Sunderland's Baby Jet. Now is your time

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce was unrelenting in his pursuit of Ghana's Asamoah Gyan during the summer for good reason.  With the African Footballer of the Year awards looming, is it Gyan's time?  Gary Al Smith reports from Ghana.

He streaked towards the corner flag. Running, flapping his wings like a turkey. When Sunderland's Asamoah Gyan got to the corner flag, he did his 2010 remix of the Roger Milla ’90 boogie.

His corner dance was the highlight of that night’s sports news all over the world, especially on BBC’s Match of the Day, while David Pleat and his folks made fun of Bolo Zenden, who scored a massive fail in mimicking the Asamoah Gyan Dance.

This is the year of the Baby Jet. Or the Easy Jet, if you prefer – or the Easy Baby Jet, which I like. Exactly a month from today, the Confederation of African Football will crown the African Footballer of the Year (AFoY).

Asamoah Gyan should have it.

His time

‘Gyan’ is the Hindi word for knowledge. ‘Gyanis’ are those seen as knowledgeable and are maestros in their fields. Whether Ghana’s Gyan is a Gyani is for the player himself to prove.

But the Sunderland striker does have enough knowledge of the fact that he is nowhere near his mentor and fellow AFoY contender, Didier Drogba.

“It is hard to become a star, but it is even harder to maintain it. But Drogba has helped me. He has been my inspiration. I watch him and think to myself that I want to be like him. He came from a small club and became a big ­player. I am trying to follow in his footsteps. Drogba has been scoring all the time and everyone knows him for that. I want to do the same.”

And he is right. To be like Le Drog, it will take the Easy Baby Jet another two to three seasons of replicating what he is doing with Sunderland now, perhaps getting into a bigger club and making headlines in the glitzier Champions League. But for now, this is his time.

“Eto’o is a legend but this year has been my year and even they would agree. I am nowhere near them overall and want to be like them one day but this year I have played well to deserve the title.”

Individual brilliance

The backbone of the pro-Gyan support is what he has done for his country. Injuries to key members of the Black Stars meant Gyan was the only real option upfront during the AFCON in Angola. He did not disappoint, as he took lead role in scoring 3 out of 4 Ghana goals.

And then there is the little matter of what he did in Africa’s first World Cup. The tragic hero that is Gyan carried the hopes of the continent on his expanding arse. He delivered once (against Serbia), twice (against Australia) and an impossible thrice (against the Yanks). By this time, his team had been christened BaGhana BaGyana and his continent, AfriGyan.

But like every tragic hero, he had to follow the script and fall. Uruguay provided the setting; a last minute penalty gave the final blow. But Gyan’s heroics did not end, as he returned and scored again. Though it wasn’t enough for Ghana to progress, the Black Stars’ marksman had done enough to get himself a nomination for the Ballon d’Or.

Teamwork

Gyan is a player better at running the channels than finding the net. Some describe this trait in a player as being ‘a good team player’. As the year has progressed, he has become as integral as Tresor Mputu has been for TP Mazembe since 2008 and like Stella Mbachu has been for many years for Nigeria’s all conquering Super Falcons women’s team.

He’s played eight World Cup games so far in his career, and crucially, has been instrumental in almost all of them – either providing the goals or assisting in a Ghana side that became notorious for sitting deep and having balls supplied to him as the lone man. In as much as he was the go-to guy, he has never been a one-man team.

My enduring mental image of Gyan is not of him missing that penalty, but of him pouncing on a perfectly hit Kwadwo Asamoah pass and slotting it home against the hosts in Angola.

Contenders

In Gyan’s path to making history for himself are nine other shortlisted players for the AFoY. The most obvious competition would be – once again – Didier Drogba and especially Samuel Eto’o. It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to see the latter as a humanized brand of some exotic red wine: the older he gets, the better he becomes.

Eto’o’s winning of the treble with Inter Milan a year after doing same with Barcelona is impressive, but that would likely not sway CAF into giving it to him as he failed to shine in international competitions. Yes, the opposite has happened before but this time, the weight of Gyan’s performances in Angola (getting Ghana into the final) and South Africa (the quarters) means the Cameroonian would have to wait another year for his record-breaking fourth AFoY crown.

Drogba has done well for Chelsea, but he wasn’t really at the AFCON in Angola and in South Africa, a hand injury rendered him a bit sterile.

For Gyan, here’s a memo: not winning this accolade should not wear you down. Ask Mr. Essien, who until this year, has been nominated for the AFoY five consecutive times and is yet to win. Or ask Eto’o and Drogba, who have been nominated for the Ballon d’Or severally, and are yet to win. If you’re still not satisfied, ask Diego Milito, who is currently wondering what he has to do to be in contention for this year’s Fifa Ballon d’Or.

Recently, the Sunderland ace poured out his heart’s desire, revealing how much – like all of us – he wants to be appreciated. “I wish to be like them. Drogba and Essien have made all Africans proud so I want to be like them in that respect. Also, Samuel Eto’o, Emanuel Adebayor have done great things in Spain and England. I want to be up there with the best African players.”

The odds are in your favour, we know that. But for now: patience, Gyan, patience.

Gary writes on African football for ESPN, Kicker and others. Get him on twitter @garyalsmith

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