In much the same way as naming a preliminary squad and announcing tune-up friendlies are a part of the build-up to a major tournament, the player drama has come to define Ghana’s preparation in recent times.
Lately, though, it has too often centred on one player in particular, or perhaps that perception is simply a consequence of recency bias. However, it now seems like every tournament must be preceded by some uncertainty over the status and/or availability of Asamoah Gyan.
There is always a reluctance to confer a certain level of exultation to a player who is active still, but there has been no more obvious embodiment of Ghanaian football over the last two decades than Gyan.
His body of work; his clutch delivery in key moments; his physical investment, often above and beyond the call of duty and through the pain of a thousand niggles; all mark him out as a proper legend of, not just the country’s football, but the continent’s.
This perhaps is what makes the latest episode with the national team eminently regrettable.
On Monday, the 33-year-old announced, via a press statement that he would be quitting the national team, ostensibly over the decision of Black Stars’ coach Kwesi Appiah to hand the captaincy of the side to erstwhile vice-captain Andre Ayew, while ‘demoting’ him to the more ceremonial role of general captain.
While the latest reports indicate he has now rescinded that decision following the intervention of the country’s president Nana Akufo-Addo (why he needed to get involved is another matter altogether), the wording of Gyan’s announcement means this can only be a temporary and uneasy truce.
To begin with, it is clear that, off the pitch, Gyan and Ayew are not exactly buddies.
That is not going to go away overnight, and neither is the ‘unhappiness’ that the more senior player admitted to in his pointed missive. Clearly, for him, the captaincy is something of a must, and to have it taken away from him is – or was – a blow to the ego which he could not rise above.
The use of the word ‘recuse’ in his statement was also interesting, and as it is not a common usage for footballers, it was surely deliberate. It is a legal term for the withdrawal of a judge from a case over the possibility of prejudice; the connotation is that Gyan is aware his presence in the squad would not be in the interest of the smooth working of the collective, consciously or otherwise, and is admitting his bias against his teammate.
That is the thing with (presidential) mediations such as this latest one: however, through the ceasefire that has been brokered, the president will not be in the camp to enforce it.
Ayew will now have to manage a senior colleague who places no stock in his capacity to lead the squad, and there is also the fact that divided loyalties in the squad may create a damaging fissure within the group.
All that because one player decided to make the national team all about himself.
It certainly calls into question the motivation behind all of the vaunted sacrifices he was keen to remind everyone of in his statement. If you thought politicians get away with double-speak, you might want to take a look at footballers: the lack of self-awareness required to, on the one hand, point to all that you have given up for the sake of the flag and then, in the same breath, state that a piece of fabric around the bicep is too much to ask is quite bemusing.
If the purpose of a good deed is to manufacture leverage which can be used for emotional blackmail, then the goodness of said deed is up for debate, and while that is deeply unfortunate for a player who has come up big for the Black Stars time and again over the years, it is the bed of his making that Gyan now has to lie in.
The loser, in all of this toy defenestration by ‘Baby Jet’, is not Ayew, who himself is no saint or stranger to throwing strops.
Neither is it Appiah, a coach struggling to impress his authority on the national team.
It is Ghana.