Sons out to live up to their identity in Ghana-US tie
You know a nation's football culture has grown up when it starts to create its own dynasties. The United States versus Ghana is not yet a classic, heavily storied World Cup encounter, though it has its precedents - Ghana effectively knocked the Americans out four years ago. This evening in Rustenburg, it will feature two famous fathers on the sidelines, investing huge faith in their sons.
Abedi "Pele" Ayew, 46, remains Ghana's most celebrated footballer. In West Africa, some argue that earlier heroes like CK Gyamfi, a brilliant player and then a successful coach from the 1950s to the 1970s, had more sway over the country's football. But Pele became a star in the era of colour, global television. He gained a worldwide profile for winning the European Cup with the French club Marseille; he was African Footballer of the Year three times in the 1990s.
Pele's middle son, Andre Ayew, was born in France 20 years ago. He grew up multilingual, with a privileged and varied education. Abedi had emerged in northern Ghana, away from the country's coastal and midland football capitals, gaining promotions and then moves abroad through his beguiling skill on the ball and his eye for goal. But Andre plays a more conventional game, taught to him both in Europe and Africa.
As a teenager, he combined spells with his father's own club (Abedi founded Nania FC in Ghana) in Africa with an apprenticeship in the junior ranks at Marseille. There they saw that Ayew junior carried more than just a famous surname. He had some of his father's magic in him. By 17 he had made his first-team debut for one of France's biggest clubs. Bob Bradley, meanwhile, grew up in football culture unlike Abedi Pele's. Where Pele's finishing school was the dirt pitches of Tamale, Bradley's was the manicured lawns of New England, and then Princeton University. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the hard-working Bradley had a couple of invitations to play in Germany, though they never quite reached fruition.
In time, he would find greater success in coaching. He would become, like Abedi Pele, a pioneer in his country's growth in the game. Like Pele, Bradley would also ensure his son came into what he called "soccer" with some of the advantages he himself had lacked. Michael Bradley was living his father's dream by the time he was 20, signing a Bundesliga contract with Borussia Moenchengladbach, his current employers. The younger Bradley will play in the centre of the US midfield against Ghana and take instructions, like all his team-mates, from Bob Bradley, now 52 and the US coach.
The father-son relationship in the US team is necessarily close, and has had its moments of awkwardness. Michael Bradley, 22, is a prodigy by US standards. He made his debut in Major League Soccer in the US; he transferred to the Dutch club Heerenveen at 18. But he still heard murmurs of favouritism when his father first selected him for the national team. "I learned quickly that you can't be thrown off course by that," Michael Bradley says. "You can't let it bother you. You have to be strong and committed to who are as a person and as a player.
"The most important thing in any team I've ever played in is that the guys I play with, my teammates, respect me for the way I play, for the way I train, for the way I act. When that's OK, the other stuff I just don't listen to." In this tournament, the respect is clear. Without Bradley's goal in the 2-2 draw against Slovenia, the US would not be taking aim at a place in the quarter-finals. Without Andre Ayew's excellent wing play, Ghana might very well not be in the last 16 either. The maturity he showed by captaining Ghana's Under 20s to victory in the World Cup nine months ago has carried over into his performances for the senior side.
He has not, like Michael Bradley, already equalled his father as a player, but like the younger Bradley he lives easily with the burdens of the surname. "What my father achieved with Ghana is huge," Andre Ayew said. "I'm proud of that, but comparisons between us make no sense. I've learned to live with it and realise it's to be expected." Just as he expects a call before and after each match from his dad, full of encouragement, occasionally advice. Just like Michael Bradley does, except his is delivered as a team talk. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Key battle Much of Ghana's play goes through Anthony Annan, but he may be preoccupied with Clint Dempsey's roving runs forward for the United States. Tactics The Africans have controlled long spells of each of their games, but scoring has been an issue, and if the US keep it tight they can wrest control. Previous meetings Just one, when Ghana won 2-1 in the group stages of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Dempsey was on the scoresheet with the US's goal.
Published: June 26, 2010 04:00 AM