Kwesi Yankah

His name, Asamoah Gyan.
He was in a happier mood the last time I saw him. That was 4th September 2020, at UPSA. The grand occasion was the commissioning of a new Astro turf soccer pitch for that formidable university in Accra. He made a symbolic kick off to inaugurate a plush UPSA Stadium. That day, Asamoah Gyan was assisting our sporty President, Nana Akufo-Addo who was special guest of honor, and in whose privileged company I was ensconced.

Taller than I expected, Gyan’s charisma and commanding presence enhance his global appeal. An affable giant, he was chummy with everybody around him, bending over to speak to young ones, helloing, chatting, autographing, submitting to selfies. Behind Gyan was a proud history of Ghana footbal into which the youth could tap, and equally grow tall in the game. But the youth should also learn the attendant hazards of stardom.

Friday January 14, 2022. Gyan’s mood was different. Not the sparkling star I met. Teary eyed in the studios of DSTV, he choked in halting commentary at discussion time, sobbed, and sang dirges on the great team he once led, the Black Stars, who had unimpressively played a one-one draw with Gabon. During the game itself, which he watched from the studios, Asamoah Gyan must have been restless in his seat, soaked in sweat, kicking, tackling, and vicariously sprinting past the Gabon defense. But straying balls kept rolling before his eyes that day, bouncing in touch for goal kicks beyond the reach of his feet.

The past week has seen Ghanaians at their mathematical best, trying to compute the likely outcome of our match with the Comoros Island; and the mathematics is simple. If only we can beat Comoros by at least a two-goal margin, and our ‘enemy’ Gabon, can be beaten by Morocco. If Gabon falls, it would mean in local parlance, yen nyinaa yeabo pepeepe’. ‘We are both equally downgraded,’ but we would still stand taller by goals aggregate, and thereby enter the knock out stage, leaving a Gabon or rather, ‘VaGabon’ team, stranded. To achieve that we should diplomatically tie Gabon’s legs in their game with Morocco, while Morocco, a former ‘enemy’, whips Gabon clean.

As Ghanaians, our mathematical skills appear to begin and end with soccer and lotto matters. That is why my amiable friend Dr Adu Twum in Education, is busily working to take us beyond soccer mathematics.

But our readiness with soccer mathematics also explains our passion for the game. It simply means if you play well, we shall lavish praise on you; but woe unto you if you miss a crucial penalty kick or you narrowly miss a goal in a crucial encounter. If that should happen, it is advisable to remain in the changing room after the game until further notice. Old and new players of Accra Hearts of Oak would narrate their woes.

In the good old days, it was unthinkable for the village head teacher at Gomua Afransi, to watch his school team lose to Gomua Asebu Local Authority in a home game, without reacting. He would simply enforce his own time out, pull a faltering player off the pitch, and give him six lashes, before restoring him. That was a type of corporal counselling by the head, who doubled as coach. In my own ‘holy village,’ Duakwa of old, the accused player was likely to be ambushed after the game and pelted with cocoyam. Cocoyam was not just a staple food, it also doubled as a penalty unit, Uncle Ben Mensah with the help of Ken Bediako would tell you.

The justification was simply that their ‘Asamoah Gyan,’ had spoiled their appetite by a useless kick, which even a baby could have converted to a goal. Due to this unpardonable sin, fans were going to fast or skip their dinner; their appetite was gone. That is why the culprit must suffer. But in Oseikrom, fasting after a disappointing match did not necessarily mean starving to death. It simply meant eating anything else but the pounded stuff. The Porcupine fans would confess they are the kind of people who make fasting so appetizing.

But imagine what the head teacher’s corporal tonic must have achieved. Three minutes after the lashes, the ‘counselled’ left winger crossed an in-swinger that curled and hit the left corner of the net for the winning goal. It’s a go-o-o-oa-a-a-al! Hundreds of spectators would throw themselves onto the pitch in celebration— celebrating the goal, the player, and his coach the headteacher.

Instant justice in soccer appears to have surfaced in big tournaments, big time.

At CAN 2008 in Ghana, Senegal suffered precisely that after they had lost to Angola in their Group D match. Their fans, while wailing the loss, ambushed the team and officials on their way to the dressing room, and subjected them to merciless spanking. Tamale stadium was the site.

If Senegalese were beating up officials because their team had lost to Angola, my ‘contremen’ from Ghana were blood thirsty, cursing and swearing for the opposite reason: Ghana had beaten Namibia by a single goal. Senegal had lost and Senegalese were angry; Ghana had won and Ghanaians were angry too. Senegal collected zero points for the defeat; Ghana had gained three points for the victory. In spite of this, taxi drivers and other nationalists removed Ghana flags hoisted on their vehicles. Demand for tournament souvenirs instantly plummeted; and a lull fell on the great nation called Ghana. Ghana’s anger was ‘understandable.’ The mathematical logic was simple.

Ghana did not lose as such; but we could have spanked Namibia by more goals; a one goal margin was too small a victory over a tiny country, Namibia. Denying us a goal harvest was the offense our Black Stars had committed. In political terms it amounted to causing financial loss.

For this, a culprit had been arrested, tried and sentenced. Asamoah Gyan was his name. He was the first accused. With only the Namibia goalkeeper to beat, he shot wide. For this, he could as well have been handcuffed and manacled by angry fans. He suffered abuse, vilification, death threats. A docile media had condoned and connived, allowing their airwaves to be used to rain invectives, point accusing fingers and threaten mayhem on Gyan and his family. But the threat could not be taken lightly.

Too soon Asamoah Gyan’s heroic exploits in Germany 2006 and all his achievements and sacrifices, did not matter anymore. He had scored the fastest goal in the entire world cup tournament in 2006. Two minutes into the game with the Czechs, he had made Ghana and Africa proud by outwitting a world class team. He and his colleagues returned that year to a hero’s welcome at Accra airport.

In our opening match with Guinea at CAN 2008, he had slammed in the first goal through a penalty kick, setting the entire country ablaze with excitement. And now here we were with a call for Asamoah’s head, when we had won a game over Namibia with a small margin.

In Asamoah’s plea during his trial by the media, he poured out his soul as he stood in the docket, tears welling in his eyes: The downfall of a man is not the end of his life. I am only 22. I have played 22 games and scored 15 goals at my age. So if things are not going well, I expect encouragement from the fans, not criticism. I am working on my play and will find my rhythm. If things go well it will be better for the team and Ghanaians as well. Those were the words of Asamoah Gyan 2008.

True to his promise, Asamoah bounced back in the next game with Morocco and played marvellously well. To which his accusers rebutted, “It is our insults and threats that healed him….” That was 2008.

2010 world cup SA

The story continued in 2010 World Cup, when a Serbian defender in the last minute handed us a penalty opportunity in South Africa. Asamoah slammed it in for Ghana. And that was it! Asamoah Gyan had done it again. Overnight the country turned topsy-turvy, something long awaited to drown economic sorrows! Street side parties continued all night and beyond! I started receiving text messages from far and near. From USA, and far away Germany came congratulatory messages.

A single kick from the right foot of Asamoah Gyan had transformed the country. Economic activity was bouncing back.

Two years before it happened with CAN 2008, when a slow start by the Stars slowed down street side retail. Along the streets of Accra, I had overheard hawkers pleading desperately with Asamoah Gyan to please score a goal, in order to revive sale of national souvenirs. That way, parents could pay the school fees of children! The aftermath of our match with Nigeria that year revived the souvenir business. Business thereafter boomed, and children of indigent parents traced their steps to the classroom.

And here we were again in 2010; Asamoah Gyan’s right foot had temporarily restored life. It had kick-started economic activity at the street side, and stirred the nationalist in us. Ghana went awash with national colours. Flags on vehicles joyously fluttering; cars festooned in colourful buntings; miniature umbrellas twirling; infants wearing oversized hats; caps pointing in reverse directions; wrist bangles jingling; colourful ear rings dangling; boyish eyes peering through Bob Okala goggles. And waists gyrating to the rhythms of life! (All this was before the Uruguay disaster, when self-same Asamoah, broke hearts with the famed penalty kick, that brought a sovereign nation to its knees, missing a world semi-final.

2022. You would then understand Asamoah Gyan as he sobbed last Friday at DSTV studios. He had once carried Ghana’s destiny inside his right foot.

Osu Oxford Street in Accra, was quiet last Saturday when I drove past; life at national souvenir stores was dull with passers-by only stealing glances at distant artefacts. Who knows if history will repeat itself this coming week in Cameroun, where local economies would bounce back through the left foot of Dede Ayew.


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