In a long list of FIFA World Cup legends to have graced Indian football, Asamoah Gyan is the latest one to enter the field. The Indian Super League has been a happy rewarding ground for a slew of superstar World Cuppers past their prime. Diego Forlan, Roberto Carlos, Robert Pires, Marco Materazzi and Alessandro Del Piero have all come and gone. Having signed for NorthEast United, Gyan has an impressive resume, having played for famous clubs like Sunderland (Premier League), Udinese (Serie A) and UAE's Al Ain. A God to African football fans, the Ghana international has played in three FIFA World Cups (2006, 2010 and 2014), and is also the top African goalscorer in World Cup finals (six goals).
Ahead of the upcoming 2019 Indian Super League season, Asamoah Gyan spoke to Outlook about his career and his stint with NorthEast United. Excerpts….
On his modest beginning ...
I come from a humble home in Accra (Ghana). My mother was a headmistress and my father was a businessman. It was my elder brother who introduced me to football. He used to leave home, and travel to different cities for matches. When he used to return, they used to beat him, as he used to go out and then return very late. That time the situation wasn’t good and I was around six-seven years old. But I took his footsteps. He opened the way for me. Because of him, I began to play with other children in my area. I used to just play for fun. Then one day, a person saw us playing, so he decided to form a team. Then we began to play in tournaments and competitions. We also got sponsors, which enabled us to travel for matches to different areas.
On a career spanning almost 17 years ...
I played in the best league in the world in England (Premier League) with Sunderland. But Al Ain was the team, where I spent the most time (four years). I think for most of my career, I have spent only one to two years with different clubs. With Al Ain (UAE), I gave my everything. I was the top scorer for four years and was also adjudged the best player in Asia. You can say that my best football was with Al Ain. In terms of fans, Sunderland fans were great. But then I spent a long time with Al Ain, so their fans also loved and were amazing.
Watch: Asamoah Gyan's FIFA World Cup goals for Ghana
On his decision to come to India ...
Honestly, it's part of my job. It doesn’t matter where I play. This is also my first time in India. In the past, I never thought of coming here. But then football is my life. I told myself, “Hey, I am going to a new country. I have to stay focused and do my job.” I am adapting here and liking the country too.
I was in the best league in the world in England, and then I came to UAE. People began to ask questions about my decision. On CNN, I said that I would bring exposure to the UAE Pro League, and since I moved there, many more players began to come. Then I moved to China, and now there are many players coming there. I hope I can do the same in India, as in bring exposure. I have played in so many leagues. Now India is a new challenge for me. It might not matter, but I could open the way for more world-class players.
Since landing in Guwahati, I haven’t been out much. Right now, I am busy training, so it will take some time for me to decide my opinion regarding the country. Now, I am only focused on my game. If I don’t score, I won’t be happy. That is the most important thing for me right now.
On NorthEast United ...
Everything has been good, since I arrived. I have seen some Indian players, who are talented. Puitea (Lalthathanga Khawlhring) has something special. If he puts in more effort, he can be a very good player. There are a lot of young players here, who need experienced seniors, who can tell them that they are good. Nikhil Kadam is also a very good player. There are lots of good ones, I cannot mention all their names.
Also, I love to mingle around with the players. It is good to do that. I like bringing them together. I was Ghana's national football team captain for many years. So, I know what it takes to bring players together. I don’t know about our level yet, but we are training properly. We need a proper practice match to see our standard. We have won some friendly games, but we will realize our level, when we play against the India team on October 10. My teammates are incredible here. We share jokes and have a lot of fun in the bus.
On playing 2006, 2010, 2014 FIFA World Cups
I scored the fastest goal during the 2006 World Cup, in Ghana’s win against Czech Republic. It is a great feeling to see that my name is in the record books. It is not easy to play in a World Cup at the age of 20. I remember I told my brother (Baffour Gyan) that I need to set a record. I felt that I was going to score in the upcoming match, and we had a good team. I felt it, believed it and then it happened. Although we got knocked out in the Round of 16 against Brazil, it was an amazing experience.
In the 2010 World Cup, we were knocked out in the quarterfinals in controversial circumstances. It was against Uruguay, and I missed a crucial match-winning penalty towards the end of extra time, after a Luis Suarez handball. The penalty miss is something that I will never forget. It's part of my life now. I am not the only player, who missed a crucial penalty. We could have become the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals. Sometimes when I am alone, I think about it and it still hurts. I feel, “Oh! Maybe we can play the penalty again so that I can redeem myself.” Life goes on, I need to forget about it and live my life.
The 2014 World Cup was amazing too, and is probably my last appearance in the tournament. I was able to score two goals and become the top African goalscorer in World Cup finals history. I would never have been able to reach such a milestone without my teammates; the credit goes to them. Sometimes, I sit down and realize that I have proved myself at the highest level. Also, being the top scorer for your country (51 goals) is not an easy achievement. Maybe one day, I will be able to tell my kids that it wasn’t easy.
Watch: NorthEast United welcome Asamoah Gyan in Guwahati's Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport
On football in Africa and Ghana ...
My generation and the ones before me started from the streets, although now it has changed. Now there are a lot of academies in Ghana and Africa, but its not enough. Former players are trying to give back to the society and also help the young kids, who want to become professionals like us. We went through hard times. We need lots of sponsors, corporates and organisations to support people in Africa. We need to bring the boys out of streets. Many of them want to play football, but they don’t get any help, and then end up being categorised as bad people. As an icon, I am trying to help. I am not the only person, there are lots of African players, who are trying to give back.
On his current goals ...
As a striker, I need to score and that is my job. If I have a bad season, it doesn’t mean that I am a bad player. Obviously, I am here to help the team reach the highest level and score plenty of goals. At the end, it depends on the team’s performances. If I don’t score, and the team does well, my shooting boots don’t matter.
On how can India improve in football
It depends on the people here, about how they are going to appreciate football. Football is not the number one sport in India, but I think it is the number one sport in the world. India is also improving. It is good to see more foreign players being roped in to strengthen the league. I think if the officials and players put more effort, India can do better. The national team also needs to improve in the world rankings (Indian men are currently at 104). I have seen some players here who are talented and want to play football, but they need help to do better.