Mark Noonan Outlines Hearts of Oak Vision
Mark Noonan does not mince words about what trying to turn Accra Hearts of Oak back into a major force in Ghanaian and African football on and off the field entails.
It’s been two month since the American was appointed as the Phobians’ Chief Executive, and arrives at his Adabraka office everyday completely focused on transforming a hugely successful but struggling club.
“So far so good,” he tells KweséESPN. “It certainly is a challenge every day.”
The challenge of reviving a club that’s over 100 years old, with a passionate fanbase and ailing structures comes in many forms, according to Noonan.
“There are structures to be built, and to be perfectly candid, there are people who profess to love the club who act in contrary ways that I need to weed out,” he adds. “Everyday, I get smarter.”
He certainly needs to get grasp on the task at hand – and quickly. Hearts of Oak are a complex club; for over 100 years, it has been a huge presence in Ghanaian football and on the African continent.
They have twenty Ghana Premier League titles and, in 2000, achieved the treble of league, domestic cup and Africa Champions League success.
That history, Noonan says, is the reason why his job both exciting and difficult.
“I found a club that is a 107-year-old start-up company,” he continued. “It has incredible history, incredible brand equity, and incredible memories, but the professional infrastructure and the things required to compete in the modern football world are not here.
“That is what [club owner] Togbe Afede and the board brought me to do. It takes the people, it takes culture and it takes profit. Those things take time. That’s the reality.”
Noonan hopes the years he spent working as a Major League Soccer marketing executive, with the World Surf League, and in a lifetime spent in football will serve him well in his role.
It’s a role he landed after meeting Afede online.
“We met up in New York afterwards and had a long chat about football, about life about business,” he recounts. “Then I came over to see Hearts in the MTN FA Cup final and liked it very much.”
While the experience has been encouraging so far, Afede has been left in no doubt about the scale of the job.
Hearts have not won the league title since 2009, they don’t have a training facility they can call their own and the club faces a battle to keep their best players as competition from other African leagues intensifies.
“People have long memories,” Noonan proceeded. “A lot has happened in 18 years. There has been degradation of facilities and of talent.
“We are not going to be able to get that back straightway. There are no early fixes. We need the right technical people. We need a playing philosophy that permeates bottom to top.”
Noonan has seen the contrasting emotions in Hearts at close range.
One moment, the fans were agitated, unhappy and frustrated after a draw against Bechem United, and the next, delighted after victory over arch-rivals Asante Kotoko.
“It is interesting how passions can turn quickly here,” he says. “We saw that we played a match and tied against Bechem and our supporters attacked our team bus.
“At the same venue against Kotoko, the reaction was so incredible. I can understand a lot of the pain after that match but that is not what we would want the club to be and not something we want to see.”
The administrator is hoping to channel that passion in the right way, and sees the planned Pobiman Training Complex as key to laying the structures that will allow the club to become competitive again on every level.
“It will be a game-changer,” he continued, “not just for Hearts, but for Ghanaian football.”
The Pobiman project, which will include a stadium for Hearts plus a training complex, has been on paper for about twenty years without ever getting off the ground.
In that period, the ownership structure has changed, and chief executives have been fired at will, but Noonan is keen to enjoy a long tenure at the club.
“I’m not here on vacation,” he concluded. “I am committed to this long term as long as the club will have me.”