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?
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.
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 ZonalMarking.net 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.
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?
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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