Black Stars coach Kwesi Appiah is set to announce a 30 man provisional squad for the 2019 AFCON in the next few days. As is customary naming of squads especially for a major tournament is preceded by the media and wayside discourse gauging who’s likely to be called up, who deserves to be called up and who shouldn’t be anywhere close to the team.
While many players have been up for discussion for either being too old, too inexperienced or simply not in good form, one name has never been mentioned in such a discourse over the last 16 years. Asamoah Gyan’s debut in 2003 against Somalia marked the start of a roller coaster journey that has triggered every kind of emotion in Ghanaians. More than half a century of goals have come along with its own moments of heartaches and off-field controversies, but his brilliance in an era where he’s been the sole dominant force is without question.
His name has been one of the first on the squad list for every major tournament after Ghana’s exploits at the 2006 world cup. The only tournament he missed was the cup of nations in Egypt which preceded the Mundial in Germany due to injury. His inclusion has never been questioned not even after moving from the English Premier League to embark on what many considered a money hunt in the UAE. For the first time, however, the inclusion of Baby Jet is part of the discussion as compelling cases are made for and against him.
The case for Gyan: Class and experience
It will take an immeasurable amount of ignorance and malice to downplay the records and impact of Ghana’s number 3. Not even the magnitude of missing the penalty that would have earned Ghana a place at the semifinal of the World Cup, a first for an African country waters down his standing in Ghana football. The records reflect his immense talent and abilities. 51 goals in 106 appearances puts him at the summit of Ghana’s all-time scorer’s standings. He’s the highest scoring African at the World Cup, and make no mistake some top marksmen have represented the continent at the global showpiece not least Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba and Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o. Gyan scores goals, important goals. He may have missed the most important one in the history of his country but he’s also scored goals that have gotten Ghana to the next level at major tournaments. His opening goal against Czech Republic at Ghana’s maiden world cup was the first for the country. The goal wasn’t only significant in a historical sense, it pumped the team with real belief and set the stage for a respectable debut showing, after drawing blank in the opening game against Italy in a 2-0 defeat. From staying on his feet to blast past the USA’s Tim Howard in that round of 16 game at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, wrong-footing Joleon Lescott to score Ghana’s only goal at Wembley, heading Ghana into the semifinal against Nigeria in the 2010 AFCON and putting Algeria to the sword with a last-minute strike at the 2015 AFCON, Gyan has been Ghana’s man for the big occasions. With Gyan on the pitch, there’s always a sense something can happen and it has on many occasions.
Image: Asamoah Gyan celebrates scoring Ghana’s winner against USA in a 2010 World Cup Round of 16 match
Major tournaments often require players with experience and Gyan has it in abundance. It is experience acquired from nine major tournaments, three world cups and six African cups. In a team that is likely to comprise many young players either bereft or with little major tournament experience, his inclusion could prove invaluable and even if his body doesn’t allow him to deliver over 90 minutes, you can bank on Asamoah Gyan to make something happen in a manner only he has proven to be capable of. The big question is this; if Gyan shouldn’t go to the 2019 AFCON, who are the alternatives? Richmond Boakye Yiadom, Jordan Ayew, Abdul Majeed Waris, Raphael Dwamena and John Antwi. The five players combined AFCON appearances is still short of Gyan’s 29. The closest is Jordan Ayew with 15 appearances. It will take a colossal amount of testicular fortitude for a coach to ignore Gyan and pick any of the other three strikers with no senior tournament experience.
The case against Gyan: Numbers don’t lie
For all his experience and brilliance the fact remains that Asamoah Gyan is on a decline, and at 33 there’s very little he can do about it. Nature can be cruel. At 33 his body isn’t functioning like the 24-year-old we saw in 2010 at the nation’s cup in Angola and the world cup in South Africa. It is important to point out that this argument has nothing to do with how long he’s spent on earth as it is about how long he’s been with the national team. He’s been out a total 172 days since 2016 due to back, ankle and other unspecified injuries. 32 appearances in the last two seasons have yielded an unimpressive 8 goals for a striker who averaged 10 goals a season prior to 2016. Gyan’s form for Ghana has often mirrored his club form. His 10 goals and five assists in the 2010/2011 season were preceded by a stellar AFCON and World Cup campaign. He scored 58 goals between 2010 and 2014 at club level and weighed in with 29 for Ghana within the same period. The last four years has seen him manage about half the 58 he scored in the previous four. 6 goals in the last four years in the national colors make for grim reading. Even more telling is the fact that his last appearance for Ghana was in a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Congo in 2017. He’s missed the last 9 matches for Ghana. Gyan has a penchant for proving people wrong and for Ghana’s sake I hope he does just that, but I’m sceptical. His form over the last three seasons suggests he shouldn’t be going to the AFCON. Men lie, women lie. Numbers don’t lie.
For the greater good
The Black Stars team is in transition and the phasing out of Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew are thorny issues in that process. The Black Stars skipper remains the last man standing from the 2006 World Cup team that included Stephen Appiah, Micheal Essien and Sulley Muntari. To his credit, he’s mentioned the 2019 AFCON will be his final outing for Ghana but his inclusion in the 23-man squad further delays a process which should have started after failure to qualify for Russia 2018. As far as favourites go, Ghana is behind holders Cameroon, Nigeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Senegal and perhaps Algeria. Anything can happen at major tournaments but it is unlikely the Black Stars will return from Egypt with the trophy. If the form of team placed them as one of the hot favourites it would have been only right and fair to afford him the opportunity to walk away with an AFCON winner’s medal. Failure to win the AFCON will not only prolong Ghana’s wait for that 5th trophy, but it also denies a young player with the potential of giving us the next five years the opportunity of gaining much-needed experience, a critical element in this period of transition. Asamoah Gyan’s final hurray must not take prominence over the future of the team and our chances of qualifying for the next world cup.
Kwesi Appiah has pontificated team building since making a return to the team nearly two years ago. He’s called up several young players during the period. Some have taken their chances but while others in truth never stood a chance due to the presence of some so-called senior players. Waasland Bevereen’s Nana Opoku Ampomah, Samuel Tetteh, Caleb Ekuban and Bernard Terkpetey look like materials for the future while John Antwi’s numbers suggest he should be making the squad for the 2019 AFCON. Appiah must look beyond this tournament and make building a team capable of challenging for the next one and getting Ghana back to the world top priority. It begins with being brave and biting the bullet. There won’t be a greater pointer to Appiah’s bravery than leaving out Asamoah Gyan.