The upcoming Africa Cup of Nations cannot come quickly enough for die in the wool football fans in Ghana. While controversies have never been far from the competition, the silver lining is the near constant chime heralding Africa’s biggest tournament.
Irrespective of the change in location, number of competing nations and schedule, Ghana’s hunger for a long sought after fifth continental title at the senior men’s level continues.
Times have changed and unlike past years, Black Star players would have few distractions prior to competing at the AFCON. The quest to end Ghana’s title drought weighs heavily on the shoulders of the nation and the man put in charge-Kwesi Appiah.
A member of the last group to lift the coveted trophy, Appiah has also had a stint at the competition as a Coach. Ahead of the 2014 World Cup debacle in Brazil, Appiah ended up as one of the many trainers to lead Ghana to the last four only to miss out on the ultimate.
The Black Stars make up has dominated news regarding the AFCON to the point winning bonuses isn’t the main sticking issue. There is a palpable feeling followers of the Black Stars believe the right make up is what Ghana needs to get over the edge.
While a significant number of spots have “settled” players in those positions, there are quite a number of “open” spots available. Players battling for the Left full back position rages on, ditto the right side of midfield where Christian Atsu has operated as an unorthodox winger.
But the biggest and most passionate debate on player call ups is for those in the forward line. A host of names have been tossed around as potential members of Ghana’s frontline in Egypt but none bigger than Asamoah Gyan. The Black Stars lead scorer of all time is a polarizing figure just about every great player who walked the earth.
Some folks believe Gyan shouldn’t be invited to the team and have even called for his retirement from national duties altogether. Conversely, such chatter is wrong mainly because while Gyan has played just 14 games this season in Turkey and scored three, his output is down to injuries and not age 33 - doesn’t turn 34 until November.
Moreover, forwards used by Coach Appiah in recent matchups and are likely to feature in the trip to Egypt haven’t put up stellar numbers either. Jordan Ayew has four goals and two assists in 28 games, Majeed Waris has seven goals and three assists in 38 games and Kwasi Appiah has four goals and a goal in 26 games for Wimbledon and Raphael Dwamena has been a no show since signing for Levante.
By far, Caleb Ekuban stands out from the list of recent call ups as the most prolific bagging nine goals and two assists in 33 games.
Admittedly Gyan is no spring chicken and ideally should play the Roger Milla role off the bench when his experience and unarguable record would definitely be needed in the competition.
For the record, Milla starred for Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup in Italy as a 38-year-old super sub forward and walked away from the tournament with four goals and leading an African side to the quarterfinals for the first time ever.
Red flags over Gyan ‘s ability to stay fit are legitimate given the rash of injuries that have bedeviled the Jet but with as many World Cup goals as Lionel Messi (6), Gyan’s big game temperament is akin to former PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, and Real Madrid star Luis Ronaldo. Ronaldo missed virtually the entire season and all of Brazil’s qualifiers to the 2002 World Cup but ended up as the difference maker leading the tournament’s goal scorer’s chart and driving Brazil to its last World Cup title win.
Ghana’s best performance in recent AFCON editions was a silver medal in 2010 in Angola and another silver medal in 2015. What those teams had in common was the perfect blend of youth and older player with extensive experience playing in such competitions.
Per the personnel likely to be called up in June, all positions have that right mix bar the forward line. The likes of Ekuban, Emmanuel Boateng and Dwamena are yet to play at the AFCON, Appiah played in 2015 leaving Jordan Ayew and Gyan as the most suitable candidates to fill the necessary void.
Renowned Football Writer Tim Vickery stated, Without Ronaldo, Brazil were a shambles, fortunate even to get to the tournament. With him, it was a different story”.
No disrespect to the lot but such glowing words fit the profile of the tried and tested Gyan who has proven his mettle with over 50 goals for the Black Stars and deserves a call up in what is likely his swansong with Ghana’s National Team.