I wasn’t the only one who listened on in bewilderment as Ghana took on Chile at the PPL Park in Philadelphia at the end of February.I feel for the poor commentator and I dread to imagine to the look on his face as his gentle producer approached him calmly afterwards to inform him that the young left sided Black Star was not, in fact, Asamoah Gyan, as the unfortunate fellow had insisted on calling him, but Kwadwo Asamoah, already approaching 50 caps, and a well established player in his own right.
The commentator had insisted on announcing ‘Gyan’ proudly and profoundly every time Asamoah touched the ball or found himself in space. You can just imagine the chap’s reaction to being told he had misidentified the player for the entire match: ‘Not Gyan? Not Asamoah Gyan? Then where was he?’
Yes, exactly! Where was Asamoah Gyan, where is he, and, more to the point, where exactly is he going?
Gyan is in danger; in danger of being one of those ‘what ifs?’ of the footballing tapestry, in danger of being remembered for being a quitter at the Stadium of Light, and for a career with the Ghana team peaking with three missed penalties, on three big nights. Gyan is in danger of destroying his legacy, and losing the chance to lead a truly exciting generation of Black Stars on towards future challenges.
I begin with the third of these aforementioned penalties; Bata, February 8th, an Afcon semi final against Zambia, a place in the Libreville final at stake.
Ghana were awarded a penalty in the first half. A penalty so early in the game, particularly early in a game only settled in the dying minutes, might not be the natural point to consider when analysing the game’s outcome. Inevitably, however, it has been, and Gyan’s miss – an indecisive shot struck not quite far enough from Kennedy Mweene – led directly to the striker calling time on his international career.
Following the miss, and the subsequent defeat, the Ghanaian people seemed to close in on the team. As has been the case in various African nations following tournament disappointments (see Nigeria 2010 among others) a spate of finger pointing, name calling and vowed retribution ensued. This year it was Ghana’s turn, and a litany of complaints followed the team’s exit; murmurs of black magic, an embattled Serbian coach unsure of his future, vitriolic public reaction, and then Gyan’s retirement.
I imagine the history behind the latest miss wasn’t lost on the majority of fans. Cast your minds back to South Africa, 2010, the dying embers of a quarter final, an African team, on African soil, the whiff of the semis thudding against the back of their nostrils, Uruguay on the ropes, Suarez in disgrace, and Gyan fluffed it…and fluffed it spectacularly, blazing the ball against the cross bar and up into the Sowetan sky.
I recall that miss as perhaps the stand out moment of the tournament, I enjoyed the match memorably on a balmy evening in Kensington, yet cursed irreverently at Gyan’s miss. At the time the narrative was of Gyan the courageous, Gyan the brave, Gyan who stepped up moments after to open scoring in the shootout. It certainly was brave, it certainly was bold, and Gyan deserves the sympathy, but I can’t help think, as he reflects on his career many years from now, he will recall that miss, the ball sailing off, head in hands, and the collective groan of a continent, as a devastating moment of loss. Marcel Desailly, bursting blood vessels in the ITV studio, would surely agree.
I believe that there is more to come from this Black Stars team. Whilst Mark Gleeson, among others, suggested they ‘ran out of steam’ during the Cup of Nations, I was impressed by their dominance in the earlier rounds of the tournament; particularly the dynamism of young Kwadwo Asamoah, the emergence of John Boye, and the defiance of Anthony Annan, playing on despite his mother’s death.
It appeared to be in the final third that Ghana were unable to convince. Blogs such as ZonalMarking.net identified that whilst this was a team suited to the counter attack, they lacked the creativity and attacking verve to truly devastate inferior opposition, and to capitalise on the possession they were inevitably afforded in the continental arena. The premature retirement of Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng, one of the first to console and encourage Gyan after his World Cup miss, has compounded this lack of cutting edge. It is an issue that will not be helped by Gyan’s self-imposed international absence.
The third penalty miss I mentioned, and the first chronologically, came in the 2006 World Cup, and Ghana’s group defeat of the Czech Republic. Here, the miss was inconsequential, with Gyan being one of two scorers to secure an historic 2-0 victory in the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne. His goal in this game was also the fastest in the tournament, coming only 68 seconds into the contest.
I close with this memory because it was the tournament, and perhaps the match, which first brought this exciting, attacking player to the collective perception of the footballing fraternity. Despite having already enjoyed several years prior with Udinese, this was the summer when the name ‘Asamoah Gyan’ and his slightly incongruous number 3 shirt began to mean something to the casual fans from disparate football upbringings.
I, for one, was enchanted by the pleasure with which he approached the game, his tireless running, his inventive movement, and of course, his dancing celebration – one of the ‘feel good’ moments (excuse the cliché) of that World Cup. I was lucky enough to witness all of this first hand as I watched Sunderland/Tottenham at the Stadium of Light in February 2011.
Gyan’s time at Sunderland, like his international career to date, started brightly, filled with promise, only t0 dissipate into bad feeling and disappointment. The player is currently on loan at Al Ain in the UAE. The facts still aren’t completely clear regarding the move; a falling out with Steve Bruce perhaps, sadness at the departure of Darren Bent, an offer the club simply couldn’t refuse? It may never be cleared up. There were rumours of Martin O’Neill wanting to bring Gyan back to the North East, and whilst I would enjoy seeing his strong attacking vitality and opportunistic finishing once more in the Premier League, it is leading the line for Ghana where I really want to see Baby Jet back.
This is a young Ghana team, but an immensely talented collection of players, plying their trade in leagues across the world, and for a number of Europe’s top clubs. With the indefatigable Stephen Appiah seemingly fatigued for good, and with Michael Essien spending more time in the physio’s room that out of it in West London, the team craves a figurehead, a unifying totem to lead them through World Cup Qualification and onto future glory. I hope that Asamoah Gyan can be that man, and can reinvigorate a legacy in grave danger of being lost.