Jordan Ayew: The Unlikely Signing of the Season

Crystal Palace’s goal-getting Eagle may have flown under the radar, but Ayew’s £2.5 million move to Selhurst Park last summer has materialised as one of the Premier League signings of the season.

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The 2019 summer transfer window saw Manchester United land an expensive Harry Maguire, Manchester City add Rodri to their embarrassment of riches and Tottenham Hotspur empty their pockets on club record signing Tanguy Ndombele.

It’s unsurprising, therefore, that Palace’s frugal acquisition of Jordan Ayew went by unnoticed.

In fact, even Palace fans must have been slightly underwhelmed when the Ghanaian was unveiled as the answer to the club’s lack of goals; Ayew’s loan spell at Selhurst Park during the 2018/19 season returned a meagre 2 goals in 25 appearances.

Following seven months of first team football and 8 crucial Premier League goals before the lockdown, Ayew established himself as a dependable regular in Palace’s frontline. After finding the net in three 1-0 wins, three 2-1 victories and two close draws with Arsenal, the marksman directly earned the Eagles a priceless 14 points during the season’s first spell.

Therefore, without Ayew’s goals this campaign, Crystal Palace would hold the worst attacking record in the league, and suddenly their cushy 10th spot would be downgraded to a place in the relegation zone, identifying just how vital the striker has been in keeping Palace afloat.

Since the restart, Ayew increased his tally to 9 goals in Palace's first game back against Bournemouth, helping his side to yet another win against teams in the bottom six.

Comparatively, West Ham’s Sébastian Haller and Arsenal’s Nicolas Pépé, both of whom joined for club record fees in the summer, have so far failed to repay their respective price tags, scoring fewer goals than Ayew in the Premier League this season.

Crystal Palace’s decision not to break the bank on a high-profile striker indicates that the board has learned from the club’s £27 million signing of Christian Benteke in 2016. The Belgian’s slender tally of 5 goals in the last 3 seasons may have reminded them that you don’t always get what you pay for. To that end, Hodgson’s shrewd capture of Gary Cahill on a free transfer last summer appears an effectual one, with the former England international having added leadership and experience to the Eagles’ back line thus far.

Yet unlike Cahill, who came to Selhurst Park with two Premier League medals to his name, Ayew arrived as a relegation specialist, having been previously sent down with both Aston Villa and Swansea City in consecutive seasons. Hodgson’s decision to overlook the forward’s troubling history is perhaps what makes the transfer all the more applaudable.

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Ayew’s first repayment of faith came at Old Trafford, when his clinical opener helped Palace stun Manchester United with a 2-1 victory back in August. The striker continued to impress in the following weeks, scoring the winners in tight games against Aston Villa and West Ham.

However, Ayew’s crowning achievement in red and blue came during Palace’s second fixture with the Hammers on Boxing Day, when the No. 9 delivered one of the goals of the season right in front of the home supporters. As the match ticked into the 90th minute, he skilfully danced his way through West Ham’s defence with the ball glued to his feet, before nonchalantly lifting the ball over Roberto’s head to secure all three points.

Whether by skill, spirit or persistence, Ayew has found a way to deliver for Crystal Palace in crucial moments. Former Zambia boss, Herve Renard, who coached Ayew during his time with French side Sochaux, has lauded the 28-year-old for his recent run of form, identifying him as the key man in Ghana’s national side.

“Asamoah Gyan is the past and Jordan Ayew is the future. He is improving and he is working very hard. It is not easy to play in the Premier League and he is doing his best,” Renard informed TV3 Ghana.

As a teenager, Ayew watched his older brother André feature in the Black Stars’ exceptional World Cup run in 2010. Led by Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan, the talented squad were narrowly eliminated on penalties in their quarter-final against Uruguay, becoming only the third African team in history to reach that stage of the competition.

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A decade later and Jordan Ayew is now the player expected to continue Ghana’s legacy, emphasising just how impressive he has been this campaign for Crystal Palace. The forward will hope Renard’s vote of confidence reassures Hodgson that he needn’t shop around for a new goalscorer this summer, and instead use the money from Aaron Wan Bissaka’s £50 million exit to upgrade other positions. With no Palace player recording more than 3 assists this season, the manager must surely be tempted to address the squad’s apparent lack of playmakers before bringing in another striker.

Although Hodgson’s line-ups tend to feature three defensive midfielders to protect the back four, it would be interesting to see how much further Ayew could improve his game with a true No. 10 in the squad. Throughout the season, the striker has been forced into creating his own opportunities in front of goal, either by chasing down loose balls or by fashioning one of his positive solo runs. In truth, it would be naïve to expect Ayew to score more goals next season without a creator behind him, especially considering their assist leader, Wilfried Zaha, may leave for pastures new in the near future.

For now, Ayew will be eager to add to this season’s goal tally and continue his journey from relegation regular to Palace fan favourite. Whether by a cunning stroke of genius or a slice of good fortune, Hodgson has unearthed a player significantly outperforming his transfer fee. Although Ayew may still not be grabbing the headlines every week, he is undoubtedly one of the signings of the season.

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