The appointment of Japanese trainer Kenichi Yatsuhashi brought a lot of buzz around Inter Allies.
Following his energizing stint with Hearts of Oak two seasons ago, his surprise return to the Ghana Premier League 17 months following his equally abrupt departure was welcome. Short stints with Nigerian Premier League side FC Ifeanyi Ubah in 2016 and Cambodian C-League club Tiger FC in 2017 did not yield the most spectacular of results, but he clearly wants to prove a point on his comeback.
Kenichi took over from Karim Zito, who'd handled the Tema-based side when they needed help out of the relegation zone. Once that task was done, Zito shunted to Dreams FC, and the Japanese-American came in with a mission.
“I know that expectations are high and people will be asking a lot of questions as to whether I can succeed like the first time, so that will put much pressure on me but I will be able to handle it because I live with pressure and it is my nature."
So far, it's been decent.
Improved league position
Inter Allies have finished 7th, 12th and 13th at the end the past three seasons, respectively. They've had mixed starts, too. Their predilection for flowing football, notwithstanding, it's fair to say Allies have struggled. They had to battle relegation last season following yet another poor start. In fact, last year by this time, they'd got just five points from six games, and were 13th on the table.
So, what has changed?
"There's more stability in the team," says George Addo Jr, a keen watcher of the side. "Kenichi came in early and has had time with the team in pre-season. Coach and management are also on one page, which has helped".
In fact, the previous seasons tell a better story of how well this current team have done. Two seasons ago, Allies were sixth with eight points going into week seven. Last season, they were 13th with five points at the same time in the season.
As we speak, Allies are fifth with nine points - their highest position in three seasons after six matchdays. It's not a fluke because the quality of opposition has only increased, not decreased. So it's got to be something else.
And that's progress.
Another factor is that they've done good business in the off season. The acquisitions done this time aligned with the needs of Yatsuhashi. There're the players bought, such as midfielder Baffour Gyawu (free transfer from Heart of Lions), striker Victorien Adebayor (from Niger and scouted at the last WAFU tournament held in Cape Coast), striker Effiong Nsungusi Jr, midfielder Afeez Olalekan and left back Samuel Ikele (all from Nigeria).
A huge challenge for this small club has been their business model - Allies are, essentially, a selling club. Kenichi has helped improve the situation by developing the young talents at the club. Those that have come through the team's academy wing, Accra Youth, include Samuel Bekoe, Daniel Amanfo, Mohammed Zakari and Fahd Ibrahim. They are forming the core of this new team, after coming through last season. And in the games so far, their understanding has been evident.
Physicality in style of play
There was a running joke years ago that Inter Allies were "a poor man's Barcelona". Short passes, quick one-twos and strong defensive midfields that aid attack with sublime through balls were commonplace. This season, however, the Kenichi factor has been evidenct, with an infusion of aggression. No shocks there, as he is a known exponent of physical conditioning of his teams.
Ask any of the sides that have played them, and you'd be told how - despite their relatively dimunitive statures - hard they play. Bechem United's coach, on the first day of the season, admitted to being surprised at how fit the Tema-side were in the game which finished 3-0 in Allies' favour. Victories against Liberty Professionals and WAFA also bore testimony to that.
Second half magic
A feature of the side have been how better they've seemed to play in the second half of games. It's a fact that's not lost on Felix Romark, co-editor of GHPL Live. "That's very true and the reason is that they look very fit so when their opponents get tired in the second half they take advantage of that."
Liberty Professionals coach Reginald 'Reggae' Boateng mentioned this when his side were beaten. "They took their chances, but in the second half I think we got a bit tired and that made the difference."
It's no coincidence that the bulk of their goals have come in the second halves.
Impressive home record
Of all 16 teams, Inter Allies have fourth best form at home, being unbeaten as they've won all three games.
This has not been typical of them. For example, in the 2014/15 season when Allies finished 7th, they won nine of 15 home games and lost once. The following season, they finished 12th, having won eight home matches and, again, losing once. Last season, they had an enviable home record, yet, ended up fighting relegation due to their bad away record. The club won ten matches at home but lost twice.
Can the coach turn Allies into another Hearts - who he left in fourth place after 15 matches - by the end of this season? If he does, they've got to start with a better away form this weekend against Medeama at the TNA Park.
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