There was something curious about Asamoah Gyan during Ghana’s camping period in Al Ain ahead of the 2017 Nation Cup. A few times he would be out in front of the Rotana Hotel alone, fiddling with his phone as most players do. Then a taxi pulls over, he gets in with Black Stars physical trainer Jamie Lawrence and then off he goes.
By the time the rest of the team arrives at the Al Ain Sports Complex, Gyan is sweating it off already, getting dragged all over the pitch by Lawrence and panting.
He looked like a man on a mission. He later explained the idea had been to be in perfect physical condition after period when he has been dogged by one injury after another. It looks like it has paid off.
In the first two first halves of the two games at AFCON 2017, the Ghana captain has looked up for it, making clever runs, pulling defenders into wide positions and generally putting himself about. Long gone are the overweight jibes. And when he positioned himself for that Jordan Ayew ball and headed into the net, he sealed a small place in history.
It was his eighth goal in Nations Cup history; the most by a Ghanaian player in that competition. It was the sixth straight tournament he had scored in, something achieved only by Samuel Eto’o. It adds to a goal scoring record for Ghana that is remarkable in every sense. He now has 47 goals in 95 matches and is also the highest scoring African at the world cup.
“We are lucky to have Gyan around. He is a great player and has contributed to the national team a lot. We have to encourage and honour him. He can’t be around forever but he is still doing what is important for Ghana football”, assistant Maxwell Konady, himself a prolific goal scorer in his days for Kumasi Asante Kotoko said.
It is hard to dispute that and maybe as we go into Gyan appreciation overdrive, it should provide a sense of perspective about our new found zealousness to criticise everything Jordan Ayew does. In every major tournament, Ghana football fans have had a favourite player they love to slam, criticise and sometimes knock down. It is a football thing. People love a villain and often it doesn’t take much effort to fall in that category.
Gyan was that man in 2008 in a well-documented story. He was five years into his international career, had shown signs of great form at the 2006 world cup and was expected to score the goals that fire Ghana to glory. When the first one went in from the penalty spot against Guinea, there was a sense that the floodgates had opened. Instead they stayed shut. He got into great positions and missed chance upon chance. Against Namibia he could have scored a hat trick and become a firm crowd favourite. Instead, he kept missing them and a nation that had assumed Namibia would be roasted found a scapegoat to channel their anger. It was messy, Gyan threatened to walk, changed his mind and stayed on but his confidence had taken a battering.
It took another two years before he came anywhere close to full acceptance. Before the start of the 2010 Nations Cup, we sat down for a chat in a resort in Nelspruit, South Africa where he spoke of how he would thrive he was fully fit. People can judge me now, he said. Three goals including two that knocked out Angola and Nigeria as Ghana clinched its best ever Nations Cup finish was Gyan’s best return in the tournament. Some months later, he would score the goals that took Ghana to the quarter final of the world cup including a stunning finish against USA and then break a continent’s heart with a last minute penalty miss that would have earned Africa its first ever world cup semi finals.
Gyan has always been the full package. Brilliant at times, a lethal finish, wasteful on occasions and infuriating on many occasions.
That complex make up is exposed even further when you look beyond his impressive Nations Cup numbers. He has played SIX nations cups and scored EIGHT goals. It is a good return but not great over a 26 game period. Except for Angola 2010, he has only scored once in five tournaments. He would also be haunted by the events of 2012, when his penalty miss proved costly as Ghana lost to Zambia.
While that has shaken the confidence occasionally, it has not killed his amazing spirit. He gets knocked down many times, he picks himself up and carries on.
Jordan Ayew can make do with that spirit and goal return. If there is anything that Jordan has in abundance, it is self-confidence. He walks around as if he has no care in the world, as if he has been begged to pull on the jersey. It ticks many people off the wrong way. But is he a good footballer? You bet he is. There is a reason three national coaches have stuck with him. They prioritise moments like he produced for Ghana against Mali over the misses as most smart football people would. Many of them would also have observed that getting flunked the way Jordan is comes with the terrain.
It just becomes a bit odd when it becomes people’s de facto mode against a player. In 2015, there was actually a whole national fuss over how he wears his shorts.
The only win Jordan Ayew can win is to play very well in every game. He can choose another route; make the final ball count, run around less as if he can solve every problem and prioritise scoring goals. Nothing impresses than numbers. He has a perfect example to learn from in his strike partner.