Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Swaziland, then Sunderland for Ghana hero Asamoah Gyan

NEITHER South Africa nor Sunderland need much reminding about the merits of one Asamoah Gyan. He was the World Cup’s proudest player, the man who so nearly propelled his side to the semi-finals of the World Cup as Africa took its place on the global stage.

Now the 24-year-old striker who featured in most World Cup XI selections gets the chance to show off his wares to the English Premier League – after a quick diversion with Ghana to give Swaziland a Nations Cup footballing lesson.

Asamoah captured the hearts of disappointed South Africans everywhere – not to mention the odd Englishman – as he scored three goals to inspire his side beyond their five African rivals at the World Cup.

While South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Algeria fell by the wayside, Asamoah helped the Black Stars – without injured Chelsea superstar Michael Essien – through their qualifying group and into the quarter-finals.

But with the whole of Africa backing Ghana, we hit that chilly July night against Uruguay in front of 80,000 at Soccer City. With a mouth-watering semi-final – Africa’s first crack at the last four – beckoning, Uruguay’s Luis “Hand of God” Suarez got an arm on what should have been a last-minute winner on the line.

Gyan, the continental colossus, stepped up... and saw his penalty rattle the bar. Half-an-hour later, he bravely stepped up again to score in the penalty shoot-out... but Uruguay squeaked past 4-2 on spot kicks. Agony.

A couple of months later, the pain is still apparent as Gyan mulls over his transfer deadline day £13.1m move from French club Rennes to Sunderland.

Gyan smiles ruefully: “It was a major, major disappointment. For me and for my nation. But that’s in the past. You have to be strong and move on.

“I have to concentrate on the positives, I had a good tournament, I’ve kept mentally strong and I’m looking forward to the future challenge with Sunderland.”

Gyan finds himself partnered with another people’s champion at the Stadium of Light – Darren Bent. The former Spurs striker didn’t even get a ticket to the World Cup, despite his goal glut for unfashionable Sunderland last season.

Gyan, whose move broke the £10m transfer record on Tyneside set by Bent, is 24 has experienced life in Italy with Udinese. He scored 11 goals in 39 games for them, 14 in 47 with Rennes in France. His international record of 22 goals in 44 games will have the Swazis quaking in their boots this weekend in Lombamba.

Gyan flew out on Thursday to join the Black Stars, losing finalist in Angola, to lead the crusade for a place in the finals of the competition to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Their group also features Congo and Sudan.

Former Manchester United stalwart Steve Bruce, who has turned Sunderland into a force to be reckoned with – they shocked mega-bucks Manchester City last week – said: “Gyan works extremely hard for the team and will complement Darren up front. He is a traditional No 9 and we will benefit from that. Yes, we have managed to bring in another top-class striker.

“It is a great piece of business, amazing that the club record signing is done on the last day of the transfer window.”

Bruce can expect more than just football from his new signing whose brother, Baffour Gyan, currently plays in Ghana for Asante Kotoko.

Earlier this year, Gyan produced a popular single in his homeland called African Girls with a Ghanaian Hiplife singer called Castro The Destroyer. On the label of this No1 hit, Gyan calls himself Baby Jet. Hopefully he’ll rocket up the scoring charts too.