Ghanaian striker leaves the UAE after an underwhelming loan spell, but as John McAuley points out, he should be remembered for his remarkable exploits for Al Ain.
Asamoah Gyan's poor spell at Al Ahli should not tarnish his reputation as UAE football's greatest import
Asamoah Gyan’s arrival at Kayserispor was in stark contrast to his departure from Al Ahli.
The Ghana striker, fresh off an ineffective and injury-hampered season in the Arabian Gulf League, was greeted in Turkey by hundreds of Kayserispor supporters, bouncing and chanting his name, smartphones at the ready, keen to capture their new signing on his latest stop to revive his club career. Gyan agreed to a two-year deal with the struggling side on Wednesday.
His exit from Ahli was slightly more low-key. On May 29, following the club’s defeat to Al Ahli Jeddah and with Asian Champions League elimination confirmed, Gyan slipped quietly out of the Rashid Stadium, a second-half substitute with little impact other than an injury-time goal from the penalty spot. He posed for some pictures with a smattering of fans, then was off, waving goodbye to Ahli and the UAE, most likely for good.
So how will we remember him? Especially since his second stint in the Emirates had been nothing like his first. A four-year spell at Al Ain from 2011 elevated Gyan to an unprecedented level. He scored 128 goals in 123 matches, helping the club to three league titles and one President’s Cup crown. He won the league’s Golden Boot three times. He formed a dependable and devastating partnership with Omar Abdulrahman.
Often, Gyan delivered when it mattered most: the winner in the 2014 President’s Cup final, five goals in the knockout stages of that year’s Champions League, part of the 12 that made him top scorer in the tournament, too. When he left for Shanghai SIPG the following summer, Gyan could rightfully claim to be UAE football’s great foreign import.
By then, though, injuries had begun to take hold. They continued through a difficult year in China - seven goals in 20 appearances - and persisted last season on loan at Ahli. By the time Gyan posed for the pictures and said his farewells in late May, he had scored 11 goals in 25 appearances. He had completed 90 minutes only four times.
But that should not tarnish his legacy here. Irrespective of the nine, largely miserable months at Ahli, Gyan still ranks as one of UAE football’s standout players. Crucially, he showed that a footballer could come to the Emirates before his peak and actually progress, not just rack up the riches. He joined Al Ain at 25, not as a 30-something seeking one final payday.
Yes, his move was principally motivated by money and the less-frantic lifestyle the league here allows. Yet Gyan used it to enhance his international career, becoming Ghana’s record goalscorer, scoring twice for his country as captain at the 2014 World Cup, Africa's all-time top goalscorer at the global finals. On Saturday, he climbed to 51 goals with a superb free-kick against the USA.
Gyan proved the UAE did not need to be a graveyard for the old and the weary. He was a genuinely international name in a league that was still trying to find its way. Granted, the past few years have been tough, but as he said on arrival in Turkey on Wednesday, “I will keep digging till it’s done”.
He certainly dug in and made his mark at Al Ain. Therefore the anguish at Ahli should not mask his contribution to UAE football. Of course, Gyan was handsomely rewarded and thus appreciably better off for it. But, then again, for the most part so were we.