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Jordan Ayew: Palace's Mr Reliable on Hodgson, pressure and the future


Crystal Palace’s modern model of consistency may be softly-spoken, but Jordan Ayew’s natural serenity off the pitch belies the tireless warrior he is upon it – as the numbers alone aptly demonstrate…

It is some achievement, amid the disruption of international call-ups, unforeseen postponements and the most densely packed fixture schedule in recent memory, to appear in all 38 Premier League games in an individual season.

It is, in fact, a feat achieved by just 14 outfield players in the 2022/23 Premier League – Palace duo Jordan Ayew and Ebere Eze among them. The previous season, that total figure was just four.

Hone further in, and you notice that of those 14 outfield players, many enjoyed the benefit of a winter break whilst clubmates faced an even more demanding schedule at global football’s centrepiece occasion: the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Of the 14 outfielders who played all 38 league games, seven journeyed to the Qatar. Four played for England – Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka, Kieran Trippier and Ben White – and three for other nations, including Ayew for Ghana.

Adding three World Cup matches to his 31 league starts – while also appearing in all three of Palace’s cup fixtures – you might afford Ayew some leeway in the unlikely circumstance he drops off his game. The man himself, however, does not.

Ayew’s tireless pressing, hassling and harrying were key factors in him becoming the Premier League’s most-fouled player (90 times) last season. He won the second-most duels (271) enacted the second-most pressures (1,181) in the division – including the largest number in the middle third of the pitch (821).

Those numbers, in that most gruelling of seasons, are some going – but Ayew sees them not as praise, but as his responsibility. “It’s something that’s part of my game,” he shrugged. I’m an offensive player and I’m going to get fouled.

“I try to be a bit more direct in my game. I try to be efficient. Anywhere the manager wants me to play, I’ll do a job for my team, and try to do my best.”

When Ayew speaks, you sense no ego. Talk of the self is scarce, rare mentions of personal targets quickly pave way to discussion about the collective – and every word is spoken with a measured, thoughtful delivery.

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The pressure will always be there. It will never end, so you just need to live with it.

Jordan Ayew

Ayew hails from one of football’s greatest dynasties. His father, Abedi Pele, was among the greatest African players of all time and was a Champions League winner with Marseille in 1993, while his brothers André and Ibrahim have both enjoyed sustained success at the highest levels in the game.

But Ayew feels no sense of competition in that regard. “I never thought of needing to be better than members of my family. I don’t think that’s the right mentality to have. I see it in a different way, where it’s a positive thing: I’m lucky to be part of a family like this.

“The pressure will always be there. It will never end, so you just need to live with it. You just need to enjoy it, because life is short. I’m lucky.”

With regular UEFA Champions League appearances, Ligue 1 titles, Africa Cup of Nations finals and Ghana Player of the Year awards under his belt, it is fair to say Ayew has furthered his family’s success.

Yet his focus remains on the bigger picture. “I don’t really set myself many objectives,” he explains. “I just want to keep being consistent and keep on performing. After that, the rest will follow.

“As a team at Crystal Palace, we are humble. We know our qualities. We know our strengths, and we know what we can do. We have a good team and a good squad.

“We go into each game with a lot of expectations, and we are always hopeful we can perform very well. You can’t really control the result, but the most important thing is that we keep on performing well and keep that consistency.

“We want to finish as high in the Premier League as possible. We relish every game. It’s a blessing playing in the Premier League, and when you do, you have to enjoy every second you’re on the pitch.”

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The me a bit more freedom and more responsibility to perform on the pitch. Since he’s come in again, it’s been so positive here.

Jordan Ayew

Ayew will have had plenty of cause for enjoyment, then, in recent years. Entering his sixth season as a Crystal Palace player, the Ghanaian has missed just 11 Premier League games over the last four campaigns. He plays in a manner which showcases how clearly he relishes his commitment to the club – and has found that appreciation to be reciprocated.

“I’d worked with Roy Hodgson before,” Ayew refers to the manager’s first spell at Palace. “He, Dougie Freedman and Steve Parish brought me to the club.

“The manager knows my qualities and gives me a bit more freedom and more responsibility to perform on the pitch. Since he’s come in again, it’s been so positive here. Everything seems to be heading in the right direction and we are here to support him.

“He’s very active. You might think he’s a quiet guy but no, he gets involved! In training, he’s everywhere on the pitch, giving us tips and advice. He’s very lively – he shouts, he screams, and he has a lot of energy.” Does Ayew envisage having that same vivacity at 76-years-old? “I hope so!” he laughs.

It has been a successful start to the season for the 31-year-old, who is aware of the scrutiny that Palace’s attacking department currently face without the injured Michael Olise and Matheus França, as well as following the recent departure of club legend Wilfried Zaha.

Three assists in his first four games of the season, two for Odsonne Edouard and another for Joachim Andersen, suggest Ayew is ready to pick up some of that additional responsibility. “When Wilf was here, it was the same ambition I had,” he explains.

“Obviously Wilf has done great things for the club – he was a really big player for us – but now that he’s not here, there are other players with quality who can step in and do something big for the team.

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You might think [Hodgson] is a quiet guy but no, he gets involved! He’s very lively – he shouts, he screams, and he has a lot of energy.

Jordan Ayew

“Odsonne has done it before. He did it at Celtic. We just need to make sure he has opportunities each game. Our job is to make sure that he has chances – then, it’s his job to finish them. We know he will score. He shows it in training every day and no doubt, if we have confidence in the game, he can, and will, do it.

“That’s what we as a team are trying to do: we’re all trying to contribute for the team to be successful.” Ayew reiterates the point that collective success often comes hand-in-hand with that of individuals – and another prominent example crops up: Palace’s newest England international.

“We all know Ebs is a special talent and a special player,” he smiles. “He’s done really well and shown everyone his quality. He got a well-deserved England call-up and, now, he must push on. I hope he’ll build on last season and continue into this season in style.

“We are all here to support him.” For a player with 92 senior caps, Ayew recognises the unqiue joys of playing on an international stage – and he may yet even add silverware to his glittering career when the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (yes, you read that correctly) comes calling in mid-season.

Four-time winners Ghana have already qualified for the finals in January, with Ayew donning the armband for the decisive fixture.

Under new manager Chris Hughton, the Black Stars will be hoping to claim the trophy for the first time in 41 years, having come so close in 2015 – a tournament which ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat (in which Ayew scored his kick) to this year’s hosts, Ivory Coast.

But the forward is not getting ahead of himself. “Everything has its time,” he explains. “When I’m at Palace I focus 100 percent on Palace, and when I’m with the Ghana national team, I focus 100 percent on Ghana.

“There’s no problem about thinking what will be happening in three months. We’re a team in a building process. We know each other now and we have a good manager in place.”

It is again a measured, mature response – perhaps shaped by the forward’s experiences growing up in his country in a famous family, but doing so outside of the footballing spotlight.

Raised in Accra by his grandparents, Ayew’s hometown was where he learned the values of humility and community. “I can’t stop speaking highly about Accra because I learned a lot of things there: the basics in life like discipline, humbleness…

“You have people in your neighbourhood who tell you when you’re not doing the right thing. It’s a different mentality compared to Europe. Those things have shaped me to become who I am today.

“I don’t see my family and friends in Ghana for most of the year, so when I go back, I spend time with my parents, my friends and my real family – those who started with me from the bottom. I spend time with them in the summer and come back, fresh and ready to go for another 10 months.

“When you look at it, and you see what you have achieved in the game and where you are today, you can only be thankful to God because when I was young, my dream was to play professional football. Now, I am 32, and I am a professional footballer.

“Hopefully there are more years to come.” Whether you’re judging it off Ayew’s total appearances in the last six seasons; his quantity of pressures; a myriad of other statistics… or just his visible determination on the pitch – you would be hard-pushed to disagree.