Sports Features of Sunday, 26 July 2015
Few of us saw this coming: Jordan Ayew leaving FC Lorient for Aston Villa. Yet as reported by Goal earlier this week, the Ghana striker’s move to the Premier League appears to be close to completion, even if a late quibble over the price tag has threatened to derail the transfer.
News of the impending move has split opinion; Ghanaians have largely been positive, commending the 23-year-old to the hilt and commenting on the ‘bargain’ the Villains are set to acquire.
Observers of Ligue 1, tellingly, are a little…or rather, a lot…more sceptical. Those who watch the player week in week out are aware of his flaws and his foibles and, worryingly, there aren’t too many who are confident that Ayew is the right man for Tim Sherwood and that this is the right more for him.
Villa fans are sat in the middle; a nervous concoction of cautious hope and insidious dread.
Jordan has talent, that’s undeniable; he can be an electric presence in offensive areas; running the channels or hanging on the shoulder of the last defender. Similarly, he is a daunting prospect when galloping forward with the ball, stridently tearing towards a defender, beating them with a slight acceleration or change of posture, before lashing the ball past an impotent goalkeeper.
His two-goal showing in Lorient’s 5-3 victory over former club Marseille was one of the genuinely exceptional offensive performances in Ligue 1 last term, and during this contest he also demonstrated his superb ability to finish outside the box as well.
Jordan’s 12 goals for struggling Lorient last term is admirable, particularly considering the fact that he was often the side’s lone frontman in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
He finished 10th in the Ligue 1 scoring charts—only one goal behind rumoured Arsenal transfer target and France international Nabil Fekir, despite making five fewer starts—and was one of only two players in the bottom half of the division to score 11 goals or more.
His encouraging 12-goal return with Lorient last term comes in stark contrast to his considerable lack of goalscoring success with Ghana. Before the Black Stars’ recent victory over Mauritius, he had scored only two goals in his last 18 international outings.
As he has shown with the national side, however, he is capable of contributing across the pitch—not just in the box—and can have a role to play in the build-up of moves, qualities that his likely predecessor Christian Benteke didn’t always demonstrate during his time at Villa Park.
Comparisons with Raheem Sterling—a contrast used by some to demonstrate the ‘value’ Villa would be getting should they acquire Jordan around the £12 million mark—are surely futile.
Sterling can call upon a much broader, more diverse and, frankly, refined concoction of talents, while he has already demonstrated that he can star in the Premier League, albeit when the conditions are right.
The forward managed seven goals and seven assists last term, following on from nine and five the year before—those tallies coming in only 24 starts.
Sterling is a gamble, certainly, and Manchester City paid over the odds due to the ‘English player premium’, but the ex-Liverpool man and the younger Ayew do not belong in the same conversation.
Crucially, while Sterling is still only 20—with several massive years of development ahead of him—Jordan will be 24 in September.
If anyone talks about Jordan and potential, ask if that’s really a good thing. By now, we should be seeing so much more, and the prospects of the forward realising the expectations that were set out for him once upon a time are slim and getting slimmer.
Similarly, some might argue that he is resolute and mentally tough.
Jordan’s attitude, for now at least, is a weakness, not a strength, and he’s not the man I’d personally want to call upon should my side be facing a relegation battle.
Here is the man who received two yellow cards in only two minutes after coming on as a substitute for Marseille against Evian, and a player who was shown a straight red for Sochaux against Monaco—for lashing out at Andrea Raggi—during the Lionceaux’s own relegation battle.
Last season, thankfully, there were no red cards, but there was still the all-pervading petulance. Following a 3-1 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain—a game from which the embattled Lorient could take much solace—Jordan was quick to puncture the mood, criticising his teammates for their ‘childish’ errors and forecasting that Les Merlus would be relegated unless there was a significant improvement.
Trust me, that’s not great for morale.
Will Jordan turn his ire upon Gabby Agbonlahor should things not go well against Arsenal?
Will Joe Cole be in for a verbal bashing should the Villains struggle against Manchester City?
I dread to think what the Ghanaian will have to say to the Birmingham Mail about Libor Kozak’s lumbering ‘qualities’ should things not go to plan against Chelsea.
When the chips are down and when backs are against the wall, Jordan’s not the man I’d want—personally—alongside me in the trenches.
He may deliver a star turn against one of the division’s giants, but when things aren’t going to plan on a grey, muddy, windy evening at Stoke City (excuse the out-dated cliché) don’t be surprised to see Jordan go missing.
Finally, and this may not necessarily be a negative, but if Sherwood or Villa are hoping for a direct replacement for Benteke, they will be sorely disappointed.
The Belgian improved greatly during his time in Birmingham, and with his departure, Villa lose a technically proficient, adequately mobile, irresistibly strong aerial devastator, who can both play with his back to goal and—increasingly—can measure his runs and time his manipulation of an opposition defence.
While Benteke delighted in battling with defenders in the box and capitalising from the crosses slung in by Villa’s widemen and full-backs, Sherwood shouldn’t be expecting the same contribution from Jordan.
The Lorient hitman won’t trouble defenders in the same way, and shouldn’t be expected to bully the towering centre-backs of the Premier League as Benteke did.
If Sherwood wanted a like-for-like replacement, then ostensibly, Emmanuel Adebayor or Rudy Gestede—other players linked to Villa—might be better bets.
Intriguingly, a case could be made that Jordan would have been a better fit than Benteke—tactically-speaking at least—for Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool, although that’s a topic for a rainy day.
Jordan will come deep, he will link up with the midfield, he will run the channels and he will use his pace to get in behind, but he isn’t Benteke—neither in terms of style nor of quality—and it’s hard to see the exact role he will play for Villa in the 2015-16 campaign.
Indeed, the only aspects of Benteke’s contribution that Jordan may be set to replicate are his sulky demeanour and his handy knack of going missing and giving up when things aren’t going his way.
Maybe we are just looking at another Sherwood masterstroke after all…