You’d be forgiven for thinking that Jordan Ayew had been given an extended winter break after tweeting:
The tweet arrived nearly 24 hours after Crystal Palace had overcome bitter rivals Brighton & Hove Albion in their own backyard and made Premier League history by becoming the first side to win on February 29th.
It was one of those tweets that cuts through everything. From the analysis to the post-match reaction to the Man of the Match vote. Jordan Ayew had encapsulated the mood of the whole club in less than 140 characters.
It’s amusing reading Ayew’s tweet post-our interview with him – a tweet that betrays the humble, media savvy quotes he delivered reflecting on the victory down by the seaside: “I think Christian did everything!” He begins. “Christian did a fantastic job. Christian saw me and gave me the ball and I just tried to put it in.”
Naturally, it’s easier for goalscorers to grab a headline but Ayew isn’t done at praising his strike partner – this was a team effort. He adds: “It was a really good game from our centre-backs and our fullbacks and the midfield as well. I think everyone gave a shift and everyone gave a really good game today. It was a real team performance.”
Scoring at Old Trafford, settling derbies and scoring Goal of the Season contenders – a lot has clearly changed with our top scorer from the one who spent last season on loan in SE25.
Ayew is honest in his appraisal, he knows last season could’ve gone better: “Last season was last season, and in football some seasons are just like that,” he says. “It wasn’t the best season for me; I came with the aim of helping the team but the players that were starting were doing really, really well so it was difficult [for me to get a start].”
He continues: “I kept on working hard and working hard, and the manager wanted to keep me – that was a huge positive for me [to hear]. I wanted to stay, I felt settled at this football club and I still feel settled, and my family feel settled in London. I wanted to keep going here because of the fans, too and for some stability in my career.”
There’s a clear humility – almost an endearing embarrassment at the focus being on him – that comes across in Ayew’s actions and comments throughout our interview: “First of all I’d want to thank my teammates and coaching staff for having the faith in me this season.”
The next line encapsulates what the Palace fans no doubt say about our No.9 in the stands: “Every time I go on the pitch I look to fight for this team, for these colours and I try to do my best,” he reflects.
In Roy Hodgson’s setup, one of the hardest working positions is the striker – a role epitomised by the club’s historic victory at Old Trafford in August, a game in which Ayew’s was tasked with dropping deep and hindering the influence of Paul Pogba as the Red Devils’ playmaker.
“I just want to do the best for the team,” he reiterates as we put it to him that perhaps, outside of SE25, the player behind the wonder-goal against West Ham United on Boxing Day, doesn’t earn the praise he warrants in the wider footballing sphere.
Nonplussed, Ayew continues: “As long as the manager and my teammates know my qualities and know the work that I put in to my team, then the rest does not bother me. I just want to win, that’s the most important thing.”
And win he does, with the Ghana international’s goals directly handing the Eagles 15 points in the league this season – 17 if you include draws – so it is no surprise that Ayew has a team-leading 10 Man of the Match awards so far.
Reading too much in to things, we pose the question that Ayew winning the Man of the Match award for both matches against Newcastle United is a suggestion that he has ‘insider info’ on his former manager, Steve Bruce.
“It’s just a coincidence,” smiling, he rejects our suggestion. “I was only with him for three months – it didn’t really happen for me at Villa at that time; I had to move on. But Steve is a good manager and deserves to be in the Premier League.”
Both performances against the Magpies saw Ayew play on the right-hand side of a three, with Christian Benteke chosen through the middle. But as displayed earlier in the season, Ayew is more than capable of playing in either of those positions.
“The manager and the players know that anywhere the manager puts me I will give 100% and I have no problem with that,” instantly shutting down any inkling that he has a preferable position. “Whether I’m on the right, on the left or I am upfront or No.10, I just don’t mind, I just love the game, I just want to be on the pitch and give 100%.”
Whatever position Ayew plays in Palace’s outstanding nine Premier League games you’d back the forward to be amongst the goals – the strike against Brighton equalled the former Marseille player’s second-best ever goal return in the league.
The 12 for Lorient is in sight. A time in which clearly Ayew has fond memories of – almost thanking us for giving him an excuse to relive that season: “Sylvain Ripoll played to my strengths,” offering an explanation as to why the 2014/15 Ligue 1 season remains his sole double-digit haul in the league. “Sylvain made the players play for me and allowed me to use my pace in behind. I’d say they were a team a bit similar to Swansea City, as in they keep the ball: pass, pass, pass.
“It was a team that basically played four strikers, and in a period where I had to score goals I was presented with plenty of chances to score those goals.”
“I was still a team player,” he almost interupts himself – don’t worry, Jordan; the Palace fans know that. “But I was being used as a real No.9 where I had chances from crosses or passes in behind. It was a different style in the French league though but I really enjoyed my time with Lorient and that is what gave me the chance to come to the Premier League with Aston Villa and I am so grateful for that.”
It appears Patrick van Aanholt is grateful that Jordan Ayew is in the Premier League, too, with our match-winner from the Newcastle United shouting across the canteen: “Jordan Ayew: he is a big player!” as he spots our interview overlooking the Training Ground pitches.
No disagreement here, Patrick.
Liked by his teammates and loved by the fans, Ayew’s growth from loanee squad player to leading goalscorer has been a rapid one, and one no doubt aided by having his fellow countryman, Jeffrey Schlupp, nearby.
In Ayew’s career, Schlupp sits in joint-fourth spot in terms of the pair’s joint-goal participation – basically, when they’ve assisted one another. Thankfully for Ayew, Hodgson and the Eagles faithful, Schlupp is back in full training and nearing a return after going off at half-time against Watford back in December.
“Jeffrey is a massive player to this team with his pace – we miss his pace – he’s important player,” the praise for those around Ayew continues. “We are delighted that he is almost back and ready to help us hopefully get as many points as we can.”
But why the connection on the pitch, especially in front of goal? “It’s a natural thing,” Ayew reveals. “I played with him in the national team, too. We just know each other and how each of us play and where to find each other in the spaces.”
When talk of Schlupp’s injury return passes, Ayew leans forward and touches the wooden table. “I don’t like to speak about that [injuries],” explaining the reason for his action. And clearly the apotropaic tradition works with Ayew barely having an injury history.
Asked how he believes he has managed to avoid a serious injury, and whether it is anything to do with his diet or lifestyle, Ayew nervously fidgets in his chair, keen to clearly avoid any further mention of the ‘i’ word. “I just want to continue to always thank God,” he calmly said. “I’m a big believer in God; I pray a lot. I think it is something everyone has their own decision on – it is a personal thing. I am a big believer because I am in a family where we believe a lot in Allah and it is a positive thing.”
Keen to move the conversation on and not jinx our key player, the final topic jotted down is ‘squad numbers’. And Ayew has had a wide-range of them from being No.3 at Sochaux and Swansea City, to having 15, 23, 8 and 11 at Marseille.
But only once before Palace has Ayew had the No.9 shirt and that was during his time with Lorient – the club where he recorded his personal best 12-goal haul in the league. Appreciating that we need a line on the topic – and us now understanding that squad numbers are a big deal to everyone other than the actual footballers – Ayew goes for: “I like No.9. It is my favourite number.”
Jordan Ayew: our favourite No.9.