Asamoah Gyan got off the mark for Ghana before his 18th birthday, scoring on his international debut in 2003. Having just celebrated turning 31, the striker is two short of recording an incredible half-century for his country. No player has found the back of the net more times (48) for the Black Stars than Gyan, nor has any other Ghanaian won more international caps (95).
Some football players have been around the block a few times. But when the pressure’s on, familiarity with the demands of a major tournament can be invaluable. Alongside Gyan, there are two more experienced players who will make a difference at the AFCON 2017:
- Emmanuel Adebayor
- Mehdi Benatia
Over the past decade, as Ghana finally entered the global stage by qualifying for three consecutive World Cup tournaments, he has been their focal point, their reference, their benchmark of excellence. After 13 years of service, Gyan has surpassed simply being the man for goals and the man with the armband – he is the man who makes a difference on the pitch and beyond.
Although Gyan, who is Africa’s top goalscorer at the World Cup – he has netted six, the same number as France’s Thierry Henry, Germany’s Lothar Matthäus and the Netherlands’ Dennis Bergkamp – has not escaped criticism for his performances, he is a heavily influential figure.
As his Ghanaian teammate and FC Lorient attacker Abdul Majeed Waris explains, “Everyone would love him in their team, because he can score at any time and make things happen. We also learn a lot from him. Every time he’s around, it’s something very good for the rest of us. He’s a nice guy and always motivates the players to keep on going. Even if he’s not with the team, he sends a lot of messages to support and encourage us.”
Unfortunately, Gyan’s contribution to his national team may only be truly appreciated by all after the fact, because while he has played a part in many of Ghanaian football’s greatest moments, he has also contributed to some of its disappointments. Two of the most memorable instances are the striker’s missed penalties in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final and then the last four of the Africa Cup Of Nations two years later.
But it’s unfair that these blemishes should overshadow his efforts in getting the Black Stars so far in the first place; it’ll be no easy task to unseat him at the top table for goals and appearances.
At club level, Gyan has played in and got the better of defences in the leagues of six different countries. While there’s a valid argument that he has sacrificed his career advancement for cash windfalls, his ability to adapt and conquer a variety of challenges is impressive nonetheless.
Since making his international debut, Gyan has represented Ghana on 95 occasions, making him its most capped player ever. If the Black Stars can dig deep at AFCON 2017, he could not only reach his century but exceed it
The Accra-born ace could still cut it in Serie A, the Premier League or Ligue 1, so it’s disappointing that instead he has opted for transfers to China and the United Arab Emirates (he currently plays for Arabian Gulf League club Al Ahli). He has always given something back, though, and aside from his football contributions, Gyan has undertaken several humanitarian projects in Ghana through his foundation. He also provides the country’s rising boxing talents with a platform to develop and thrive.
Gyan’s impact will linger long after he has called time on his career; not many players can look back at such a storied and powerful legacy.
A graduate of France’s famous Clairefontaine football academy, Benatia has played for some of Europe’s top clubs. His latest chapter sees him at Juventus, on loan from Bayern Munich. The technically accomplished centre-half is a mainstay for Morocco, with 48 caps to his name.