Missing Link Forces Ayews to the Sidelines

All is not well between the Ayew brothers and Black Stars management

All is not well between the Ayew brothers and Black Stars management

Marseille stars Andre Ayew and his brother Jordan have temporarily taken a break from the senior national team, the Black Stars. In two separate letters signed by Andre and Jordan, they outlined various reasons why they need the time off.

As is typical of such events, the immediate reaction is to question the patriotism of the players. Next is to point out how selfish they are, a sentiment punctuated by saying ‘we don’t need them’, ‘they should go’ and so on. As far as I am concerned many of the reactions are emotional and prevent us from seeing the real issues. It’s like the jilted womaniser whose selective amnesia prevents him from acknowledging how his ways have forced his girlfriend to the sidelines.

From the moment Jordan Ayew joined his brother in the Black Stars, it was inevitable that they would be inextricably linked. In the minds of Ghanaians they are identical if not siamese twins. Yet, both players must be looked at differently.

Jordan Ayew was not even invited to the pre-tournament camp with coach Appiah saying he was dropped for ‘footballing reasons‘. For Marseille’s player of the month for November 2012, this was apparently too hard to take causing some psychological trauma.

Many tried to read meaning into Jordan’s exclusion including that Appiah wanted to break up the duo. The reality is that while Jordan’s form has been good for his club he hasn’t quite translated that to club form so perhaps that was excusable. From his letter, it is clear Jordan is saying that he hasn’t been played in a position suitable to replicate that form. In his words, “The reason is that in the position for which my services are required for the national team, I have been ranked way behind several players as not to merit a place in the team on occasions when it mattered.”

Andre Ayew was dropped from the final list of players for the just-held African Cup of Nations by coach Kwesi Appiah effectively because Appiah could not wait for the player to arrive a day or two before the list was submitted. For Appiah it was too great a risk. He would have missed most of the team’s training camp in Abu Dhabi and ultimately Appiah felt that he had good enough replacements. The player had asked for more time to be treated for a hamstring injury by his club doctors who I presume he trusts more than the doctors in Ghana’s camp.  Ayew had allegedly missed previous deadlines given him.

Any professional athlete will tell you that hamstring and groin injuries are some of the most delicate injures to treat. A failure to undergo the right treatment and it can easily become a protracted one. This is the same Ayew who had previously played for Ghana in the 2012 Afcon with a persistent shoulder injury. Some readers might remember him writhing in pain and having his shoulder popped back twice in the game against Guinea.  He shook it off and finished the tournament. Ayew eventually had surgery on that shoulder in March which ended his season prematurely and kept him on the sidelines for three months. The start of this current season was thus difficult for him as he struggled to regain his form. It was that form he brought to play in a few Black Stars matches towards  the end of the year and getting substituted which left him angry.

Andre has undoubtedly been one of Ghana’s most impressive Ghanaian players since 2010. He has impressed with skill but mostly with spirit and determination. He has his frustrating moments when he holds on to the ball longer than he should but he more than makes up for that with his zeal. He is in short, a fighter.

By taking leave, he and his brother who also has a combative (sometimes petulant) streak are doing what they know best. They are fighting a system that took away an opportunity to represent their nation on the biggest African stage. They’ve decided to take on a management whose attitude appears to be that without them the players cannot function or that good to great players can simply be replaced willy nilly.

That attitude is not surprising given that these are the same management team members who justified their taking identical winning bonuses to  players for the 2013 Afcon. We’re increasingly living in a warped Ghanaian world where a sense of entitlement has overtaken one of sacrifice – where elected members of parliament (MPs) view public service as an opportunity to lord it over others rather than serve.

It is an opportunity to claim emoluments rather than make substantial and meaningful changes to the lives of the people who elected them.

So is it any wonder that football administrators see themselves as being as high in the pecking order as the players who sweat, break their backs and sometimes get injured without the necessary protections that professional clubs in Europe provide?

Unless FA officials change their posture and recognize that it is players who play the game and make them look good or bad, this ‘temporary retirement’ gimmick will routinely be used by players as a way of lifting their fists up high in protest whenever they feel victimized.  Or worse, they might shift from deuces to middle finger in the air, Chris Brown style, making the Black Stars a collection of players available rather than the best players Ghana has to offer.

Indeed the Ayews ‘temporary retirement’ as Dede points out continues a trend traceable to other Stars like Michael Essien, KP Boateng and Asamoah Gyan, though the crucial difference is that the earlier cases were precipitated by injury, stress etc rather than FA management decisions .  Credit is of course due the FA for keeping an open door policy which helps ensure that the retirements are in the end truly temporary (eg Asamoah Gyan).  The Ayews’ move  however raises the stakes significantly.

Such heightened stakes could compel the FA members  and team management to make decisions based on principle rather than on a sense of position and power. Ultimately though both players and management have to agree to be more flexible with their different stances always with the progress of the team and interest of the nation in mind.