For two players, Saturday afternoon’s crucial relegation match between West Ham and Swansea means more than two sets of fans and two clubs fighting to stay in the Premier League: it is about family ties, former affiliations and split loyalties.
The Ayew brothers — Andre, 27, the West Ham winger, and Jordan, 25, the Swansea forward — have met as opponents before but never with such significance riding on the result, where top-flight futures hold far greater importance than brotherly bragging rights.
The game will divide a nation back home in Ghana, where 27 million people live and breathe the siblings’ every move. And in their family of Ghanaian football royalty, the presence of the pair on opposing teams usually creates a split, but with Swansea in the bottom three Andre believes his younger brother will sway the support.
‘Because of the situation they will be more behind Swansea than us,’ Andre concedes, explaining that he has no rivalry with his younger brother yet football has forced them apart.
‘We are very close,’ Andre says. ‘We try to help each other, to see what we can do better. We talk about everything.’
The pair grew up in the shadow of their father Abedi, nicknamed ‘Pele’ and considered one of the most-iconic African footballers ever. The family tree stretches further: uncles Kwame and Sola were both Ghana internationals, as is elder brother Ibrahim, a defensive midfielder.
But the conflict of emotions reaches beyond family for Andre. He has a burning desire to win for West Ham, but wishes no harm to friends and colleagues at his former club Swansea, who brought him to the Premier League from Marseille in 2015 and afforded him the Premier League exposure that convinced West Ham to pay a club-record £20.5million for him last summer.
His connection with the Welsh club is such that he almost walked into the home dressing room when West Ham visited the Liberty Stadium back in December. Andre wants them to stay up, he says, but his goals could contribute to their demise.
‘[I want them] to win — after the West Ham game!’ he says.
‘They struggled at the beginning of the season but look at them since the new manager. You can sense something new is coming and hopefully they will stay up. It is a club I really enjoyed. I like the club, the people, the fans. I enjoyed my stay there and got to know people I have stayed in contact with.’
The Ayew family may be backing Jordan for 90 minutes but West Ham are only five points above their opponents and on a run of five successive defeats. Another will drag them into the relegation fight.
‘We are playing well in periods but it is up and down,’ Andre admits.’We have not been consistent enough to expect something like last season.
‘We have played some great football but made mistakes. We have a great manager [Slaven Bilic] and he knows what he is talking about. The players here like him and want to do it for him and the club.’
The current plight is hurting West Ham as much as it is their counterparts in Wales, but they may not realise that Ghana is sharing their pain, too. Andre can walk around London relatively unbothered, but in Ghana he is the equivalent of David Beckham
‘They put themselves in your body and feel your pain or feel your joy,’ he explains.
‘We have a lot of pressure playing in that. You’re an important person for your people. You’re not just a player: everything you do is watched. In Africa we like to touch, we like to feel people, it’s not just to ask for an autograph.
‘You feel the pressure. You know they’re so proud to see you, so proud switching on the TV to see you play. You don’t just play for yourself, you play for your whole country.
‘When I was at Swansea the whole of Ghana were Swansea supporters. It’s the same now with West Ham.’
There could be worse times ahead for Andre or Jordan — and their fans in Ghana — but only after they meet on Saturday will one be able to console the other.
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