2007. I sat beside the Maestro Abedi Pele, the celebrated father of Dede Ayew, on a trip to Namibia representing Ghana.
I was part of a three-member delegation put together to market the AFCON trophy ahead of CAN 2008, to be hosted by Ghana. Riks Brobby representing the LOC chairman was with us. I was chair of the Accra Venue Organising Committee.
Our interaction over a three-day period got me closer to Abedi, one of Africa’s greatest footballers, who then retired. In truth, however, our very first encounter was in 2001 in Zurich, Switzerland, where a conference I attended included a visit to the FIFA headquarters.
It was there I met Abedi for the first time, after climbing the longest stairway ever to the FIFA offices located in the high elevations.
Thereafter we met at Legon, where Abedi negotiated to construct a soccer field for his Ajax soccer club, while I was Pro-VC at Legon. Dr Owusu Ansah was Legon’s able sports director.
By a strange coincidence, Abedi’s wife, formerly Miss Banga was also my student at Legon. Her father Mr Agana Banga was Legon’s Finance Officer one of the finest, and we were neighbours at Lower Hill.
On the Namibia Airways 2007, I sat beside Abedi chatting with him about his heydays in world soccer; and I heard him confess he probably wouldn’t have survived the current robust play in the game if he was still playing.
“The soccer terrain is very rough these days; tackling is too robust; and I doubt if I would have survived, considering my small size,” soft-spoken Abedi told me, his small cheek mark sparkling.
Fortunately, Abedi somehow survived aggressive play in global soccer, through his kids, Dede and Jordan.
Their soaked jerseys and battered body frames after every single match, speak volumes about their first love: we risk our lives for the sake of Ghana, but being human, we are not perfect. That’s their body language.
Despite the public bashing of the Black Stars after every game lost, none has dared blame Dede Ayew for lacking commitment to Ghana.
While other players drag their feet and are obsessed with other loyalties, Dede Ayew is ever present, ever punctual, ever disciplined, and responds ever so swiftly to every single call to abandon the club, and come lift high the flag of Ghana.
He screams from rough tackle, groans in pain, limp, hops, and crushes to the ground from sky tussles; but he also queries erring officials, calms nerves, soothes, and wipes tears of grieving pals. All this because of a yellow arm band, that marks him out as captain. The Akan say, ‘Title bequeathed is a burden transferred.’
Last Friday, the mob that had hailed Ayew after his splendid goal against Portugal the week before, suddenly changed their song from praise to crucifixion. The man had missed a penalty in a grudge match with Uruguay when a goal was critically needed to further advance in the tournament.
Crucify him was the new refrain. Others conveyed curses in veiled speech: Ayew remain in Qatar, and never return to Ghana.
His predecessor must have transferred to him, the curse of penalty kicks.
For all Asamoah Gyan had done for mother Ghana: netting the fastest goal in the 2006 world cup in Germany, and putting smiles on the faces of Ghana and Africa umpteen times, his critics only remembered goals squandered.
2008, he was the whipping boy denying Ghana a goal harvest against Namibia in Afcon. Even the lives of family members were put at risk.
Then came 2010, the famous penalty kick against Uruguay, which missed the target. That was the last straw; he was crucified again and again, and now carries a permanent cross.
Gyan somehow carried the curse to his successor Dede Ayew, who has missed a penalty kick that could have sunk Uruguay and sent Ghana to the next round in Qatar. Dede has a golden past; he led Ghana to score Africa’s first goal in Qatar; which was against Portugal.
He had altogether netted for Ghana a total of 24 goals from 47 matches. In 2021, he became Ghana’s all-time top scorer at Afcon. Since last Friday, all that has been expunged from history books. The missed penalty in Qatar is now Ayew’s final certificate in his soccer career.
Somehow, I have faint memories of one penalty experience that broke the nation’s heart, long before Asamoah Gyan. That was 1992 when the Ghana Black Stars in an Afcon encounter lost to Ivory Coast in a penalty shoot-out at Senegal. Abedi Pele was at his peak but missed the shootout due to a red card.
After a ding-dong-ding-dong shootout, Ghana lost narrowly to Ivory Coast by 10-11, and guess who was the whipping boy: Tony Baffoe then in dreadlocks.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Chronicle’s stance.