like never before, but he will also need that toughness in order to face the criticism that will inevitably come when result doesn’t go as planned.
This is a club in no-mans-land, stuck in the purgatorial space between the top African greats and the rest, needing big ideas and bold tactics if they are to take the next huge step.
Kim Grant is the man to do it.
Not only has he answered the fans' complaints by bringing an attacking brand to Hearts, but his particular tactical preferences ensured he only needed to make minor changes to the playing staff rather than the complete overhaul that many had predicted. It is hard to think of a Hearts manager in recent memory who has enjoyed a good bond with the supporters.
The spirit of many a Phobian is stirred and things are beginning to assert- rekindling the love of many a Phobian who have been sobbing for a decade now.
Kim Grant’s ability to dream is what has endeared him to the Hearts faithful and that could be the key to his success at the club.