One of the abiding memories of African football in 2015 will be of a dejected Gervinho sitting on a plastic chair, with his back turned to the penalties that would decide the winner of AFCON 2015; his body language that of a man who was already defeated.. When he missed a penalty at AFCON 2012, after refusing to go forward each time he was asked to and, eventually, only having to take it out of necessity rather than through his free will, his family’s house was set on fire. This time around, for all the importance of football over life and death, the winger saw fit to instruct his coach Herve Renard that he did not want to be in a position to take a penalty, and so he was substituted in dying minutes of extra time.
To some, Gervinho may have displayed a lack of bottle by doing that. But if there’s any suggestion that he drowns in self-doubt when push comes to shove, then one should consider his form for Les Elephants since 2012 and the increasing responsibility he has taken. He has become arguably their most important player, a reliable performer in key games and a scorer of crucial goals. Bar Yaya Toure, he is the only player in the attacking third who can, and has, been able to unlock defences on his own.
Sent off in the opening AFCON Group D game versus Guinea – where he was Ivory Coast’s liveliest player by far – after an uncharacteristic slap to an opponent, it was unsurprising to see his team look so incoherent in attack until his return. He issued an apology to his team-mates and all Ivorian fans in the aftermath of his sending off, and there was no downturn in Gervinho’s typically excellent form for his country on his comeback, scoring the sealing goal in the crunch game against Algeria.
His move to the Chinese Super League is, of course, a reflection of a man who is seeking a fistful of dollars rather than playing at the very highest standard of football. Given his international form was unaffected even in the inconsistent Arsenal days, Ivory Coast fans will remain hopeful that playing at a lower standard of football won’t compromise his consistency at international level.
Highlight of the Year: Winning AFCON 2015
If the weight of AFCON pain could be measured on Ivory Coast’s golden generation then Gervinho, although a considerable number of years younger than the first wave of the generation, would be in the main peloton with Boubacar Barry, Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers and Didier Zokora. He had always insisted that the lack of trophies didn’t mean they weren’t the best team in Africa, but such a statement can only be vindicated by at least having a piece of silverware.