By Graham Thomas
As with his talent and stardom, Andre Ayew wears his wealth lightly which is why he has few hang-ups over discussing being the best-paid player in the Championship.
The Swansea City striker – who hopes to finally score against rivals Cardiff City on Saturday – is regularly described as the biggest earner in the division.
The label is most often used not by the media, but by opposition managers who offer it up by way of explanation as to why their team were unable to stop Ayew from dominating the match just ended.
In recent weeks, Tony Pulis of Sheffield Wednesday, Luton’s Nathan Jones, Blackburn’s Tony Mowbray and Jason Tindall of Bournemouth have all said variations on the same theme – namely, that the former African Footballer of the Year was a cut above everything else on the field, but that no-one should be surprised because you get what you pay for and Swansea are rumoured to be still paying Ayew £80,000-a-week.
It’s a draining legacy from their Premier League days, but one that Swansea head coach Steve Cooper would hate to turn off, knowing how badly it would affect his club’s bid for promotion.
When asked how it feels to make other managers so envious, Ayew – an African sporting superstar still somehow playing in a small corner of South Wales – is refreshingly open.
“I don’t mind,” says the 30-year-old captain of the Ghana national team.
“It means I’m doing a good job and that I need to keep going the way I’m going.
“If they’re jealous, then my manager will be happy. I need to keep going the way I’m going.
“It’s always good to hear from managers that you’re a good player and the best in the league. I work every day to try and make that happen.
“I respect every club and the league. I’ve played in every competition which exists in the world, but I respect this league very much and if I’m not at the top of my game, I won’t get the praises from other managers.”
Ayew has scored nine goals so far this season, including four in his last seven games. But it’s his talismanic presence as much as his talent which means Swans fans – watching the derby at home on their TV sets – will be hopeful he once again is their lead man.
It’s a teasing cross from Jake Bidwell and Andre Ayew is there to poke it in for Swansea to make it 1-0!
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) September 26, 2020
Even when he’s not scoring, he has a knack of demanding so much of the opposition’s attention and like Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish in the Premier League, he seems to draw fouls almost at will.
No wonder Cooper is hoping Swansea can resist any offer for Ayew that may come their way in January, although any potential buyer would have to match or improve on those massive wages.
Ayew says he’s lucky in more ways than one. Not only is he handsomely paid for doing something he loves, but unlike many African players, his wages are not the means of support for a large extended family back home.
As the son of the great Abedi Pele – regarded as one of Africa’s best players of all time – Ayew does not have so many people with an important stake in his success.
He adds: “I think you get what you deserve in football.
“You get paid and I need to continue because everyone in this world does their job to get more, later. You try to work, prove a point, but that’s not a problem for me.
“I’ve been going through a lot of things like this in my career from the money I get from playing to the press pressure. I only have one thing in mind – to play well. As long as I keep playing well, the rest comes with it.
“Everyone plays football because they love the game, but at the end of the day it’s our job. For Africans, though, it’s different.
“We have thousands of people to feed behind us. I’m always happy and proud when I see an African doing great things on the pitch because when he does, he’ll earn more, and that will help millions of people.
“People can see it or believe whatever they want, but that’s the way I see it. For us Africans, we have a lot of people to feed and look after.
“We have to make sure that when we get to a certain level, we’re there to support them. They count on you to provide for them.
“It’s not the easiest thing to do, but that’s why I’m happy when African players come to Europe and do well.
Black Stars captain André Ayew received a welcoming plaque from the Egypt 2019 LOC who were at the Cairo International airport to welcome Team Ghana this morning #CAN2019 #TotalAFCON2019 #BlackStars2019 🇬🇭 pic.twitter.com/U0gM2rGFdZ
— Ghana Football Association (@ghanafaofficial) June 21, 2019
“You can’t understand that until you see it or ask another African player. People say African players come to Europe just to make money.
“You come because you have the quality to play, but your qualities make you earn money. The better you play, the more money you’re going to make. It’s as simple as that.
“If you’re a coach and you get good results, you get more money on your next deal. That’s the game. A lot of African players have so much pressure from their family.
“I’m lucky I’m not in the same situation as most of my African brothers. My dad was able to provide for us when I was younger, but most aren’t in the same situation.
“I know that because I’ve lived in Ghana. I understand why players come in, fight, and give everything they have to be able to make good money because most of that money goes to other people.”
Swansea will be hoping the fight is a strong one as they bid to keep a distance in the table between themselves and Cardiff.
Ayew scored in the play-off semi-final last season against Brentford and seemed to be carrying his team towards Wembley and a return to the Premier League.
It all went wrong in the return leg, but the team’s heartbeat if not their captain, reckons this season can deliver a better outcome.
“There have been a few changes, but not massive changes. We’ve lost Joe (Rodon), Rhian (Brewster) and Conor (Gallagher) – they were here for six months.
“We’ve got players who are doing really well and players who have gelled into the system well. If you look at Jamal (Lowe), Korey (Smith), Morgan (Gibbs-White) – who is injured now – Marc (Guehi) and Ben (Cabango) who has been phenomenal, we need to keep going.
“I really believe in the squad we have. It’s hard to determine now if we have a better squad than last season.
“In the end it’s the results which will tell us at the end of the season. For the past 16 or 17 games we’ve been really good and we need to continue.”