Kwadwo Asamoah’s return to the Ghana national side was the key talking point to emerge from Kwesi Appiah’s Black Stars squad last week, but it’s the omission of Asamoah Gyan that threatens to have greater consequence for the African giants.
Asamoah’s return was expected, with the midfielder revealing in July that he’d promised Appiah he’s return to the fold in time for September’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Kenya.
There’s no doubt that his comeback comes as a boost for Ghana following four years of self-imposed international exile.
At 29, he still has much to offer—specifically in next year’s Afcon—although there’s still a sense that it’s ‘too little, too late’ for a player whose peak years have been spent away from the team.
Any contribution Asamoah can make is also contingent on his staying fit. He’s in good shape now, but considering his chequered injury record of recent years, how long can this be expected to last?
Despite his return, Kwadwo must still shake the feeling that he’s ‘yesterday’s man’ in a Ghana midfield which must now surely be built around Thomas Partey.
Gyan is beginning to look, more and more, like he too is yesterday’s man.
Despite all he’s achieved, there’s a shadow of un-fulfilment that hangs over the 32-year-old’s career.
In Europe, he never truly got the opportunity to shine for a major club—following stints with Udinese, Stade Rennais and Sunderland, while his peak years were spent playing in some of world football’s weaker leagues.
Perhaps Gyan’s bank balance won’t regret a prime spent in the United Arab Emirates or China, but we’ll never know whether Baby Jet could have matched the achievements of his contemporaries, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o, at a European giant.
At international level, Gyan’s achievements are testament to his quality and underpin his standing as one of the continent’s finest frontmen of the last 10 years.
His six World Cup goals meant he overtook Roger Milla as Africa’s top-scoring player at world football’s biggest tournament, while he was also part of the Ghana side that became the continent’s third team to make the final eight in 2010.
It’s perhaps indicative—to an extent—of Gyan’s international career that his contribution to the Black Stars’ 2010 run has largely been overshadowed by his late, late penalty miss against Uruguay following Luis Suarez’s…erm…’intervention’.
That was a pivotal moment in the forward’s career, when the opportunity to add a genuinely decisive accolade evaded him.
It’s been a similar story at the Africa Cup of Nations.
In six tournaments, he’s reached the semi-final at least on every occasion, and been a defeated finalist twice.
He helped Ghana to bronze during the controversial 2008 campaign, before dragging an injury-ravaged Black Stars side to second place two years later.
In 2012, hampered by a calf injury, Gyan was part of the side that was defeated by Zambia in the semis, and missed a series of chances en route to a semi-final elimination by Burkina Faso in 2013.
Malaria undermined his 2015 campaign, and injury limited his participation two years later.
If Gyan is to make amends for a Black Stars career in which he’s painfully been one of the ‘nearly men’ of the continental game, he surely needs to make a key contribution—and stay injury free—at an Afcon.
The 2019 tournament in Cameroon, by which point he will be 33, represents—one would assume—his last opportunity to do that.
However, Appiah’s decision to overlook the forward from his latest squad suggests that Gyan has his work cut out to force his way back into the national side.
Despite the coach’s insistence that Gyan wouldn’t be replaced as Ghana captain, his omission indicates that Appiah is happy to proceed without the ‘guarantee’ of the frontman’s goalscoring threat and his influence within the camp.
With Emmanuel Boateng injured, the coach had a perfect opportunity to return to Gyan, even despite his lack of playing time at Kayserispor so far this season.
However, Gyan remains on the outside, with new boy William Owusu and Waris Majeed introduced to the squad in support of Raphael Dwamena.
The trio don’t represent the most fearsome attacking unit and are unlikely to blaze Ghana to the continental title, surely leaving the door open for a Gyan return providing he can get back among the goals in Turkey.
He made his first appearance of the season this weekend, playing 13 minutes as Kayserispor were held 0-0 at home by Yeni Malatyaspor on Saturday.
After three matches, the Anatolian Star are the second joint-lowest scorers in the Super Lig, and coach Ertugrul Saglam must consider giving Gyan more playing minutes moving forward as he looks to boost his side’s attacking threat.
Ghana fans will watch on and hold their breath, as time is running out for the Black Stars’ all-time top scorer to make up for his missed opportunities to date.