Tonight brings another massive game for Sunderland AFC because of the importance of building on all the good work of Sunday – and the need to counteract the impact of last night’s results, which pushed us two places down the Premier table.
We’ve already seen the Wigan Athletic “Who are You?”, a grand set of replies from Rob Speakman, from the Latics fan site This Northern Soul. So let us take a look at one of the what ifs of Sunderland’s season, namely “what if we’d had a fit, committed Asamoah Gyan playing for us?”.
There have been snippets from the UAE, where he is playing on loan from SAFC for Al Ain, a city I visited two or three times while living in Abu Dhabi. But I was interested in hearing the views of someone who had watched him play, preferably several times.
So I turned to my sports desk colleagues at The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi for which I have been writing since its launch in 2008. The sports pages can be reached at this link.
Paul Oberjuerge*, one of those colleagues, agreed to answer my questions:
Salut! Sunderland: How often have you seen Asamoah Gyan play for Al Ain and what is your impression of his ability, fitness and commitment?
I have seen Gyan play four or five times, and until a hamstring injury (the severity of which has not been clarified) drove him from the field in his last match, he seemed quite fit, very fast, probably the best athlete in the league. Clearly, he is a player of exceptional ability; he stands out on the field and is the ‘most significant factor behind Al Ain’s sudden rise this season to the top of the table. He leads all scorers with 10 league goals in nine matches. His commitment apparently is complete, because he is all over the field.
On his injury, he tweeted: ‘Sadly I got injured today. Praying to be back soon. Thanks for all your concerns.’
Al Ain apparently fear he could be out a month, which could take him out of the Africa Cup of Nations, as well as 3-4 league matches here. But no announcement has been made by the club yet*.
He has a scored a few goals. Do any stand out as exceptional?
Away to Al Ahli, he blew past the defensive line and controlled a pass from the back, took a couple of touches before the keeper came out, tapped it left just as the keeper arrived, hurdled him, and while losing his balance got his left foot on it and fired it past the defender who had reached the post. Everything about the goal said ‘great athleticism, wonderful technique’.
There is a video clip of it: look halfway down this page: http://eurorivals.net/al_ahli~al_ain-highlights-video-13-12-2011
(And the site there incorrectly lists Al Ahli as being a Saudi side. This is the UAE Al Ahli.
What is your assessment of the league in which he is playing? What would be the equivalent level in England, for example?
I don’t know England’s leagues well enough to place the Pro League in that context, aside from ‘some significant distance below the Premier League’. All UAE league teams have imbalances within them. The four foreigners each team is allowed can be very good, as Gyan and Ricardo Oliveira of Jazira and Mariano Donda of Wasl are … but the country does not produce Emirati players in large enough numbers to fully staff 12 top-flight sides. Thus, I would say that most UAE sides would have trouble being competitive in Major League Soccer, in the U.S. I know that league quite a bit better. Gyan is the first man to come directly to the UAE from the Premier League.
I believe the press has only limited access to Gyan. Have you been able to speak to him at all?
Access is very limited. I have not spoken with him. Our most recent ‘sorry, not available’ came last week.
Is anything known about how well he has settled in Al Ain personally and what his longer term objectives may be?
His personal life is opaque, other than what you can see on his Twitter account. Al Ain is a very quiet sort of place, really suburban, not at all like Dubai and not even like Abu Dhabi City. Al Ain also is physically removed from the coast. Perhaps he commutes from Dubai to Al Ain; if he wants luxury and bright lights, Al Ain isn’t really the place for that. It does, however, have the best fans in the country.
Has his presence raised Sunderland’s profile in the UAE to any extent? (Question posed before the victory over the Abu Dhabi-owned Man City).
His presence has raised Sunderland’s profile in so much as ‘that’s where Gyan came from’ is discussed … and perhaps to the extent that the question ‘how did that club allow him to come to the UAE while in his prime?’ is asked. Asked with incredulity.
* Paul Oberjuerge is a senior sports editor at The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE. He has been in journalism for 35 years, and counts among his assignments every World Cup from 1990 through 2002. Covering domestic football is one of his primary assignments.
** Since Paul’s answers arrived, the BBC has reported that Gyan has been ruled out for three weeks, but hopes to recover in time to be fit for Ghana’s participation in the 2012 Afcon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, starting on Jan 21. “The doctors have told me to undergo some treatment and rest for three weeks for me to fully recover,” Gyan said. “If things go according to plan I will be fit before the Africa Cup of Nations starts.” Ghana are grouped with Guinea, Mali and Botswana.