Words by James Bennett
Who can forget Dede’s tears? Ghana’s talisman had played a huge role in guiding the Black Stars to their first Africa Cup of Nations Final in five years. Last time he had been just 20, a relative newcomer on loan to Arles-Avignon and fresh from scoring his first international goal in the group stages. This time, he was 25, the star player in Avram Grant’s team and an inspirational figure in their battle back from an inauspicious start against Senegal. This was meant to be his moment.
Of course, while you cannot blame Ayew for Ghana’s penalty shootout defeat given that he scored his penalty, it was he who took the defeat the hardest on the Bata pitch after Boubacar Barry had clinched victory for Ivory Coast. He was inconsolable, in floods that would have made Paul Gascoigne say “this is a bit much now, no?”
Nonetheless, Dede bounced back well. He ended the 2014-15 season with 11 goals and 3 assists in 29 appearances for Marseille as they fell just short of Champions League qualification under the charismatic tactician Marcelo Bielsa. This stumble would prove crucial to his future, as Ayew’s contract was due to expire, and he chose to seek a new challenge.
After several years of rumours, Dede finally headed to the Premier League, signing a 4-year contract with Swansea City. It was another astute piece of business by the Welsh club, picking up an established yet young talent for nothing while other clubs around them flashed millions on duds. And of course this was a great move for Ayew, who would now be one of the focal points of a dynamic, attractive team under a promising young manager.
Alas, it hasn’t quite worked out so far, with the Swans suffering an indifferent start to the season. But once again Ayew cannot be held responsible, as he made an immediate impact to life at the Liberty Stadium. He scored his first goal for the club on the opening day of the season, as Swansea held champions Chelsea to a 2-2 draw. He added another the following week against Newcastle, and a third in the 2-1 win over Manchester United, as well as an assist. More goals against Tottenham and Aston Villa followed, giving him a total of 5 in the first 10 games.
Sadly, as an entire unit, the team struggled in other games, leading to manager Garry Monk’s departure. But Ayew has shown enough promise to suggest he will be a very good signing, and will continue to be one of the leading African players around.
But it is the Cup of Nations that Ayew will chiefly look back on this year, wondering what might have been. His 3 goals and 2 assists in getting Ghana to the final gave him the Golden Boot, and he was perhaps unlucky to miss out on the Player of the Tournament Award to team mate Christian Atsu. Ghana could not have reached the final without him; his brave header for the winning and progression-clinching goal against South Africa, with just minutes spare, typified his tournament.
He remains a perfectly logical choice as vice-captain behind the evergreen Asamoah Gyan; when Gyan retires, there is no question of who will succeed him. Having already picked up over 60 caps for his country, another 5-10 years serving it should see him easily pass 100. Put simply, he is the star player of one of Africa’s leading teams, and will continue to be for years to come; come the next World Cup, he should be at the peak of his powers. And surely he will get the Afcon winners’ medal he desperately desires.
His game could perhaps do with more assists, given that he now spends much of his time playing out wide or in the hole behind the striker, and he can on occasions drift into anonymity. He is not a truly world class player; if he was, he wouldn’t be at Swansea, given his recent availability for nothing. You could even argue his stock has fallen somewhat in the last couple of years. But he is still a formidable opponent, and on his day he can match and beat the best around.
Highlight of the Year: Vital goal against South Africa
The huge goal he scored against South Africa, which ultimately proved to be the difference between a group stage exit and progression to the final.