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Sports Features of Monday, 25 March 2019

Source: thetoughtackle.com

Coach Kwesi Appiah should hand keys to ‘Dede’ for Egypt 2019

Now, let’s get a few things out of the way:

First, I don’t believe there is a leadership feud/crisis in Ghana’s senior national team, and — second — even if there were, I wouldn’t be moved to choose between the supposed protagonists, current skipper Asamoah Gyan and deputy Andre Ayew. But while I do think the armband itself is worth little more than any other piece of polyester, it’s also a fact that the strength of character of he who wears it on his bicep is a far more important force.

Since being appointed captain of the Black Stars in October 2012, Gyan has exuded enough of such character, leading Ghana from the front — literally — both with goals and his sheer presence. In that period, through three Nations Cup editions and a Fifa World Cup, no player has embodied Ghana’s highs and lows more than Gyan.

The Kayserispor man is keen to do so for at least one last big event, presumably this summer’s Afcon, and it’s hard to begrudge him that chance on the evidence of all he’s done. The reality, though, is that Gyan isn’t doing much to earn that opportunity at the moment. He hasn’t played for Ghana in 18 months, with a cruel combination of poor fitness and poor form limiting his output for both club and country.

At 33 — going on 34 — the sun is setting on Gyan’s career, and hopes of a late revival just aren’t realistic. For Ghana’s all-time top-scorer, dawn is gone and dusk has struck. And should he even make it to Egypt 2019 — which, as things stand, would hardly be on merit — he ought not to be captain.

Enter Ayew, Ghana’s leader in its last two games. Granted, the 29-year-old — Turkey-based, too — hasn’t enjoyed significantly greater relevance than Gyan since the ill-fated Fifa World Cup home qualifier versus Congo in 2017, having subsequently endured an exile which lasted a little over a year. Following his November 2018 return, though, Ayew — as captain in Gyan’s stead — has inspired the Stars to successive victories that helped the country finish top of its Afcon qualifying group, more recently against Kenya in Accra last Saturday on the final match-day.

Those results in themselves don’t comprise proof enough to push the argument of Ayew deserving an extended, relatively permanent run with the armband, but look a little deeper — even if through the lens of sentiment — and the point gets clearer.

See, Ayew has always been destined to be the Stars’ main man someday and, at 29, that could be now. Ayew, like Gyan, is himself waning and another major tournament — Afcon 2021 the closest — won’t find him any better than he now is. If the captaincy truly is a wand capable of producing ‘magic’ in the right hands, as they say, now is as good a time as any for Ayew to step out of Gyan’s shadow and own the stage.

And Egypt is a stage Ayew knows very well, one has fond memories of. A decade ago, in the North African country, his sterling leadership steered the Black Satellites to the continent’s only Fifa U-20 World Cup title, and the scenes of him hoisting the trophy against the backdrop of a dark Cairo sky remain fresh. Of course, Ayew was sprightly and exuberant then, but he’s more experienced and just as hungry now. For that golden generation of Ghanaian youth — what remains of it, that is — 2019 probably marks the end of the road, and there’d be no farewell more fitting than one decorated by Ghana’s first Afcon glory in nearly four decades, with Ayew at the fore — again in Egypt.

Between dropping Gyan or keeping him but handing Ayew the keys, head coach Kwesi Appiah’s choice won’t be easy as, for either veteran, this could well be an international swansong. In Ghana’s best interests, though, there should be only one winner: you know the name, right?