For much of his Ghana career, it’s felt like Jordan Ayew has only been a miss-placed pass or two away from becoming the Black Stars’ scapegoat…some would say he’s there already.
Ahead of the West Africans’ showdown with the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, he had been bearing the brunt of the Ghana fans’ criticism for his perceived poor performances for the national side in recent months and cumulating with a string of underwhelming outings at the Nations Cup to date.
However, after opening the scoring in such sensational fashion against the Leopards, there’s a sense that the consensus demands a rethink, and the popular opinion might be turning back in the forward’s favour.
There has been ample fuel for the fire, particularly with Jordan developing an unhappy habit for taking on a player or two, finding himself in space, and then turning back before playing a sideways ball to a teammate, retreating and ceding the initiative, or hesitating and losing possession.
Similarly, the forward’s international scoring record is underwhelming, and has been used as a stick to beat him with.
Ahead of Sunday’s showdown with the Leopards, he’d gone nine internationals without a goal.
However, while those moments of poor decision-making have caught the attention—each as an unhappy, ugly reminder of Jordan’s critical error against Germany in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil—there has been much to commend the younger Ayew in Gabon.
“We’re seeing Jordan having a great tournament,” said coach Avram Grant after Sunday’s victory, “he gave a great assist to [Asamoah] Gyan against Mali.
“He did a great job today and scored a goal, and if you look at his stats about running, I think he is running a lot.”
Indeed, the numbers do suggest that Jordan is proving to be an influential figure for the Stars this tournament, while within the context of the competition, he was the joint-fifth most prolific creator of the group stage, setting up seven chances for his teammates.
In the quarter-finals, with Gyan absent, he rose to the big occasion—as he did against hosts Equatorial Guinea in the semi-final four years ago—and opened the scoring with a delicious effort after 63 minutes.
On this occasion, there was no hesitation, as the 25-year-old was fed by Wakaso Mubarak—who had dispossessed a lax Congolese midfielder—skipped past the challenge of a flailing Leopard, kept his balance, and, as he entered the box, sent a curling right-footed effort beyond Ley Matampi.
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that it was a world-class finish, and it was certainly an effort that can only have silenced the former Marseille man’s many critics back home.
Stand-in left-back Frank Acheampong offered the opinion that perhaps it was even the criticism Jordan has received back home that spurred him on to such a classy performance against the Central Africans.
“First and foremost, let me take the opportunity to congratulate and thank God for this goal, because people are criticising [Jordan],”Acheampong said. “I think criticism can make a player better.
“I think he’s very strong mentally,” the Anderlecht man added, “he didn’t listen to criticism from other people, he just concentrated and he knows what he can do, and that’s what he was doing.
“It’s very important to the team, to have such a talent with us.”
Like Grant, Acheampong was also keen to point out the breadth of qualities that the Aston Villa hitman offers this Black Stars side.
“Defensively, he’s a young player, he’s fighting for every ball,” the wideman added, “and when it comes to one-on-ones, you people know what he can do.
“So for me, he’s very important to us as a player, and whether you like him or not, he doesn’t care!”
If Jordan can continue to deliver this kind of performance in the face of the seemingly relentless criticism of recent weeks and months, then Ghana fans will soon stop missing Gyan and begin dreaming of the continental crown that has eluded them since 1982,