Know Your Enemy: Ghana winger Andre Ayew
In the build-up to the World Cup, SI.com continues to profile valuable, but perhaps undervalued players on each of the U.S. men's national team's Group G opponents at this summer's World Cup, Ghana, Germany and Portugal. The final subject of the Know Your Enemy series is Ghana winger Andre Ayew.
For Andre Ayew to exhibit weariness when talking about his career is understandable, considering the status of his father -- brilliant Marseille and Ghana attacking midfielder Abedi Pele.
"What my father achieved in Ghana is huge," Ayew said. "He brought a lot to the country. I'm very proud of what he has done, but this doesn't have any bearing on my game. Sometimes people may make useless comparisons. I suppose it's normal, but I had to learn to live with that. Some people thought that maybe I would take the ball and dribble past ten players then score. There was a huge expectation."
Almost whatever Andre "Dede" Ayew achieves in his career, he will always be the son of the three-time African Player of the Year. He was born in Lille, France, in 1989, the second of three brothers, all of whom are professional players -- the youngest, Jordan, is also in Ghana's provisional 26-man squad for the World Cup. His youth career was spent largely at Nania, the Accra club where his father is chairman, and he made his debut for their senior team at the age of 14.
He moved to Marseille in 2005, making his debut in August 2007. A loan spell at Lorient followed and, in the summer of 2009, Ayew seemed at a crossroads as the Marseille coach Didier Deschamps loaned him to the second-flight side Arles-Avignon. Ayew didn't hide his disappointment, but that summer he captained Ghana to the World Youth Cup before excelling at the 2010 Cup of Nations in which Ghana reached the final before being beaten by Egypt.
His club form was also exceptional as Arles achieved an unexpected promotion. Even before the World Cup, Deschamps offered him an extended contract and confirmed he was in his first-team plans for the following season. He has been a regular ever since. Although Ghana ultimately disappointed at the 20102 Cup of Nations, Ayew's performance against Tunisia in the quarterfinal, when he rose above some robustly physical attempts to stop him, was one of the great individual displays at international level in recent years.
HOW HE FITS IN
Ayew's talent is not in doubt, but he can be awkward with coaches and has clashed with James Kwesi Appiah before, which led to him being omitted from Ghana's squad for the Cup of Nations last year. Appiah was furious with Ayew for failing to show up for the squad's pre-tournament training camp, while the player said he was still having treatment on a hamstring injury -- and by implication preferred to be seen by club doctors than the national side's.
There was a sense that the hamstring was a useful excuse for both parties, given how strained relations between Appiah and Ayew clearly were. The previous October, the winger had appeared to insult the coach as he left the pitch having been substituted in Ghana's final Nations Cup qualifier, against Malawi. Ayew then refused to shake hands with the team director Sabahn Quaye and his teammates on the bench. The GFA gave Ayew a week to apologize. He did so, but even in accepting it Appiah issued a warning that ill-discipline would not be tolerated.
Ayew returned to the side for the vital final group game in qualifying, in which Ghana beat Zambia, and played in both playoff matches against Egypt. He and Appiah seem to have patched up their differences, but if things start to turn against Ghana that relationship is a potential stress point.
WHY HE POSES SUCH A DANGER
Ayew is quick, strong, skilful and intelligent, a very modern winger who has already been linked with summer moves to Liverpool and Manchester United. He is perhaps a touch inconsistent, but he was man of the match when Ghana beat the USA in the last 16 of the last World Cup in Rustenburg, setting up the winner for Asamoah Gyan with a lobbed pass over the U.S. back line.
Ghana's success four years ago came from sitting very deep in midfield, looking to get the ball forward quickly to Gyan with midfielders breaking to join him. Although Appiah has made the side slightly less direct, often playing with just one holding player and using Kwadwo Asamoah and Sulley Muntari in midfield (with the option of Kevin-Prince Boateng, now he has come out of international retirement), there is still an onus on the wide men to provide the link between midfield and attack and prevent Gyan being left isolated. Ayew's pace makes him ideal for the role, probably operating on the right with Abdul Majeed Waris on the left.