Rare treat: Jordan Ayew basks in a nation’s love

It was only a little over two years ago, in March 2022, that Jordan Ayew trudged off the Baba Yara Stadium pitch, as Ghana sought to squeeze out what little life remained in their 2022 FIFA World Cup play-off home leg versus archrivals Nigeria, replaced by Kwasi Okyere Wriedt in what would eventually finish as a 0-0 stalemate.

The local fans, who'd packed the arena to the rafters, had been in fine form all evening. They'd arrived with a charge to provide full-throated support for the Black Stars and duly delivered on that mandate, sending only positive vibes downwards even during the game's tense moments.

For the departing Jordan, though, they had nothing but disdain, expressed through intense booing and jeering and whistling. But… why?

The Crystal Palace man had put in a decent shift, albeit without being any sort of attacking threat. That, though, was by design and not due to a lack of application. Jordan was emblematic of a Ghana side that, seemingly deliberately, were certainly hamstrung and limp upfront.

The game-plan was, basically, to stem the tide of Nigeria's much-vaunted frontline, and doing so from as high up the pitch as possible. With a strategy like that, there certainly was a place and a role for a forward like Jordan, who excels at everything but scoring goals. And, to the manager, Otto Addo, the player hardly put a foot wrong all game.

Addo hailed Jordan for, among other things, “covering spaces, running for others defensively, holding the ball and not losing it”.

He added: “I know in Africa that people acknowledge more offensive action but if you see what Jordan did defensively, this has much worth — he's an important player.”

The thing, though, is Ghanaians’ frustration with Jordan, despite him being one of the most-capped players in the team's history, didn't begin (or end) that evening. A popular argument, well-worn yet utterly preposterous, is that Jordan and his brother Andre — who has been around a few years longer and is, in fact, skipper of the Black Stars — have been riding on the surname that their father and [to a lesser extent] uncles made famous in the nineties.

That claim, however, falls flat in the face of logic. Surely, a revered lineage alone cannot get you through triple figures of international games and guarantee season after season in some of the world's best leagues, can it?

But if there weren't enough memorable performances in a Ghana shirt by Jordan to — even if only temporarily — silence those relentless critics, he just served up one that nobody would forget in a hurry.

Flashbacks of their last meeting with the Central African Republic (CAR) would have done little to ease the anxieties Ghanaians may have had going into their fourth 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier.

There may be several places between them on the FIFA ranking of the world's national teams, but the margins were much closer — uncomfortably closer — during that encounter, with the Black Stars conceding first and only securing all three points during that game last year courtesy of a late winner.

Just five minutes in, however, Jordan -- making his 100th Ghana appearance -- took a penalty that would give the Black Stars the lead this time. There really was no doubt about Jordan dispatching that kick when he embraced the task of doing so after teammate Abdul Fatawu Issahaku went down. For all the irritation many Ghanaians feel when he is on the pitch, there is no figure more reassuring behind the ball from 12 yards; has anyone ever seen him do anything but almost casually pass the ball into the goal in such situations?

Jordan's opening strike, which certainly settled the nerves (for all of five minutes), was a sixth in five games for his country; he'd scored in all five. All but one of those goals had resulted from penalties, but his next required a very different skill-set.

The CAR had claimed the lead, surprisingly, just before the break, and, with half-an-hour to go, it felt like the game was slipping away from the hosts. But that was just when Jordan stepped up, literally, to connect strongly with a Gideon Mensah cross to draw Ghana level.

He would be involved, shortly thereafter, in the fine build-up that culminated in Issahaku putting Ghana 3-2 up. And Jordan would have the final swing at the CAR, the last say, scrambling the ball over the line for his hat-trick in a nine-minute spell that conclusively turned the game on its head.

That fourth goal was no luxury, in hindsight. Neither Jordan nor we knew it then, but it would prove decisive — a brilliant Louis Mafouta freekick in added time to wrap up his own treble and set up a nail-biting finale — as a match-winner.

It wasn't just the rain that had left its mark on the Baba Yara pitch; Jordan had, too. When he walked off it, not long after making sure of the result, Jordan was accompanied, not by boos or jeers or whistles, but a resounding ovation, which he duly returned.

Ghanaians had been waiting a few days to show such profound appreciation, after Jordan came off the bench to snatch a late win for the Black Stars in the previous qualifier, last Thursday, away to Mali. On Monday night, they had even greater reason to adore and applaud him.

The fickle nature of the [Ghanaian] football fan suggests Jordan's new-found hero status isn't cast in stone. But he would do well to milk it — or ‘simply’ keep the run going — for as long as possible.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.