Asamoah Gyan was the busiest Ghana player in Al-Ain during the two weeks of camping and that was not just because he has a lot of friends there.
Often he would arrive at his old stomping ground first with physical trainer Jamie Lawrence and subject himself to the grilling of the ex-Jamaica international Jamie Lawrence for about fourty five minutes before the rest of the team arrives.
It is all part of Gyan’s desire to maximise his AFCON experience and ensure that years of pain will translate into glory, hopefully in Gabon.
“I just recovered from injury. The quality is there already with the ball work but I need to work on my conditioning for my resistance so that I can fit into a game for 90 minutes. That is the only thing I need that is why I am spending a lot of time with the physical trainer,” Gyan explains.
“I have had so many experiences with the Nations Cup. I have never gone to one in top physical shape. The only time I was not injured, I got sick two years ago. This time I feel good. I can’t wait for the first game to start.”
The start is particularly important for Gyan because in recent years, it has been Ghana’s main undoing. Five years ago in Angola, the Black Stars succumbed to an opening day defeat against Algeria. In 2015, defeat to Senegal nearly marred their campaign before they fought back strongly.
Those two tournaments too are Gyan’s prime examples when he says anyone underestimating the Black Stars have lost their sense of history and understanding of the Black Stars.
Gyan claims, backed by the facts that when Ghana has been most successful in recent Nations Cup, it has been when their backs have been against the wall. In 2010, it was with a team that was deemed too young to make any progress after several key players pulled out through injury.
Gyan was the star, recovering from a difficult tournament in 2008 when he threatened to go home to score the goals that sealed progress in the quarters and semis against Angola and Nigeria. In 2015, the Black Stars went to Equatorial Guinea with the pain and shame of Brazil 2014 still palpable.
Still, they managed to reach the final before they were denied by penalties against Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast success, achieved after two final heart aches provides the inspiration for the Ghana team. Dede Ayew used that example. And Gyan hammered on it too. “I always use Ivory Coast as an example,” he says.
“They lost two finals and then won the third one against Ghana all on penalties. We can do that too. We have quality players and our attitude is what will determine. It is very easy to say you can win the trophy but you must show it on the pitch. To win a trophy everyone must get involved. We need to be strong, have depth and hope that we stay injury free.”
Gyan has been integral to Ghana’s effort at winning another Nations Cup title with mixed results. In 2008, he was abused for missing too many chances, threatened to go home with his brother before Ghana bowed out in the semi final. By then he had fallen out of love with the home crowd many of whom were convinced he was not good enough.
Two years later, he had his chance for revenge, single handedly providing the goals in a one-goal project as Ghana reached the Nations Cup finals in Angola.In 2012, he was primed for redemption but it was same old story. He missed a penalty against Zambia in the semis and a plethora of chances, Ghana lost and the whole conversation about how useful he was for the Black Stars escalated again. It was so heated he took a break.
So in many ways nobody needs Afcon glory more than him. And he is keen to focus on the team goals even with many individual accolades beckoning. He could become the top goal scorer for Ghana if he surpases the eight that Osei Kofi and Wilberforce Mfum have both scored. Gyan is on seven. He is already the most capped Ghanaian player in the tournament and heading for his sixth. But he knows and everyone knows the numbers are meaningless without the tag of champions.
“I try to do my best for the team to win, not break records. I leave the rest for people to judge. I just try to get the job done. I will try and go there and do my best for Ghana and make sure we bring it home.”
By Michael Oti Adjei|TV3 Sports|Ghana