Is it time for Hekari to move on from Jerry Allen?

Hekari definitively did not have the best squad possible during the OFC Champions League 2020 – management mistakes did not allow the well-known coach from Solomon Islands Jerry Allen to have a balanced squad in the biggest challenge of Hekari United in the season; wrong choices made Hekari pay a huge price at OFC Champions League.

But the head coach of the most important and successful team of Papua New Guinea is not free of critics: his team turned very previsible, monotonous and recently lost the top-spot at PNG National Soccer League after suffering a surprising defeat against the rock-bottom Star Mountain FC side.

Star Mountain, under the guidance of newly appointed coach Percy Mataio, was able to defeat Hekari United and leave the last place of the table – sending the team coached by Allen to third place in the process. Lots of questions were raised regarding the recent poor performances of Hekari United both at national and regional stages. Oceania Football Center already pointed decisive wrong choices of Hekari United management that led to a frustrating campaign at OFC Champions League, problems that surely did not help Allen’s team performance, but he has a significant share of fault from the recent disappointing results: Hekari has to learn from their mistakes while they still have time to change.

Hekari United was unable to beat Star Mountain FC with two full-professional players in their squad: Erick Joe and Vinicius Reis. Both Brazilians played alongside the likes of Michael Foster, Daniel Joe, Otto Kusunan, Kolu Kepo and Ati Kepo – all of them are Papua New Guinea internationals. Allen counted on two new players for the clash; Carlos Onne and Gregory Togubai who had less than a week training with their new team.

See more:
Percy Mataio and the shocking win of his Star Mountain over Hekari.

The reality of football in Papua New Guinea and a few countries in Oceania is marked by a sensible problem that is still to be completely fixed: the players play like individuals rather than a team. If the individuality of your players is set to be difference from your team to the opposition, the team who has the best technical players will be very close to win the contest. In Papua New Guinea, Hekari United is – alongside Lae City FC – the club that counts on the best financial background; it allows them to have a very good scope of players – it directly means, in the football context of PNG where the individuality is the decider of the tournaments, Hekari and Lae will compete for the major glories as history clearly shows it. This is what’s happening in the recent years: the likes of Michael Foster, Raymond Gunemba, Ishmael Pole, Daniel Joe and Emmanuel Simon play in one of the teams mentioned – the Kapuls is made up by a combination of Lae City and Hekari United players, with some rare foreign-based players and a few representatives of other PNG National Soccer League franchises.

It goes exactly to the point: the coaches of Hekari and Lae are not the responsible for the success of their sides – but yes, their financial background that permits them to bring the best players of the country and region. A testament to the statement made earlier is only Lae City and Hekari United count on foreign players in the current season of the national league and that should not come as a surprise. Even the squad that won the OFC Champions League in 2009/10 season was made up of the best players in the Pacific and the best players for the roles they played in.

This season, we have seen that Hekari has struggled against tactically good sides in the competition – Vitiaz United, Tusbab Stallions and new Star Mountain of Percy Mataio. We can all agree that the same was witnessed in their campaign at OFC Champions League couple of weeks ago. This also goes on to explain why the team has had multiple failed OFC Champions League campaigns after the breakthrough in 2009/10 and have lost the national crown to archrivals Lae City Dwellers – now known as Lae City FC – who won the grand final match last year while playing three attacking midfielders in their side – something Jerry Allen failed to leverage to his benefit.

Now, all of these learnings have a common denominator: the head coach Jerry Allen is not doing a good job at the moment and at least for the last few seasons with the club. Although Allen has a colorful CV which boasts of having won more domestic titles than any other coach and taking Hekari to the Club World Cup in 2010, he has an obvious approach which is stricted to change players game-to-game. If something does not go as planned, he drops certain players to the bench and gives the opportunity to others. There is no tactical set-play change judging from the way the team has performed this season which includes the OFC Champions league. Indeed, it seems that Hekari players do not know what to do when having the ball and they often look for their import midfielder from Brazil Vinicius Reis to spark some magic with the ball when attacking. Out of the five goals scored by Hekari United in their campaign at OFC Champions League, two came from set pieces, and three from defensive mistakes from the opposition team.

If Allen’s team is very predictable in the attack which is another department that has not improved since the OFC Champions League, they seem to be a mess defensively – and it is much due the lack of protection their midfielders provide to the last defensive line. In their last game against Star Mountain FC, there were no specialist defensive midfielders in the pitch in the tactical system of Hekari United and Michael Foster, one of the club’s obvious choices for the attacking midfield role was played out of positon in the defensive midfield role. This is another tactical flaw that was also very obvious at OFC Champions League and made Hekari pay the price – the only host team that did not qualify for the next round.

Another interesting factor is that the players play too far from each other and the game is very much concentrated in the middle of the park. The lines are not stretched to allow the playmaking players to have more passing options. The lack of movement in the final third often makes the offensive options of Hekari very predictable – depending on an individual player of Vinicius, the Kepo brothers or Patrick Aisa. The concerning fact is that the players are still not combining well and we are already in the second part of the season – Hekari cannot depend for long entirely on the quality of their players, they need to get organized in the field of play to win games, if they want to reatain the national title.

Hekari United still has time to take back its 1st spot position in the process; they can even still win the league playing as they are due the big gap of individual quality they have in comparison to other teams in the competition, but this will never be enough for a good campaign at regional and international levels. The team struggles against well-organized sides, they lack of ideas to break defensive systems and they allow their defenders to be direct attacked in counter-attacks – they recently suffered a second goal against Star Mountain just after leveling the score line which is also what happened against Eastern Suburbs AFC in the OFC Champions League couple of weeks back.

The lack of ideas, the headstrong game system of Hekari United is hidden by the quality of their players that are able to fix certain problems of their tactical depth, but when they are not in a good day, they will suffer defeats as it happened at OFC Champions League and recently against Star Mountain FC. The problems cannot keep hidden – they have to come up as soon as possible – for Hekari United: time is ticking away and the red alert is already noisy.

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