x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Al Ain's Asamoah Gyan has African Nations glory in his sights

The Ghanaian tells Ali Khaled of his hopes for success with his country and in the Pro League season.

Asamoah Gyan, the captain of Ghana, is concentrating on getting out of the group stages. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo
Asamoah Gyan, the captain of Ghana, is concentrating on getting out of the group stages. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo

From a distance he seems extremely laid-back. Up close, perhaps too laid-back. But beneath the serene exterior lies a fighter.

Today, as Ghana kick off their 2013 African Cup of Nations campaign against Democratic Republic of Congo at South Africa's Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth, the country's most famous son, Al Ain's Asamoah Gyan, is once again in battle mode.

"My confidence is really high; since I joined the camp we've performed well in the two friendly games," he said of the wins over Egypt (3-0) and Tunisia (4-2) in Abu Dhabi, two games in which he scored.

"The players are showing great fighting spirit, the squad is happy and we're ready for the African Cup of Nations."

Gyan has always scored goals. For Liberty Professionals, Udinese, Modena, Rennes and Sunderland. For Ghana (30 goals in 64 games) he scored on his international debut as a 17 year old against Somalia in 2003. Now, he scores for Al Ain.

As we spoke at Yas Viceroy Hotel in Abu Dhabi on the eve of his departure to South Africa, Gyan was confident he would carry his club form into the tournament.

"Last season was great for me, being top scorer, this season I've started well too," he said with Al Ain leading the Pro league by seven points. "I've scored 21 goals and we're playing great, tactical football."

Gyan, it seems, is constantly having to prove himself. And he is fully aware of those who question his motives behind leaving the ferocity of the English Premier League for the Pro League.

"I know my move here was controversial," he said, acknowledging accusations he left for purely financial reasons. "I had a lot of critics, but I wanted to prove people wrong and that is what I'm doing. Now everything is going well."

The Emirates, Gyan says, has a lifestyle, climate and culture that he enjoys. He has many friends and family living here, loves the food and spends a lot of time in Dubai.

His club won the league last season and are on course to do so again. Then there is the matter of the AFC Champions League which he dreams of winning. He also says his club's loyal fans are the best in the UAE.

"Our stadium is almost always full," he said. "Since I've been here the people have really turned up to watch our games, whether home or away. In return, I'll give my all to the club."

And he has special praise for one young man in particular.

"Omar Abdulrahman is great, this boy I would say is one of the best in the region and if he pushes harder he can be one of the best in the world," he said of the UAE's Gulf Cup hero. While he clearly enjoys playing with the bushy haired "Amoory", does he not miss the passion of playing at Manchester United's Old Trafford, Liverpool's Anfield or Newcastle United's St James' Park?

"Yes, that's the one thing I miss," he said. "A big crowd can sometimes really cheer you up, and the fans [at Sunderland's Stadium of Light] can really lift you when they sing your name; it's a great feeling."

Another misconception he is happy to set straight is that he did not settle into life in England.

"When I started my European career in Italy it took a year and a half to get a regular spot, but when I joined the [English] Premier League I was already experienced, so it was easier for me to adapt."

Off the field, too, he enjoyed his time in north-east England. "Life was easy for me because so many Ghanaians live in the UK, so I was meeting a lot of friends, it felt like home."

Gyan is perhaps best remembered for a penalty miss against Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup.

Bravely, he was the first to step up to the spot in the ensuing penalty shoot-out. He scored then, but Ghana lost and missed a chance to reach the last four.

Now, as captain, he returns to South Africa hoping to right that wrong. The team may be missing the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien, but a crop of youngsters are raising hopes of success. Are Ghana finally poised for glory?

"It might be our time, but there are always surprises in the African Cup," he said as his team prepare to take on Mali, Niger and DR Congo in Group B.

"I cannot predict that we will win it, but we must qualify from the group stages, and then we can start thinking about winning the cup."

At only 27, does the future hold a return to Europe, or Africa perhaps?

"I don't really know. I'm still young and concentrating on where I am now," he said. "Definitely if you're doing well other clubs will be interested, then we will see where my future lies, but for now I'm really happy in Al Ain."

Some will remain sceptical. But for Abdulrahman and his teammates, not to mention fans of the UAE Pro League, he is increasingly indispensable.

And next time we see him in action on these shores, he may very well be an African champion too.

Follow the progress of Asamoah Gyan and Ghana on www.puma.com/Africanfootball

akhaled@thenational.ae

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