Hands up if you can name Africa’s highest-earning sportsman.
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast) at Manchester City, is said to be on $15-18 million a year, per Forbes. Another former Barcelona player, Seydou Keita (Mali), is one of a number of Africans earning a seven-figure fortune in China.
The Ghanaians Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari will be on good money in Italy's Serie A, as will Kevin-Prince Boateng at Schalke—but not as much as the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali (Liberia), whose salary is more than $11 million.
There is, however, a less likely contender.
Asamoah Gyan, another of Ghana’s World Cup stars, usually plays in front of tiny crowds in a country where fans do not even have to pay to watch matches.
Gyan plays for Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, the only club in the Arabian Gulf League who regularly draw crowds in the thousands. He has been the league’s top scorer for three seasons, netting 100 goals in all competitions. In case he becomes a hot property again in Brazil, Al Ain want him to sign an improved contract that would keep him in the UAE for the rest of his career.
Gyan, 28, was said by an American magazine to be on $220,000 a week two years ago, though that was almost certainly an exaggeration. The National, a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, believes the figure is closer to $170,000. But the new contract would take him to another level and almost certainly beyond Yaya Toure as the highest earner—because his wages are tax free.
There was uproar when Gyan left the Premier League to sign for Al Ain three seasons ago. He had been a star at the 2010 World Cup, when Ghana were cruelly denied a semi-final place by Luis Suarez’s infamous handball in the last few seconds of extra time of the Ghana-Uruguay tie.
Gyan missed the penalty that Suarez conceded, then scored the first kick in the penalty shootout. But Ghana lost.
Gyan moved to Sunderland, then managed by Steve Bruce, where he was top scorer in 2010-11. The following season, Al Ain came calling; Gyan took the money and ran.
Bruce said at the time, per the Daily Mail: “I can’t understand someone’s logic. Africa’s player of the year, a hero in his own country, to leave the biggest stage in the world to go and play in the Emirates...football leaves a bad taste in your mouth sometimes.”
What did he expect? Bruce is hardly a great loyalist himself—he was in charge of five clubs in his first three-and-a-half years of management. Gyan was born in Accra, where many people will not earn in a lifetime what he earns in a fortnight. Of course he wanted the money.
What really annoys fans is when players give us all that badge-kissing, “I love the club” nonsense just before and even just after signing for another club.
Peter Odemwingie apparently still loves West Brom, Emmanuel Adebayor must be due another move because he still loves Tottenham and so on and so on. “I don’t understand why everybody lies," said Tottenham’s Cameroon international Benoit Assou-Ekotto just before the 2010 World Cup. “I play for money.”
At least Gyan has not spouted off any nonsense. He has spoken highly of Al Ain, but he genuinely likes being a big star in a small league, and he has worked very hard throughout his time there. “I had a lot of negative comments, moving from one of the best leagues in the world, but that’s normal,” he told Ghanaian TV station ETV—watch the clip on YouTube here.
“But I’ve been top scorer, Al Ain won everything… everybody’s happy. What else can a player ask for? I am getting regular playing time, the money is good and the coaches, players and fans love me. It’s a very great feeling here.”
He is still a superstar in Ghana, where he is known by his boyhood nickname of “Baby Jet.” He has always loved music and appeared in pop videos with his “hiplife” singer friend, Castro. He set up a charitable foundation to help provide rural areas with clean water.
He has also amassed a fleet of cars that is the envy of all Ghana. His most recent acquisition was a Rolls Royce. According to News One in Accra he also has two Porsches, a Hummer, a BMW, a Chrysler, a Cadillac, a Dodge, and a Bentley, all with customised ‘B Jet’ number plates. He wouldn’t have had that lot at Sunderland, even if he was well paid there.
Gyan has also been very honest about the Suarez incident. He has said it before, but in a recent interview for The National he reiterated his view about the handball that stopped Ghana becoming the first African team to make the last four of the World Cup:
Sometimes when I’m alone, I get up and put the DVD on and start watching that game. I’ve probably watched it 20 times. I wish the match could happen again because it really hurts me every time.
I’m sorry to use this word, but people do hate him [Suarez] in my country. It’s very painful to cheat, but it’s part of the game. He handled the ball, but he saved his country. If I were Suarez I would have done the same thing, to save my country.
Gyan is confident Ghana can do well again in Brazil, despite their bad luck in the draw. They are in Group G alongside Germany, Portugal and the United States, who they play on Monday.
“We must fight like we did in 2010, play our hearts out and be tactically disciplined," Gyan said. "Then we’ll have a good tournament and everything will happen naturally. People see Ghana as the underdogs and we’re hoping to prove them wrong.”
It will be good to see him back in the limelight.
Brian Oliver was the longest-serving sports editor of the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, The Observer (1998-2011). He has attended the African Cup of Nations seven times for The Observer and The Daily Telegraph, including Burkina Faso in 1998.
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