Saturday, February 28, 2015

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Asamoah Gyan: In Danger of a Legacy Lost

After three missed penalties and a self-imposed absence from the international game, is there a future for Ghana's national star?
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Asamoah Gyan (pictured) after his crucial penalty miss at the 2010 World Cup quarter final in South Africa.

There must have been a sense of bemusement amongst football fans watching Ghana’s match against Chile on television a few weeks ago. Contrary to the commentator’s persistent error, the young, left-sided Black Star was not Asamoah Gyan, but Kwadwo Asamoah.

The commentator had insisted on announcing “Gyan” loudly and profoundly every time Asamoah touched the ball or found himself in space. On being told he had misidentified the player for the entire match his reaction must have been: “Not Asamoah Gyan? Then where was he?”

Indeed, where was the dynamic talent and stature of Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan? And, more to the point, where is he going?

Missed opportunities

Gyan is in danger. He is in danger of being one of the countless “what ifs?” of the footballing tapestry, of being remembered as a quitter at Sunderland FC, and of being known for three missed penalties on three big nights for Ghana. Gyan is also in danger of losing the chance to lead a truly exciting generation of Black Stars on towards future challenges.

The most recent of Gyan’s missed penalties took place on February 8 against Zambia with a place in the final of the African Cup of Nations at stake.

Ghana was awarded a penalty in the first half. Despite it being so early in the game, it is Gyan’s indecisive shot struck not quite far enough from goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene on which many have focussed, and which directly led to the striker calling time on his international career.

Following the miss and subsequent defeat, the Ghanaian people seemed to close in on the team. As has been the case in various countries following tournament disappointments, a spate of finger pointing, name-calling and vowed retribution ensued. A litany of complaints followed the team’s exit; murmurs of black magic, an embattled Serbian coach unsure of his future, and vitriolic public reaction.

Flashbacks of South Africa

The history from before the latest miss has also not been forgotten by most fans. Almost two years earlier in the 2010 South Africa World Cup, Ghana was given an unbelievable opportunity to reach the semi-finals.

In the dying minutes of a quarter final, Uruguay were on the ropes, their striker Luis Suarez on the touchlines in disgrace after handballing on the goal-line, and Gyan – faced with the resulting penalty – fluffed it. He fluffed it spectacularly, blazing the ball against the crossbar and up into the Sowetan sky.

At the time the narrative had been of ‘Gyan the courageous’, ‘Gyan the brave’, ‘Gyan who got up again when he was knocked down to open scoring in the penalty shootout’. It certainly was brave and bold, and Gyan deserves sympathy.

But when he reflects on his career, he will undoubtedly recall the miss, the ball sailing off, the heads-in-hands of his teammates, the collective groan of a continent – a devastating moment of loss.

However, there is surely more to come from this Black Stars team. While Mark Gleeson suggested that they “ran out of steam” during the Africa Cup of Nations, their dominance in the earlier rounds of the tournament was impressive. The dynamism of young Kwadwo Asamoah, the emergence of John Boye, and the defiance of Anthony Annan playing on despite his mother’s death were heartening.

It appeared to be in the final third that Ghana was unable to convince. Blogs such as identified that, while 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. The premature retirement of AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng has compounded this lack of cutting edge. And it is an issue that will not be helped by Gyan’s self-imposed international absence.

Unfulfilled potential

The third penalty miss (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 Cologne. His goal in this game was also the fastest in the tournament, coming only 68 seconds into the contest.

To end with this memory is important 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 with Italian club Udinese, this was the summer when the name “Asamoah Gyan” and his slightly incongruous number 3 shirt began to mean something to casual fans from disparate football upbringings.

The pleasure with which he approached the game was enchanting. He ran tirelessly, his movement was inventive, and his dancing celebration provided one of the feel-good moments of the whole tournament.

Gyan’s time at Sunderland, like his international career to date, started brightly, only to 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 – could it have resulted from a falling out with manager Steve Bruce, sadness at the departure of former striking counterpart Darren Bent, or perhaps simply an offer the club could not refuse?

Second chances?

Now, there are rumours that Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill, who took over from Steve Bruce, wants to bring Gyan back to the North East. Whilst his strong attacking vitality and opportunistic finishing would be welcome in the Premier League, it is back leading the line for Ghana where he is perhaps needed most.

Ghana has a young team, but an immensely talented collection of players, plying their trade in leagues across the world, including 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 than out of it, the team craves a figurehead, a unifying totem to lead them through World Cup Qualification and on to future glory.

Asamoah Gyan can be that man, reinvigorating a legacy that is in grave danger of being lost.

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i live in the uk and don't know much about this writer hence i think he shouldn't to be allowed to showboat is verbal diarrhea to the world .If gyan was that good he would ve been bought buy a better team like manu,chelsea,etc and be paid like lampard  and the rest.He would then  be given a chance to  improve like drogba and then gain a status among the elite.The question i want to ask is ,what has he done for you to think he is the one to lead ghana or help ghana qualify for the world cup?he plays in a country where football is just been introduce there in my view,ghana  is better off depending on their top goal scorer in the local league to lead the team to the world cup than gyan.local strikers are craving for exposure whilst gyan is craving for money, he has lost interest for the game as you all saw in the (afcon) competition.To put it in a very simple way for this stupid writer to get the picture... (Ghana's local team leading the table or playing the african champions league will score gyans al ahins(watever they r calld) teams 3-1, and its a fact

Tony, thanks for your response to my article - I must admit, I didn't quite understand all of your points, but I will try and give you my opinions on those that I did.With regards to Gyan being snapped up by Sunderland as opposed to Man United or Chelsea to prove he is 'elite', begin with, I never claim that Gyan is a world class player, or indeed that he belongs in that upper echelon of talent. That's not to say he may not one day, but personally, at the time, an ambitious Sunderland would be a better bet than one of the 'top six' where he would be less likely to get playing time. Gyan is only young though, he was perhaps 24 at the time of this move, and it is a perfectly normal trajectory for West African players to move from the continent, often to France, Belgium or Italy, and then to move onto Italy or Spain. What's not to say that after a few prolific years with Sunderland, Gyan couldn't have been bought by a United or Chelsea as you wish...he is, incidentally, only now approaching the age Drogba was when bought by Chelsea. There are lots of wonderful strikers, and several of these African, playing amongst the 'second rung' of English clubs - just look at Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse at Newcastle. I argue that 'a chance to improve' as you put it, is more likely getting playing time at a club like Sunderland, than it would be sitting in the tribunes at Chelsea watching Drogba and Torres play - just look at Romelu Lukaku now - a great fear in the media that this time at Chelsea will stall his momentum.I would strongly disagree that African players playing away from their homeland have lost all motivation to play for their national team...looking at the Afcon competion, the travails of Drogba and his fellow Ivorians, the tears of Jonathan Mensah after Ghana's defeat, European based African players are committed to their national sides.I don't think a lack of desire was evident in Gyan's performances either. What gave you this impression?I think he could be the one to lead Ghana to glory for several reasons, some of which I covered in the article - firstly, his scoring rate of just under a goal every other game for Ghana, is pretty admirable in its own right - it becomes vital to Ghana when you consider that the other striking options in his absence, Prince Tagoe for example, have contributed far far less goals to the Black Stars and have poorer goals to games ratios. Ghana have enviable talent across the team, perhaps with two capable international level midfields, apart from up front. This is why Gyan is so vital to the Black Stars future - look at some of the tactical analysis I put in my article - both tactically and symbolically, a spearhead in Gyan's mould is exactly what I believe Ghana need. Which local strikers would you back to have a better scoring record for Ghana than this?I don't think it's a 'fact' that Ghana's top team would beat Al-Ain 3-1 - but it's an interesting theory, where do you get this information from? I have been impressed with Berekem Chelsea but Clottey and Asampong Taylor's strike rates with the Black Stars are not particularly enviable.Thanks for being in touch, and I'm glad you enjoyed the article,Best,Ed