To even a casual observer of the African game, the title of this article, and the argument set forth herein may be, initially, a little hard to comprehend. How can I begin to advocate the lily-livered, Sunderland-dropout Asamoah Gyan as a potential Black Stars Captain?
Indeed, at first glance, the striker doesn’t seem to have the constitution to be considered the leader for one of Africa’s heavyweights, and despite the general praise and backslapping that emerged from the heart of Pan-Africa upon his appointment to the role, I am still to be convinced by James Kwesi Appiah’s decision.
When I consider the key qualities demonstrated by iconic captains such as Roy Keane, Giacinto Facchetti, Ledley King and Bryan Robson, I think of loyalty, courage, selflessness, desire and determination.
Now, I am not one to regularly disagree with my chums over at The Chronicle of Ghana, but their suggestion that Gyan was chosen due to his ‘work ethic and incredible leadership qualities’ seemed to be stretching reality.
The recent Cup of Nations in South Africa provided a brief (yet fairly damning) litmus test. Against Congo in the side’s opener, the Black Stars were unable to halt the slide as a two goal lead slipped away, whilst they were markedly uninspired against Cape Verde in the quarterfinal. As has been their wont in recent years, they once again paid the penalty—defeat in the shootout against Burkina Faso in the semi, coming after they were thoroughly outplayed for 120 minutes.
It was often hard to identify the captain’s voice amidst the shrugged shoulders and inevitable capitulation of the Black Stars. Gyan was thoroughly absent; neither cajoling nor coaxing, encouraging nor emboldening.
With only one goal in the competition, the subdued skipper was a surprise choice for CAF’s team of the tournament.
The issue of penalties brings a whole new caveat into the ‘Gyan for Captain’ debate, as his career’s nadirs have emerged, uncannily often, when faced with the penalty spot. He missed crucial kicks in the World Cups of 2006 and 2010, as well as the Cup of Nations in 2012, and the narrative of failure is threatening to overshadow his respectable international scoring record.
It was brought to the public attention before the Afcon that Gyan had promised his mother he wouldn’t take another penalty for the national side—can you imagine a snivelling Roy Keane making such a vow to his Mummy!?
However, before this article becomes ‘Why Asamoah Gyan Is The Absolute Worst Choice For Ghana Captain’ I wish to seek the positives, and expand on two key reasons why it might just turn out to be an inspired decision by the Black Stars boss.
One theory which may support his selection for the role is that lesser men have risen to the occasion when they have received the responsibility that accompanies the armband. Indeed, perhaps it will take an honour such as the Ghanaian captaincy, or even, simplistically, such a show of confidence from the manager, to convince the former Rennes man that he still is the figurehead for this young and exciting side.
Maybe now, at 27, Gyan is primed to embrace maturity and step up into the demands made upon him.
Apparently he was honoured to receive the role, acutely aware of its significance, yet not overwhelmed by the pressure that accompanies it.
However, no matter how proudly one sings one’s national anthem, or regardless of the spin a press conference can make of a nascent appointment, it’s hard to breathe total sincerity into Gyan’s words when we consider his recent international retirement.
Citing poor and disrespectful treatment from the Black Stars fans following the 2012 Afcon, he announced his intention to take an indefinite leave from the international side. Now, call me old fashioned, but this is not the kind of loyal, patriotic behaviour one may expect from their national skipper.
Imagine Sir Bobby Moore calling up Alf Ramsey after England’s disappointing elimination in 1970 and announcing that he was taking a break from the Three Lions…no, I can’t either!
A second key reason concerns the long standing African tradition of talismanic forwards and attacking players taking the armband for their respective nation. A continent which has produced the mesmerising attacking talents of Kalusha Bwalya, George Weah, Emmanuel Adebayor and Didier Drogba—all of whom skippered their nations—has a certain pedigree for thrusting inspirational frontmen into ambassadorial or representational roles.
At the recent Afcon, over half of the sides involved—including Togo, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Congo, Niger and Ghana—had attacking players as captains. Whilst a number of attacking players were also captains of the side’s at last year’s European Championships, the likes of Robbie Keane, Andriy Shevchenko, Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin were among the most experienced, elderly players in their respective national sides.
The suspicion is that these talented African frontmen are awarded the armband essentially to ‘keep them interested’ in the national side, and to avoid abandonment the likes of which Ghana has seen before. In principle, it will be a lot harder for Asamoah to walk out on the Black Stars again if he sees himself as responsible for the successes and failures of the side.
Despite all of the negative issues touched upon in this article, it is hard to argue that Gyan isn’t admired, if not revered, by his national team peers. It is evident in Puma’s recent ‘The Nature of Africa’ promotional videos how much the young Black Stars look up to ‘Baby Jet’, and how his voice is often the one that rises above the others.
These qualities may not have been prevalent at the recent Cup of Nations, but still only 27 years old, the striker has a prime opportunity to spearhead this talented generation of Ghanaians into the future. He will need to give every ounce to ensure that Ghana progresses from its tricky World Cup qualifying group, but overcome that hurdle, and perhaps, just perhaps, this talented and emotional forward can be the figurehead the Black Stars crave.