His determination, more than ever, scribbled on his face as his eyes close in on the ball on the spot.
This was a man who had showed he was up for the task when it mattered most. Before this significant moment of his career, he had pulled off an extra time miracle in the game against the United States of America, helping his country make their first Quarter-Final appearance at a FIFA World Cup for only the second time trying.
Forcing his way through two American defenders with strength and guts, the showman that Gyan is, catches a sweet volley on his left foot as the Jabulani flies into the net, a goal that proved to be the winner and Ghana’s ticket to the Quarter Final of the 2010 FIFA World. His all-time favourite goal for the Black Stars.
As Gyan stood behind the ball at the Soccer City Stadium, the situation was different from what had happened in the previous game. There were no defenders to stop him. It was just him, the ball, the goalkeeper and the goal. The pressure was high, the task, extremely nerve-racking.
Asamoah Gyan takes a left step backwards and paddles the right to kick off his run towards his penalty spot. He strikes the ball with all the strength and venom in his right leg. A sound clicks as the ball strikes the bar and goes over the goal.
In a moment, the only sound on the entire continent was that of the Uruguay players and their fans who celebrated the miss.
Hearts sank in Ghana and its solemn dejection resonated across the length and breadth the continent. Africa had only one hope and although it was not over, the continent had to put its trust in five more of the chance they had failed to take - a penalty shootout.
It will eventually be over for Ghana. Despite Ghana put in disarray, one man’s sorrow was heartbreaking. Asamoah Gyan could not hold back the tears for missing the penalty against Uruguay that would have made the Black Stars the first African country to make the semifinal in a FIFA World Cup tournament.
“I felt sad, I wanted to go there and score for my nation, for the whole of Africa, and then I couldn’t bury the ball at that time,” Gyan recalls in an interview with Pulse.com.gh a decade after the incident in South Africa.
“I felt like I let everybody down. But I had to compose myself and say to myself ‘It’s one of those things’,” Ghana’s all-time leading scorer for the Black Stars says as his emotions begin to expose the sensitivity of the penalty miss in his eyes.
“Although people were hurt, sometimes I do ask questions. What about me on the field? What about me who missed the penalty? How do I even feel? I feel like they don’t even think about what the player is going through on the field of play,” he says with the sadness in his eyes making waste the 10 years that might have supposedly eased the pain.
The former Black Stars captain consoles himself with his encouragement of what the football game is about saying “it happens, there are a lot of players who miss penalties.”
Growing up with football
Asamoah Gyan did not end up being Africa’s leading scorer at a FIFA World Cup tournament by chance. As a child, when his classmates outlined their ambitions of wanting to be presidents and doctors, the Ghanaian football legend chose football and stuck by it although people used to laugh at him. For Gyan, “it is the best thing in the world” to make a choice as a child and achieve that goal.
Colts football complemented an interesting journey for Asamoah Gyan at Mamprobi in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana before his eventual move to Liberty Professionals in the Ghana Premier League. He played for teams like Mighty Victory where a misunderstanding between members of management saw the birth of another club Seed House Babies where the striker ended up.
The highlight of his Accra Academy football days is evidence of a player who was destined for greatness.
With the help of coach J.E. Sarpong’s as the sports master of Accra Academy, Gyan’s integration into the school’s football team was completed despite initially not wanting to play in his first year because of the mentality of seniors thinking they had to get their chance before juniors.
But he went on to win the inter-colleges competition, being crowned as the best player. Asamoah Gyan just feels gifted.
“I felt like I am gifted,” he says.
“I started scoring goals when I was a kid. Everywhere I go, I emerge as the top scorer - during school days, during the Stay Cool days, First Division, I was the top scorer. Even colts level, I was able to score 41 goals, a record that has not been broken. I am a clinical finisher”
Honouring a national call
In 2002 a Black Meteors coach saw Asamoah Gyan playing for Liberty Professionals, spotted the talent that the then 17-year-old was and gave him his first national team call up.
“Ralf Zumdick, that was in 2002,” the former Black Meteors player recounts.
“When he came to the national team, he saw me play for Liberty, saw the talent in me and invited me to the national team.”
Gyan would eventually find himself spending his first day with the senior national team of Ghana, the Black Stars.
Just like his confidence in front of goal that has seen him break records in the Black Stars shirt, his early days at the camp with senior members of the national team was not short of confidence.
The player had already made his name in the Ghana Premier League with people aware of how lethal he was in front of goal. Having his brother by his side to protect him was also a welcomed bonus. In Gyan’s mind, nothing was unconquerable.
“I felt at home because my brother Baffour Gyan was there,” Asamoah Gyan tells Pulse.com.gh.
“Also, I had established myself in the Ghana Premier League. Everybody knew who I was. Everybody knew what I was capable of. I was more confident about being in the camp. I was ready to do anything. The feeling was good to get the first call up at that time because the quality of players in the team was massive. People didn’t even believe I could be in the 18.
“There were a lot of players there but I was able to make the first 18 in my first qualifier against Somalia. The invitation was amazing,” he continues.
Despite the belief and trust from his family throughout his football journey, Gyan says they were surprised upon hearing the news he had made the squad. His take is that his confidence was a major boost and that “in life, things happen”.
On his international debut, Gyan did not waste time to start writing his name as one of the greatest footballers to have worn the Black Stars. Coming on after 62 minutes of play in Ghana’s game against Somalia on November 19, 2003, a 17-year-old Asamoah Gyan grabbed a 90th-minute goal to make it a perfect start for his international career and becoming what was recorded as the youngest player to have scored for Ghana at the time. (Ghanaian football statistician Thomas Freeman Yeboah disputes this record. According to Freeman, Nii Odartey Lamptey who was born in December 1974 was 16 years and 4 months when he scored for Ghana against Togo in April 1991 during an AFCON qualifier)
With the Black Stars making their first appearance at a FIFA World Cup tournament in 2006, Asamoah Gyan scored Ghana’s first goal at the most prestigious international tournament, also claiming the fastest goal at the 2006 edition with his goal against the Czech Republic after just 68 seconds of play.
At age 34, the forward now has 51 goals for Ghana in his career making him the all-time top scorer for his country and holds the record for the top-scoring African player at a FIFA World Cup tournament.
Playing with the top stars across the globe while representing Ghana coupled with his lead on the continents ranking for the most goals at that level is a feat Gyan holds in high esteem.
“Being able to play in the World Cup,” Asamoah Gyan quickly responds to a question around the highest point in his international career.
“It is not an easy task for any footballer. It is every footballer’s dream to play in the World Cup. And I have been there three consecutive times.
“I have been able to prove myself. I didn’t just go there to play. I am the top African scorer in the World Cup history,” he says with a sense of pride, a touch of humility and a glow that comes with the self-awareness of being the best at what you do.
“When you talk about my name, it is written there. It is going to be there forever until somebody breaks the record. Me playing at that level, I feel blessed and I think it is the highest any footballer can go,” Asamoah Gyan tells Pulse Ghana.
Leader, friend and a comic
Football and player morale have gone hand in hand since ages past. One of the morale-boosting processes for the Blacks Stars players have been their jama sessions which almost always has Gyan in there with a key role.
Aside from being the captain of the Black Stars team, he was a man of the people, a comic and a friend to all.
“My style is I don’t want people to be bored where I am,” Gyan says with a huge smile on his face.
“I try to develop an attitude to take people out of their stress. Wherever I am, I try to make people happy by cracking jokes, dancing and singing. That is my style. I don’t like sadness.”
Despite rumours around a divided camp between Gyan and other members of the Black Stars squad, the former national team captain says he is a man for all and treats everyone equal, leading when he should and training the young ones where necessary.
Speaking in a mixture of coded parables and forced euphemism to cover the canker specific revelations could unravel, the 34-year-old laments of a few reasons why he could not lead the team to an AFCON trophy, squashing the theory of a divided camp. He stresses that politics in football can’t work. Players lobbying to be in the national team won’t work. According to him, if the nation takes a critical at these issues, there could be a chance. Until then, he is a man for all, doing his best.
“I am a football player and I always play under coaches. I always try to do my job. I always try to help the young ones who are coming to win but as I said, politics in football is not going to work,” he says with a posture that mimics a grand ‘mic drop’ or the popular meme ‘I said what I said’.
“I was close to everybody,” he continues after the pause explaining he had no favourites and does not do ‘close friends’ at Black Stars camp.
He goes on to explain he spent a lot of times with his roommates for obvious reasons. When he led the senior national team as captain, he had his room but had roommates like John Boye and Kwadwo Asamoah when he wasn’t the leader.
“When you have a roommate, you are always in the room so you always share things. If we are going to take it like who were the people closest to me, then it was going to be my roommates,” he says.
“When we go out, we normally share ideas and I normally crack my jokes, as usual, to make everybody laugh, sing for everybody and do a lot of things to make the camp lively,” Gyan says with a smile and a shrug.
Great players play alike
“Ronaldo,” Asamoah Gyan emphatically stresses talking about his best player of all time. His demeanour shows a man without doubt and sure of his choice.
“The Brazilian. Ronaldo. Any time, any day.”
Players grow up looking up to other players they can emulate. The distance between Africa and South America could not stop the former Liberty Professionals player from looking up to Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima.
“For me, I haven’t seen any player like him although there have been a lot of players that people (he gestures to illustrate what people’s choices may be) … but what I saw, I don’t think I have seen any player like him.
“He was a striker who could do anything at any time like the strength, the speed, the dribbling ability, skills, he was amazing.”
Asamoah Gyan recalls learning a few tricks and skills from him that enhanced his style of play giving defenders a tough time on the pitch here in Ghana.
“Ronaldo is my best player of all time,” Asamoah Gyan makes his pick.
On the best player he has played with for both club and country, the man who has played in across the globe picks Michael Essien, The Bison. He further heaps praises on Laryea Kingston as one of the most underrated players in the Ghana national team. It gets interesting when Gyan has to make his Starting XI of Ghanaian players he saw playing.
He selects Richard Kingson in goal, John Paintsil, Han Adu Sarpei, John Mensah and Samuel Osei Kufuor as defenders, Michael Essien, Laryea Kingston, Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari as midfielder and pairs himself upfront with Abedi Pele.
A man of controversies and presidential dialogues
In January 2008, Asamoah Gyan and his brother Baffuor Gyan packed their bags ready to leave the Black Stars camp after an unconvincing 1-0 win against Namibia as Ghana hosted the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. Teammate tried to calm them down.
For the general public, it was a matter of two spoilt players wanting to go about their tasks without criticism. In Asamoah Gyan’s account, it was so much more.
The player before the tournament had been approached by English Premier League club Manchester City with a contract to sign. His agent told him to boycott the Africa Cup of Nations, go for rehab and sign the contract to play for the Citizens.
Having already missed 2006 edition of the competition and with Ghana as hosts of the tournament in 2008, it was key for Gyan to represent his nation ignoring the deal with Manchester City.
With all these going through his mind, his mother's tears on the telephone when she called, having got everything right from colts football until that point and never experienced such backlash, Asamoah Gyan felt the criticism were unfair and personal. Ghana had won by a goal to nil but the fans expected more, like "ten nil" as Gyan puts it.
It took the former president of Ghana, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor to calm the former Black Stars captain down and make him stay to continue the tournament.
“He told me I should be ready for some of these things,” Gyan recalls the episode in 2008.
“I think he is one of the men who made me very strong, with the advice he gave me. I took his word although I felt like the whole nation was against me.”
11 years after the 2008 threat from Gyan to walk out of camp during an ongoing tournament, the man who has 51 goals for Ghana abruptly announced his retirement from the senior national team of Ghana, the Black Stars in May 2019.
It took the president of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to make Gyan rescind his decision and prepare for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with a few weeks to go.
“I retired from the national team officially. I sent the letter. I had to take it back. The president spoke to me and I had to come back to the national team. For now, I am still available till the day I call it a day for international football,” Asamoah Gyan explains.
His involvement in the stained money scandal around Black Stars squad that went to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil also stands tall in the subject of controversies around his game.
A row over unpaid money owed the Black Stars players forced former President John Dramani Mahama to send a plane with money to Brazil to compensate players who threatened to boycott their last game against Portugal. In one of the most dramatic and embarrassing scenes in World Cup history, Ghana was the star of the show.
“When you talk about embarrassment, I don’t know what embarrassment means,” the man who captained the Black Stars in Brazil points out.
“We went to a tournament. We weren’t the only country who went to the World Cup who got kicked out in the tournament. So when you talk about embarrassment, I don’t agree with it.
“We are professional players and we need to get paid,” Gyan unequivocally explains his stance on the money saga in Brazil.
“In every profession, you need to get paid. When you don’t get paid, you have to take your own decision. We tried our best. We did everything and acted professionally. We stayed in the tournament and made sure we did everything right but at the end of the day, you need to get paid.
“People took it negatively because of politics in football. I always say politics in football? Then we should forget winning the cup. I will say it because I have been there and with my experience, I know football and politics are not going to work.”
Players mostly rely on the money they get from playing professionally to take care of themselves and their family. There have been moments where players have divided focus on whether chasing a name in football or simply going for the cashout.
After an impressive season in the 2010/2011 English Premier League with Sunderland, Asamoah Gyan left the club on September 10, 2011, to United Arab Emirates club Al Ain on a season-long loan, a deal that will later be made a permanent move.
As the news moved across the airwaves in Ghana, there was only one question on people’s minds, why would a top Ghanaian star ditch one of the most prestigious leagues in the world for a comparative non-starter?
Even for Asamoah Gyan, this happened so fast with people not knowing the finer details. According to him, there was a lot of misunderstanding.
“I had a great first season (at Sunderland). When you do well, clubs will just come for your signature,” Gyan narrates the deal that got him to be one of the highest-paid footballers in the world.
“Al Ain came for a loan deal for 6 million for just one season. Me being the marksman of Sunderland at that time, the fans loved me. We had a very good relationship and my music was played at the stadium every time. The relationship was great. I did not feel any negativity there.
“When the offer came, the management came to me to tell me to go for the loan deal. I asked myself, being the marksman of the team, why should I go to a club in UAE?
“And then they told me the deal was good and it’s going to benefit the club because the club needed money at that time. I said to myself ‘what about me the player and the fans?’
“I was told I just have to go for one season and come back to continue my career there (at Sunderland). I saw my contract and it was a very good deal for me. I was thinking about what the (Sunderland) fans were going to say. But I felt they needed the money and needed the deal to go through. And honestly, the deal was also good for me,” Gyan recalls.
The player moved to the UAE to see his loan deal out. He eventually renewed his contract at Al Ain which was a better deal than the loan deal and up until now, Asamoah Gyan has no regrets moving from the English Premier League despite the debate his transfer triggered in his home country around keeping his standard for the Black Stars.
“In my profession, I need to be well paid. Although I love my job and can do what I want to do on the field, I have to think about myself first. The deal was good. I decided to stay. I fell in love with the place and I have no regrets.”
Gyan alludes that his scoring ratio in the national team moved up following his move to the UAE so his critics have no point.
End of an era
Footballers eventually hang their boots at some point irrespective of the mark they make on the game. The all-time top scorer for Ghana is unperturbed about people trying to retire him at the age of 30 as he has seen through his national duty.
“In this country, people try to retire you when you are in your 30s. I don’t think it is a good thing,” the player who is still hungry for more says. “People have tried to retire me in my 30s.”
Gyan, however, has the zeal to go for as long as his fitness allows claiming the same people who want to retire him call for his assistance when his replacements are unable to fill his immensely large football boots when it comes to the national team.
For over 17 years, Asamoah Gyan has served his country mostly wearing the number 3 shirt. Despite the top strikers in the world seen with different numbers mostly 9, Baby Jet as he is affectionately called explains his brother handed him number 3 jersey for a reason.
Initially, the 34-year-old did not understand and asked the same questions most football fans have occasionally asked; why number 3 for a striker?
“It was given to me by my senior brother Baffour Gyan,” Asamoah Gyan says.
“He was with the number 3 shirt when I was coming to the national team. I asked him the same question when I was a kid.
“And then he told me - God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.”
The interview with Asamoah Gyan was conducted by Pulse Ghana's Thomas Freeman Yeboah.