Ever-popular forward, Asamoah Gyan has a somewhat chequered legacy in Ghana and perhaps the continent despite being the nation’s all-time top scorer with 51 goals and Africa’s most potent finisher in the World Cup with 6 goals.
Unfortunately for some, these remarkable achievements are often swept under the carpet and he is mostly remembered for his penalty misfortunes; notably in 2010 (World Cup game vs Uruguay in the Quarterfinals) and 2012 (African Nations Cup vs Zambia in the semifinals). These consistent debacles have resulted in lot of harsh criticism, unfortunate abuse and some death threats on the player and his family.
In a 2013 interview, Gyan spoke of his decision to excuse himself from spot kick duties. The forward said: “I lost my mum recently and the one thing she said two weeks before she died, she emphasised, was these penalty kicks.”I have to respect her decision for me not taking penalties for the team.” The news made headlines in Ghana and was the subject of discussions between football fans and sports journalists. While some viewed it with utmost relief and termed it as good riddance, others thought that it was a mark of unprofessionalism on the part of the player and blamed it on the coddle accorded black star players.
The Black Stars were to put an end to a 33-year trophy drought. Coach Avram Grant named his final 23-man squad that traveled to Equatorial Guinea to participate in the African Cup of Nations. Asamoah Gyan, who was captaining the side, reiterated his no spot kick stance before the start of the tournament. The Black Stars found themselves in a group touted “the group of death”.
After slumping to a lone goal defeat at the hands of the Teranga Lions (Senegal), Ghana made amends for their slow start by beating the Desert Foxes (Algeria) and perennial nemesis South Africa thus collecting six points out of three games.
Blistering in confidence, the Black Stars skimmed past Guinea and hosts Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively to advance to the finals of the competition. A date with destiny awaited the Black Stars of Ghana and the Elephants of Ivory Coast.
The grand finale had all the characteristics of a classic final and it wasn’t shocking to see the game heading for a penalty shootout after 120 minutes of gruelling play, near misses, nerves and anxiety. Asamoah Gyan was clearly substituted in the dying embers of extra-time for Agyemang Badu in a bid not to renege on his promise to his mother. A move Avram Grant and his technical team were supposed to think through before they did it.
Penalties they say “are like playing the lottery” and critics often argue that it is not a fair basis to decide a game. Asamoah Gyan’s departure played a pivotal role as Ghana lost the shootout 8-9 (hence the trophy) despite Ivory Coast missing their initial two kicks.
A profound statement by famous American writer Karen Marie Moning “Words can be twisted into any shape. Promises can be made to lull the heart and seduce the soul. In the final analysis, words mean nothing. They are labels we give things in an effort to wrap our puny little brains around their underlying natures, when ninety-nine percent of the time the totality of the reality is an entirely different beast. The wisest man is the silent one. Examine his actions. Judge him by them.” sums everything up.
Indeed an effective managerial approach by Coach Avram Grant and his technical handlers as well as a change of heart by Asamoah Gyan to rescind his decision would have been a masterstroke in annexing the African Nations Cup trophy for Ghana.
The aftermath would have been a happy and fulfilled nation and a complete restoration of Asamoah Gyan’s legacy.