Andre Ayew seeks his own spotlight
Walking in the footsteps of a giant takes one of two things: very big feet or a very big heart. Luckily for Andre Ayew, he has both.
Ayew is the second son of the man widely recognised as Ghana's -- and perhaps even Africa's -- greatest player ever, Abedi Pele. His talent had to be nurtured in the shadows of his father's legend without being dwarfed by the expectation that came with his roots. It took him a while to find the right balance, but on the evidence of his two goals in Brazil 2014 so far, he has begun creating his own legacy.
For much of his career, Ayew has mirrored his father. There were some obvious differences in their development -- Ayew did not grow up playing football barefoot on village streets but was born in Lille, France, and played for a professional club in Accra from the age of 14 -- but he travelled a path almost parallel to that of his father.
He joined Marseille at 16 -- the same club where his father won four league titles and the Champions League -- but had to wait two years before he made his debut. Just like his father, who struggled to make it into the starting 11 in his first spell with them, Andre was also sidelined and eventually loaned out. He spent time at Lorient and then at second division side Arles-Avignon, where he was part of an outfit that earned a surprising promotion.
At the same time as he was working hard to make his name in French club football, he was having an impact on the international stage. Although Ayew qualified to play for France and even trained with their U-18 side, his heritage proved too strong and he turned out for Ghana instead. He was in their squad for the 2008 and 2010 African Nations' Cup, but the biggest achievement of his youth was sandwiched in between that. Andre captained the U-20 team to victory at both the 2009 African Youth Championships and the U-20 World Cup.
Abedi Pele's second spell with Marseille was the one that produced the magic he was renowned for, and it has been the same for Ayew. He was confirmed as a first-team signing after the 2010 ANC and has been a regular in the side since then. Marseille have not been the force in European football they were when Pele was around, but Ayew has contributed to some success, such as winning the French Super Cup in the 2010-11 season, when he notched a hat trick.
That season was a breakthrough for Ayew, and he was named the British Broadcasting Corporation's African Footballer of the Year that December; an award his father won 20 years earlier. The circle appeared to be nearing completion, and the weight on Ayew to emulate his father only grew.
In one interview, Ayew joked that people were waiting for him to fend off five defenders and score a goal, referring to the solo effort of his father in the 1982 ANC quarterfinal against Congo. Rebelling seemed a natural response, and Ayew's came in the form of disputes with coaches, and as a result, he was left out of Ghana's squad for the 2013 ANC squad.
The omission was said to be down to a hamstring injury, but Ayew's failure to turn up for a pretournament camp led to questions about his commitment to his country. It was followed up with a temporary retirement from the international game in February 2013, when Ayew, his brother Jordan and German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng all called time on their careers. They reversed that decision in August and were recalled for World Cup qualifiers in September.
That incident seemed to have heightened Ayew's resolve, and his considerable talent on the wing has become a great source of strength for Ghana. Indeed, his ability has alerted clubs across Europe, with Liverpool -- the team he has supported since childhood -- said to be keen. For now, though, he is focused on getting Ghana through the group stages in Brazil, a feat that would ensure Ayew steps out of his father's shadow and into his own spotlight.
Already, Ayew's goals at the World Cup put him level with the legendary Roger Milla, and if he continues on that trend, he can surpass his father not for the number of goals for Ghana (yet), but perhaps for the importance of those goals.
Abedi Pele is widely recognised as the best African footballer never to turn out at a World Cup. For all the success he brought for Ghana, he was not able to do it on the greatest stage. Now there is a chance his son can reach that goal.