When Andre “Dede” Ayew stepped up in the 21st minute to take the penalty kick against Uruguay at the World Cup in Qatar, he was hoping a successful shot would accomplish two germane issues. The first was to banish the lingering memories of 2010 which are firmly etched in the minds of all who love the game and are old enough to remember. Uruguay forward and universally-acclaimed pantomime villain Luis Suarez had impeded the goal-bound header in Johannesburg, South Africa with his hand. Ghana then missed the resulting penalty that was awarded and have since been condemned to relishing an opportunity to avenge what they feel was a sporting injustice.
If things had gone the way of the West Africans that night, Ghana would have been the first African country to qualify for the semis of a World Cup. That feat has since been chalked by Morocco in Qatar.
But the other box Ayew would have wanted to tick with a goal on December 2nd, 2022 in front of an audience of nearly 40,000 fans, was to put Ghana on the path to the second round of a World Cup as captain of the national team nicknamed the “Black Stars”.
That morning, his father, Abedi “Pele” Ayew had tweeted his support of the national team and spared words of encouragement for Andre and his brother Jordan, another player in the team, exhorting their achievement of playing at the World Cup when he, Abedi, could not.
But Andre’s penalty kick against Uruguay was saved and Ghana went on to lose two goals to nil. The revenge dish they had waited 12 years to serve had apparently been undercooked. What however resembled a consolation for Ghana was the fact that Uruguay had not beaten Ghana by enough goals to make it out of the group stage themselves. Their place was taken by South Korea.
In Ghana, the customary inquisition after a Black Stars defeat was reconvened. It was fairly easy to see who was going to come in for blame. It was none other but the captain who had missed the penalty. The indignation has been an all-consuming fire, swift and merciless, with every diatribe and critique thrown in the way of not only Andre but the entire Ayew household.
Father Ayew has, for instance, been accused of intimidating Ghanaian soccer administrators into calling up his sons for national duties. However, all of this is the latest episode in the enigmatic affair between House Ayew and Ghanaian soccer fans.
Abedi Pele is the most famous Ayew by any stretch of recollection. He was nicknamed Pele after the Brazilian soccer legend due to a similarity in both men’s style of play. Abedi is also the most successful footballer in his family, individually and for Ghana. Regarded as one of Africa’s greatest ever to strut his stuff on a pitch, Abedi was part of the contingent to win Ghana’s last major trophy – the African Cup of Nations in 1982. He was only 18 at the time but the subsequent years were gracious to him, as he went on to star for various top-flight European club teams in France, Germany and Italy over a period of 15 years.
He won the coveted UEFA Champions League – one of only five Ghanaians to do so – with French giants Marseilles in 1993. Now an astute football businessman who owns a football club, Abedi continues to enjoy the respect and admiration of many home and across the world. But for people in his home country, the feeling about the man has not always been positive.
As part of the pioneering class of young Ghanaian footballers who were taken on by European clubs in the early 90s, Abedi was a recipient of both praise and suspicion by Ghanaian fans. There were many times in his 16-year Ghana career where he was accused of not fully committing to the national cause because he was afraid of incurring injuries that would cost him his place and privilege in a European club. Abedi was not the first and will certainly not be the last African to receive such suspicion from their own people. And as many technical insiders and administrators would tell you, Africans who ply their trade weekly for European clubs can be reluctant to put in a tackle or run a few more yards on national duties because of this fear.
If they are injured playing for their clubs, somehow that mishap was forgivable. Of course, this dynamic was part of a larger anti-African or even racist scheme whereby African soccer players are gently but firmly reminded to be cognizant of who pays the monthly bills. It certainly wasn’t their home countries doing that.
Abedi’s time in the national team was also marked by an infamous rift between himself and another man good enough to make the list of greatest African footballers ever, Tony Yeboah. As the two biggest players in many of Ghana’s national team call-ups in the 90s, Abedi and Yeboah were known to have segmented the team into two factions, maybe unintentionally.
Various former colleagues of the two players have reported that there was palpable tension between Ghana’s two best players. Nii Darko Ankrah, a former Ghana defender who was part of the Black Stars team that played at the Cup of Nations in 1992, said last year that “There were two factions in the Black Stars camp; which is the Kumasi and Accra representations.” While Yeboah was born and bred in Kumasi, Abedi was known to identify with other players who were from Accra, like Ankrah.
Ghana lost the final of the Cup of Nations that year to the Ivory Coast on penalties. And even though Abedi, Ghana’s captain at the time, did not feature because he was suspended for the game, there is a very solid constituency that believes if Yeboah had been handed the captain’s armband for the final, he would have given the game his all. So how is Abedi to blame for another player getting the armband in his absence? It is rumored that he lobbied the coach against Yeboah.
Abedi finished his Ghana stint in 1998 having represented his country on more than 70 occasions, at times, alongside his brother, Kwame Sola Ayew. They were the first brotherly duo to represent Ghana, a situation that has curiously repeated itself thanks again to House Ayew.
In 2010, Ghana called up for the World Cup, Abedi’s three; sons Andre, Jordan and the oldest Rahim. The latter who has had the least memorable Ghana career (only seven games) is Abedi’s first son from an earlier relationship before his marriage to Maha, the mother of Andre and Jordan. Abedi’s clan is not complete without Imani, his only daughter who was at one point a national tennis player for Ghana.
Even after his retirement more than two decades ago, Abedi has appeared to Ghanaians to have an almost insoluble prominence regarding soccer administration in their country. Whether his football team is facing disciplinary action due to allegations of match-fixing or whether he is criticizing the choice of foreign clubs some individual Black Stars players make, Abedi is never really out of the picture.
In 2007, his connection to the Black Stars saw a new phase with the enrolment of his son Andre. That decision was greeted with excitement by those who thought Andre was a teenage prodigy, and with fury by those who thought Andre was rushed into the senior men’s team on the power of nepotism.
Rahim’s short-lived Black Stars career was between 2009 and 2010, while Jordan was first picked in 2010. They have not replicated their father’s success but have probably superseded the drama he was involved with in his days. For instance, the manner in which another controversial former Black Stars player, Asamoah Gyan, lost his captaincy in the team to Andre was an issue that was masticated thoroughly.
Interestingly, neither Jordan nor Andre has been accused of lacking commitment to the national team as their father was. However, the pair are victims of this complete and total commitment in the sense that calls have been increasingly ringing for them to step aside. Their performances have been panned on certain occasions with the meanness of the scorching sun. They are nearly always selected to walk onto the pitch by the myriad of Ghana coaches but fans do not believe the coaches are freely in command. The control of the not-so-invisible Ayew hand is always assumed by millions.
Andre and Jordan’s continuous inclusion in Ghana teams have earned them the rather cynical nickname The Landlords. Such unchallengeable authority they are thought to have.
Andre is now the most capped Ghana player of all time, representing his nation 113 times and scoring more goals than his father as well. As fate would have it, when he came closest to winning a trophy with the Black Stars in 2015, it was The Elephants of the Ivory Coast that would trump Ghana in the final. And just like it happened in 1992 in the days of his father, Ghana were beaten on penalties.
After he missed the penalty against Uruguay, Andre was informed at the end of the game that his daughter was in the hospital because she fainted. She had collapsed due to his misfortune from 12 yards out, it is reported. One can imagine how crushing the feeling was for him – to be fully aware of your hand in your country’s defeat to a sporting nemesis and inadvertently sent your daughter to the hospital. But many people would fancy Andre to come out of tough times because he seems to be made of stern material.
His resilience and his eagerness to protect teammates is not a phenomenon lost on Ghanaians. He has had to speak up at several pre and post-match conferences for his camera-shy brother Jordan. After Ghana beat South Korea in the second group game at Qatar, Andre reminded all who cared to listen that “Jordan has always played well for Ghana” even if some choose to misremember.
Even in defeat, Andre is expected to insist that he gave his all. He and his brother have become accustomed to the backlash and know very well that negativity often reigns supreme when they are in the court of Ghanaian public opinion. Despite all of that, they will hold their heads high, perhaps citing the fact that they beat all those nepotism charges.
They have been good enough to trivialize those accusations. But in football and much of life, you are as good as your last work. Their father, Abedi, more than anyone would know that. He could not win Ghana a trophy as captain of the Black Stars and is also well-remembered for a string of lackluster performances in the latter days of his Ghana career.
Post mortem analyses of the game against Uruguay are still ongoing even at the time of going to press. It’s been ten days since the defeat but the Ayews are not naïve. They know that until they have given enough for which the people can rejoice in the meantime, absolution will not be granted. On to the next match, they’ll say.