In the Spotlight | Andre Ayew
It would not be an exaggeration to say that had you told Swansea City fans that during the early months of the 2019-20 season they would be watching Borja Baston and Andre Ayew start regularly for their side, a few eyebrows would have been raised.
That is no comment on the ability, attitude and application of the two players; more a reflection of the expected state of play during the summer just passed.
Baston had not started a game for Swansea since the tail-end of the 2016-17 season, having had loan spells with Malaga and Alaves.
Ayew, meanwhile, had spent last season on loan with Turkish club Fenerbahce.
There was little to no expectation the pair would be playing for Swansea City in the Championship this season, even with the summer departures of Dan James and Oli McBurnie to Manchester United and Sheffield United respectively.
Yet, here we are in late October and Borja is right up there among the Championship’s top marksmen and has proven clinical with six goals from just 12 shots on target.
Ayew, meanwhile, has just scored his first league goals for the club in three-and-a-half years and his work-rate and quality have marked him out as a key figure.
His assists for Sam Surridge against QPR and Borja against Reading served as a reminder – not that one was needed – of the abilities of a player who has previously been crowned BBC African Footballer of the Year.
Ayew also has Champions League experience, has won 84 caps for Ghana, skippered his country and represented them at two World Cups.
The 29-year-old was open in admitting he had offers on the table to go elsewhere during the summer.
But discussions with head coach Steve Cooper upon his return from African Cup of Nations duty impressed the forward, and he says in the end it was easy to commit his immediate future to Swansea City as they look to remain among the pacesetters in the second tier.
“I’m a Swansea player and I am working hard for the games that are coming up. The gaffer has been clear and honest with me and I want to thank him for that,” he said.
“From the moment we sat down in the summer I was very impressed with what he has to say and I feel there is a lot of respect between us.
“He’s given me a lot of confidence and trust in the way that he speaks to me.
“I really feel like I’m welcome and that’s a good feeling. It’s a feeling you love to have as a player.
“A lot of things have been said but, for me, what’s important is to work hard, try to perform the very best I can for the club and go for it.
“I’m really enjoying my football at Swansea, I have been welcomed back with open arms and I believe in what we are doing and what the club is trying to achieve.
“We have had an excellent start to the season, okay we have had some disappointments too, but we are still right up there and having a good start puts you in a good position to build from, and that is what we want to do.”
Those disappointments – against Reading and Stoke – were a frustration to Cooper and his players as they were unable to build on excellent starts.
And, with the Swans just a point off the top of the table prior to the resumption of Championship hostilities after the international break, it is tempting look at the standings and look at what could have been.
But every successful team has had to go through disappointments and defeats as part of its development.
And Ayew feels those games and lessons will ultimately prove beneficial for what remains a youthful looking squad.
“We’re going to learn from those games. It may not seem like it now, but this will be a good lesson for us.
“We’re still in it; we were only a point away from the leaders for the international break.
“We always need to be ready for any challenge that the Championship brings.
“We’ve done great things this season and some that aren’t so great. But what we’re doing at the moment is good and we need to continue that.
“We’re working hard, training well and we need to keep that going. A lot of teams would love to be where we are in the table.
“I believe in the squad – there is no problem. When you’re towards the top of the table, you have to respond when things go wrong – that’s very important.
“We need the fans behind us. They have been great so far – both home and away – and now we need them more than ever. We know they will be there to push us.”
Ayew did not take long to make his presence felt in a Swansea shirt when handed his first opportunity under Cooper.
The Carabao Cup tie against Northampton had proved a sticky affair and the Swans trailed the League Two side.
The introduction of Ayew changed all that, with the Ghanaian’s brace – combining bravery for the first and a poacher’s instinct for the second - helping to turn the tide decisively in the hosts favour.
He has to wait until the win over Charlton at The Valley to grab his first league goal, arriving to convert Joe Rodon’s flick-on from a Matt Grimes corner to complete a come-from-behind victory over the Addicks.
That was his first league goal for the Swans since netting against Manchester City in May 2016, towards the end of his first stint in SA1.
He backed that up with his close-range opener against Stoke City, earning reward for following in a Yan Dhanda shot as Adam Federici could only parry and the statuesque Potters’ defence looked on.
Goals are always welcome for any forward, but the former Marseille man would rather be talking about putting three points on the board than finding the net in a defeat.
“It’s really annoying when you score and don’t win the game,” he said. “It’s always good to score for a club you love. I’m happy to score at home for the fans and I hope there are plenty more to come.
“But I also hope there will be more victories ahead of us because that’s more important.
“It’s good to be back on the scoresheet.
“My job is to try to create and score goals for the team. I now have three assists and two goals. I need to keep on doing more like that for us.
“I know the quality I have. I will never doubt myself. I know my capabilities. I have a big challenge ahead of me here and I hope I will make it work.
“But it is about the team and to be a leader in a team it has to be about more than yourself.
“As a more senior player, I have to bring my leadership skills to the table.
“We have a great squad of players who have a lot of talent. They are responding very well to anything that the likes of me, Wayne (Routledge) and Nathan (Dyer) are trying to pass onto them.
“We keep on trying to help them from our own experiences.”
Ayew has also received an excellent reception from the Jack Army since returning to the Swans fold following his loan spell.
His name rang out around the Liberty when he emerged from the bench to net that double against Northampton, and it has become a regular feature both at the Liberty and on Swansea’s travels.
Having been among the squad that suffered the pain and heartache of relegation from the Premier League in May 2018, Ayew has been grateful for the support he has received, and wants to repay the Jack Army.
“The fans have given me an unbelievable welcome. I’m so happy and touched and that sort of thing makes you want to work hard,” he said.
“They have always been great with me and supporting me. That’s why, when I wear the Swansea shirt, I try to give everything I have for the club. I just want to do my best on the field for everyone.
“I’m really looking forward to repaying the faith they have shown in me.
“I feel at home here and sometimes you have to go with what your heart is telling you. I believe we can achieve great things.”