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      Jordan Ayew: A story of football and family


      As part of one of football’s greatest dynasties, Jordan Ayew – who celebrates his 32nd birthday today (11th September 2023) – grew up with great expectations and a determination to prove people wrong. He reveals how, from the streets of Accra to the stadiums of Qatar, family and community has always been the most important thing...

      It’s difficult enough watching a particularly crucial match, but harder still when the participants are your own flesh and blood. The emotions are heightened and the atmosphere bubbles. Knuckles whiten as they grip the seat below, butterflies flutter in the pit of the stomach and the heart begins to pound, seemingly aiming to escape the ribcage itself.

      You might think that by now Maha Ayew had become used to the pressure of watching her loved ones do battle on the tensest of occasions. After all, her husband is Abedi Pele, among the greatest African players of all time and a Champions League winner with Marseille in 1993. Her brother-in-law Kwame played 25 times for Ghana.

      Her three sons have all played for the national team, two sustaining long careers at the top of the English game. And yet, on 28th November 2022, she found herself leaving her seat at Education City Stadium in Qatar, calmly walking down the stairs and quietly slipping out of the arena. It was all too much.

      Ghana, two goals to the good at the break in their World Cup meeting with South Korea, had been pegged back and her sons Jordan and André were fighting to rectify the situation. “My Mum, after 65 or 70 minutes, she couldn’t watch the game anymore,” Jordan Ayew says, grinning. “She had to leave the stadium! We like [the tension] like that, we enjoy it.

      “It was very stressful for her. She is very passionate about the game as well, so she just couldn’t watch. With her two sons playing it was not easy for her.”

      But for Ayew, football has always been a family activity. Growing up as the child of arguably the most high-profile Ghanaian player in history, there was always bound to expectations. “I looked at videos and I heard people speaking about him,” he says. “He was incredible, and back home he is still seen as one of the best Africans to ever play the game.

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      Back home he is still seen as one of the best Africans to ever play the game.

      Jordan Ayew

      “When I go to places and I hear players like [Samuel] Eto’o speaking about him, that shows that he was a top player.” In Ayew’s neighbourhood however, brought up by his grandparents in Accra, he was able to mature and grow away from the spotlight.

      “The main thing was respect, the discipline, that was key,” he says. “Those are the values that I am used to. I have very good memories of Accra. It was a community that was very close – and very protective of the young kids growing up as well.

      “It’s an area where it all started for me and my siblings. That’s where we started football, where we have our friends, where we go to school. Until today it’s where we still live as well. It’s an area that will always be important to us.”

      With two Ghanaian internationals in the family one might expect there to be pressure to follow in the family footsteps, but Ayew says this wasn’t the case. Indeed, his passion for the game took some time to develop.

      “My parents always told us we should do whatever makes us happy, and they will be behind us,” he says. “They will tell us the truth, be honest with us and make sure we grow well. They just wanted us to be happy.

      “I was playing football but I didn’t really want to play competitively in my youth. I was always playing with my friends from our area and against other areas, and that was fine by me. I just wanted to be with my friends after school, I didn’t want to go to practice. Just to live a normal life.

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      I just wanted to be with my friends after school, I didn’t want to go to practice.

      Jordan Ayew

      “Then I got to a certain age when I was 10 where I joined an Under-12s team in my area, and I think that’s where the real love for the game started for me.”

      With three talented players in the family, there was always bound to be competition – but it was a quirk of fate that saw that very competition earn both Jordan and Andre their move to Marseille.

      “There has always been competition because no one wants to lose,” he explains. “But we are all proud of each other and each other’s successes. We want to keep it going.

      “I went to France at the age of 14 and joined the Academy at Marseille. I went to France for my holidays with my auntie and my brother, because [André] was supposed to do a trial at Marseille. I was not planning to stay there.

      “Then my godfather, Pape Diouf, said: ‘Come in and train during the holiday’. That’s where it all started. I went to training and it went very well – they didn’t want me to go back to Accra.

      “My mum didn’t want me to stay there because she felt I was not ready, but my dad said: ‘Listen, just let him go for one or two years.’ She was not happy, because she wanted me to come back home. I went when I was 14 – and didn’t come back until I was 23!

      “It was a massive change. I was sad – honestly, after four months I called my mum and said: ‘I want to come home, I cannot do it.’ My dad said: ‘You are not coming home. You made a decision and you need to honour that decision.’ My parents would come sometimes and every six months I would go back. The first year was hard, the second year was good, and then after that I felt at home.”

      Pape Diouf, then president of Marseille, played a huge role in Ayew’s development. But there was no question of preferential treatment because of his father’s playing achievements.

      “[Diouf] definitely saw something in me,” Ayew says. “He was living in Marseille but I was in the Academy, so he would just come from time to time to check on us. If we had a problem or anything we could go through him. He was there for us and he did everything for my family, and I will always be grateful and have massive respect for him.

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      I went when I was 14 – and didn’t come back until I was 23!

      Jordan Ayew

      “I grew up [being known as Abedi’s son] so it didn’t really affect me. My dad always said: ‘The football doesn’t lie. If you are no good, everyone will see you are no good. You just need to prove people wrong on the pitch.’ That is what I have been trying to do since I was a child, to show I have my own qualities and I can be an important person to the country and the community.”

      All these years later, that family bond remains as strong as ever. The Ayew sons have proved themselves at the top level of the game, Jordan and André playing alongside one another in Brazil in 2014 and again in Qatar. It is a source of immense pride.

      “Every time I play with my brother there is happiness, because we fulfilled our dreams,” the Palace man says. “It was painful to leave the tournament, but we did our best and gave everything to present Ghana in the best way possible.

      “I have a big family, I was raised by grandparents, aunties and uncles. They did a really good job. If I'm here today it’s because of them, they played their part. I always say that its important for me to remember where I came from, to thank them for their role in bringing me up. I feel blessed.”

      For all the fame, fortune and everything that goes with it, being a professional footballer can be uniquely challenging. The pressure is immense, the glare of being constantly in the public eye wearying and the expectations ever-growing.

      But Ayew knows that he always has a calm conversation to cheer him up, a steady head to offer advice or just a trusted confidante to take his mind off the game. “I speak to my brother, my sister and my parents maybe seven or eight times per week,” he says. “My mum is really chilled and calls when she has to call, but my brothers and my Dad we speak a lot.

      “Sometimes ‘you did well’ or ‘you didn’t play well’, but it’s not really [about football], we just speak about everything.” In the whirlwind environment of the Premier League, that support is invaluable.

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      They keep on praying for us and supporting us. There is nothing more that I can ask for.

      Jordan Ayew

      It’s clear that for all his personal achievements, Ayew is determined to emphasise how important his community was in his – and his family’s – upbringings. After all, how else could one of the most impressive footballing dynasties still be performing on the global stage?

      “We grew up in a really good area with good people around,” he concludes. “We got along together and I still have a lot of friends over there. My childhood friends are there, and one or two are in the UK.

      “I still see them from time to time. Those are the friends that really helped me grow. We are still in contact and when I go back home they show how proud they are. They keep on praying for us and supporting us.

      “There is nothing more that I can ask for.”