By Aanu Adeoye, Squawka
Tim Sherwood vowed to always go out on the front foot and die on his own sword in his battle to halt Aston Villa’s ailing form and three minutes from the end of his side’s 2-1 reverse at the hands of Swansea, André Ayew sounded the death knell for Sherwood’s Villa reign.
This hugely important game was also a derby of sorts, not necessarily dictated by geography but rather of a fraternal variety; André Ayew and his younger brother, Jordan, playing against each other for the first time since their summer moves from France. The younger Ayew opened his Premier League account for Villa but it was his older brother who grabbed all the headlines with his fifth goal of the campaign in his 10th appearance.
Where his brother is struggling, André Ayew is flourishing in spectacular fashion.
Ayew arrived at Swansea on a free transfer – albeit with a reported £5.7m signing-on fee – from Marseille in the summer and has quickly established himself as perhaps the best value for money signing in the Premier League this season. That Swansea were able to capture him represented a coup, after all this was a player who wouldn’t look out of place at some of the bigger clubs in the country – say a Liverpool or a Tottenham.
It was also a testament to Swansea’s burgeoning reputation and the Premier League’s pulling power to draw players from European heavyweights to some of its own lesser lights. Ayew wasn’t an obscure talent mucking about in a backwater corner of Europe but a certified Ligue 1 A-lister with 52 goals in 181 games for Marseille. Despite arriving on a free, expectations were reasonably high yet manager Garry Monk was quick to downplay notions they would become a one-man team with Ayew in the side.
“He is not going to be a one-player saviour for the team or anything like that,” Monk said after Ayew’s fine effort in the pre-season friendly against Nottingham Forest. “He is a team player and everyone has to contribute. I do think he will bring quality and he has experience as well – I already hear him talking to the group within games and within training sessions. He brings that. But it’s not for him to go and score all the goals and create all the chances – everyone has to do that.”
Indeed Monk has been right in his assessment and it would be incredibly churlish to solely credit Ayew for Swansea’s respectable start to the campaign but the Ghanaian international has become an integral member of the South Wales outfit in the short time he has spent at the Liberty Stadium.
The norm for the average Premier League import is to start slowly as they adapt to the physicality of the English game, with pleas for patience to get acquainted with the breakneck speed of their new surroundings. Memphis Depay merely the latest in a long list of foreign recruits to admit he has found the Premier League an altogether different proposition from what he expected. But Ayew is making a mockery of such claims with his brilliant start to life in the Premier League; the lively exception to the ‘wait-and-see’ rule.
It only took 29 minutes for Ayew to make his mark, equalizing for Swansea on the opening day away at Chelsea and it was some goal, too. Picking up the pieces from Bafetimbi Gomis’ initial header; Ayew dragged the ball back to himself with nerveless insouciance before steering the ball home in a crowded area. Delight was etched all over his face and Swansea found themselves a new hero.
What, then, one may ask makes Ayew suited to the physical and technical demands of English football. Despite being of average height and weight, Ayew is deceptively strong, his low centre of gravity ensuring that defenders have a hard time shoving him off the ball. With a tremendously quick leap off the ground, Ayew is a constant menace in the air as evinced by the fact that 3 of his 5 goals have been top-drawer headers, the opener in this month’s 2-2 draw against Tottenham the pick of an impressive pack.
Far from being only a goalscorer, Ayew has impressed in other aspects of his game with respectable numbers to show for it, chief among which are the 11 chances created and his 25% conversation rate which is marginally better than Jamie Vardy’s. His only assist so far came against Manchester United; a gorgeous, perfectly weighted through-ball into the path of Gomis that was worth the admittance fee alone and there are signs of a growing telepathic understanding with the Frenchman.
His work-rate is superb and he has shown affinity to track back to aid his fullback, making him the antithesis of the standard-issue modern winger; a rare but welcome breed of craft and graft.
Forget the goals for a split second; Ayew is making a case for himself as Swansea’s ‘Mr Dependable’.
Ayew is blessed with pace, power and trickery – a potent cocktail of attributes – that allows him to flourish as a winger but he has also been a subject of Monk’s tactical tinkering recently, particularly in the 1-0 home loss to Stoke City which drew scathing remarks from Sky Sports pundits Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville.
Stationed behind Gomis in the number 10 role normally reserved for Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ayew was unable to find a way past a resolute Stoke backline as he was denied the space he thrives on out wide. He may be a versatile player capable of filling in in a plethora of positions across the front line but his best work comes from the right flank where he uses his pace to beat a man before whipping in a cross from the byline or cutting in on his favourite left foot to take aim.
Monk speaks of Ayew’s experience as a major factor within the dressing room and despite still being only 25; he is a massively experienced player. A member of the Ghana national team set-up since making his debut as a seventeen year-old against Senegal, Ayew has gone on to win 66 caps for his country. A veteran of four Africa Cup of Nations and two World Cups, he is also the vice-captain of the Black Stars, leading them admirably in the absence of Asamoah Gyan during the latter’s initial absence due to injury at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, a competition he finished as top scorer with three goals.
In the penalty shoot-out at the final against the Ivory Coast, Ayew kept his cool to convert his spot kick although it wasn’t enough as Ghana lost to the eventual winners. Ayew’s CV is replete with individual and team honours not least August’s Premier League Player of the Month award that puts him in good stead to be a leader within the Swansea ranks.
The obvious retort to all of this would be to suggest that he could well be a flash in the pan, an early bloomer that will wither in the heat of the battle. Ayew, though, is a fierce competitor and his comments after Saturday’s win reveals a character that knows there’s still work to be done.
Of course, there are still 28 games left to play and the inevitable dip in form that follows the boom is only around the corner as the exertions of the toil catch up with Ayew. Angel di Maria started the last season like a man hell-bent on justifying his astronomical price tag in a handful of games only to tail off spectacularly and it will be interesting to see how Ayew copes with the tear and wear that will most likely occur in the coming months.
Until then, Ayew can go about his business terrorising Premier League defences safe in the knowledge that his goalscoring exploits and all-round display have provided a lesson in shrewd acquisition and quick-fire adaptation to the Premier League. A lesson that, presumably, Tim Sherwood will always remember.