Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Gyan ready to restore pride on Wearside

Jason Mellor

Their supporters will no doubt feel Sunderland were charitable enough when it came to games against Newcastle last season, but as the North East gears up with almost indecent haste for its latest turf war, Asamoah Gyan has a different kind of philanthropy in mind.

Gyan's late equaliser to salvage an ill-deserved point at the Stadium of Light in January was about as good as it got for the red-and-white half of this, at times, venomous rivalry between the Premier League's two most northerly outposts.

Two months earlier, dare one remind Steve Bruce, the Tyneside-raised Sunderland manager had suffered the low point of more than three decades in the game in the form of a 5-1 humiliation at St James' Park, though ultimately it failed to prevent the Wearsiders from looking down on their noisy neighbours when the dust settled on the campaign in May.

After almost a year at the club, it was only recently that the penny dropped with Gyan as to how acute the embarrassment of those two no-shows must have been for Bruce.

"Up until about two weeks ago, I didn't know just how close his links with Newcastle were," the club's record signing confessed. "I'd heard the fans chanting about it, but I didn't really take it on board. Now I realise how tough it must have been for him."

Such is the multinational outlook of the top flight these days that, last season, Sunderland had three times as many Ghanaians as Geordies in their midst -- Gyan being one of a trio of players from the World Cup quarter-finalists. Though John Mensah and Sulley Muntari have since moved on, it sounds like downtown Accra won't be the place to sport a Newcastle shirt for the lunch-time kick-off.

"Ghana is Sunderland," Gyan said. "Everybody in Ghana now watches Sunderland, not Chelsea or Manchester United.

"With the injury to Michael Essien, I'm the only Ghanaian playing in the Premier League right now, so I tend to be the one they watch. The whole country will be supporting Sunderland."

No wonder the club took advantage and announced a link-up with one of the country's top clubs, Asante Kotoko, earlier this summer.

Despite leaving as a teenager to pursue a football career that has taken him to Greece, Italy and France before a £13.4m move to Wearside last September, Gyan has never forgotten where he came from. To underline the fact, he plans to utilise his status as one of the African nation's most recognisable faces due to his sporting and musical exploits to launch the Asamoah Gyan Foundation.

The project's aims are twofold: a more plentiful supply of fresh water for many of the outlying villages in Ghana, in addition to promoting greater access to education for young females, the "girl child" as Gyan puts it, a group often marginalised in parts of the continent.

Gyan is one of the many footballing converts to Twitter to help keep his fans at home up to date with his latest exploits.

With 46,000 followers since joining earlier this year, he has a little way to go to match the 420,000 converts to Joey Barton, whose performance is likely to have a major bearing on Newcastle maintaining their impressive record of just a single defeat on Wearside in more than 30 years.

"I'm on it every day," Gyan, one of the few who doesn't follow Barton, revealed. "Fans contact me every day, even more so in the run-up to the derby. You can sense how emotional they are about it. One told me: 'Score, and you're a legend'.

"I've played in a lot of games where there's a huge rivalry, but this one is special, there's something extraordinary about it that makes it hard to put into words. It's the game everyone has talked about since day one of me arriving here. After what happened last season, we know it's a game we can't afford to lose. They dominated both games last season, but this time it's going to be different. We're prepared, now it's time to deliver."

Irish Independent

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