With the 2019 African Cup of Nations draws to a close - ending once again in disappointment for Ghana, it appears likely that Asamoah Gyan has played his final game for the Black Stars, marking the end of a prolific international career. Having been talked into reversing his international retirement one last time to take part in the tournament, it seems inevitable that he’ll now call it a day once more. Gyan will go down in history as Ghana’s all-time record goalscorer, with a tally of 51 which is unlikely to be broken for several years, if ever. He also has to be considered one of the greatest Ghanian players of all time.
Given his importance to the national side for over fifteen years, it might seem strange to say that his career should have amounted to more, but at the age of 33 and with his club career likely approaching the end, too, it’s hard to escape the impression that Gyan squandered some of his potential.
The Brightest Of Beginnings
Gyan was only eighteen when he joined Italian Serie A side Udinese in 2003, having caught their eye with his appearances for Liberty Professionals in his home country. A move to one of Europe's top leagues at such an early age marked him as someone with the potential to be 'the' big African football star of the future, and in the early years, it was all going well. Udinese loaned him out to a smaller Italian club as he acclimatized to the rigors of top-class football, but his stellar performances for Ghana at the 2006 World Cup put him in the spotlight on the world stage. That summer, a big-money move to Russia's Lokomotiv Moscow beckoned, but Udinese decided it was time to start making proper use of their striking asset. In 2006, aged 21, he returned to his parent club and broke into the first team.
A year later, Gyan was indispensable to Udinese. His excellent goalscoring form saw him rewarded with a new, better-paid five-year contract, and he seemed happy in Italian football until he was struck down by injury at the start of 2008. Gyan couldn't rediscover his form, and Udinese lost interest. At the end of that season, he was sold.
The French Connection
Although his time in Italy hadn't ended the way he may have dreamed of, there were still clubs in Europe who saw Gyan's obvious talent and wanted to make him part of their side. French Ligue 1 club Rennes was the best of the suitors available to him, and a transfer fee of eight million euros made him their player for the next season. In France, Gyan started to reproduce the same form he demonstrated when he was playing for his country. He quickly became a fan's favorite, and by the time the 2010 World Cup rolled around, people believed he might mature into one of the world's top strikers. With his profile raised, it was inevitable that an English Premier League club would come calling.
Moving To England
When Gyan went to Sunderland in 2010, Sunderland was still considered to be a big club in England. They had a huge stadium, and lots of money. The years since Gyan played for them have been unkind, and they now find themselves playing in English football's third tier, but back in 2010, they were expected to at least finish in the top half of the Premier League table. Gyan's knack of scoring goals was expected to help them get there. That's why they broke their transfer record to sign him for thirteen million Euros.
Gyan scored ten league goals in 31 appearances during his first season with Sunderland - a good return for a foreign player still getting to grips with the league - and was expected to kick on from there the following year. It wasn’t to be. Gyan had now developed a taste for the money that came with being a Premier League player, and it seemed he wanted more of it. The United Arab Emirates Pro League - money rich but talent poor - was his next destination. Gyan would later admit that his motivations for making the move were purely financial.
Money, Money, Money
Watching Gyan's club career since then has been like watching someone playing mobile slots. A good (or lucky) mobile slots player will load one slot, take money from it, and then move on rather than re-investing in the same game. They'll load another mobile slot, repeat the trick, and then load the next slot up. For a while, it might work, but you can't guarantee that mobile slots will keep paying out forever. Online slots are about luck more than they are about skill, and so if you don't know when to stop gambling, the slots will stop paying out. Gyan, based on his career trajectory since then, didn't know when to stop.
After his time Al Ain in the UAE, he went to China - again, money was his motivating factor. After two years in China, he returned to the UAE. Now, in the twilight of his career, he’s playing in Turkey. Not only that, his money seemed to buy him distractions from football. He tried his hand at being a boxing promoter. He tried to open an airline. By late 2018, some reports in England said that he was on the verge of bankruptcy despite earning over $300,000 per week in his prime. If that were true, Gyan's habit of rolling the dice and gambling again with big money had returned to bite him. When he inevitably retires away from the spotlight, he may ask himself what he has to show for all his years in the sport.
Had Gyan stayed in England, the story could have been very different. He could have been bought by one of England’s bigger clubs. He might have moved on to Spain, or back to Italy. Perhaps he would have become the all-time leading African goalscorer in the European Champions’ League. Because he decided to walk away from top-class football and play in minor leagues for big money when he was only 26, we’ll never know.
Asamoah Gyan could - and perhaps should - have become one of the greatest African players of all time. He might have earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as other great strikers like George Weah, Didier Drogba, Kanu, and Samuel Eto'o. As it is, he failed to eclipse the legend of Abedi Pele, which is the minimum he should have achieved. Gyan is a Ghanaian all-time-great, but he should have been so much more.