Swansea’s draw with Chelsea on Saturday was a fine way to start the season. A back-and-forth game, a lot of goals, a dramatic red-card and an unfancied side truly expressing themselves at a top-four ground; the Premier League can never have enough of that.
So well done to Swansea for what was an excellent all-round performance and Garry Monk can be deeply satisfied with not only his preparation, but also the level of cohesion and tactical savvy his players showed at Stamford Bridge. This wasn’t one of those games in which a point was earned through desperation or luck; the visitors absorbed a lot of Chelsea’s pressure with relative ease and Lukas Fabianski – although impressive at times – was not required to be overly heroic.
Andre Ayew also made his debut in English football and, as well as playing his role within the overall structure, the Ghanian produced the game’s signature moment – a split-second of breath-taking class that will endure long beyond the opening weekend.
The circumstances which led the Ayew equalising were typical of the game. Jefferson Montero turned Branislav Ivanovic inside and out before drifting a cross to the back-post, Bafe Gomis rose above Cesar Azpilicueta to power a header at goal, and the ball dropped to Ayew on the edge of the Chelsea six-yard box.
His first effort at goal was instinctive – and brilliantly blocked by John Terry – but his second was a masterpiece. With the ball ricocheting off the Chelsea captain and back to Ayew’s feet, the temptation must have been to panic and to slash through the ball. He didn’t; dragging it away from the lunging defenders, he created an open angle for himself and drilled his shot conclusively past Thibaut Courtois.
All very neat, all very tidy – well done, Andre Ayew.
No, it’s so much more than that. Consider the context within which that occurred: it was Ayew’s debut, his first game in English football and his first chance to make a true impression on his new supporters.
Put yourself in that situation and imagine the surge of adrenaline – additionally, consider what the natural response would be to being presented with that kind of chance under those conditions. When a player joins a new club, he experiences a tempest of emotions which can, as has been proved in the past, determine whether he is ultimately a success or a failure. Like any other player in that situation, Andre Ayew’s desire to create a strong first impression was palpable throughout Saturday’s game.
So, with his heart-rate surging and the ball dropping to him, Ayew’s actions were led by his mind rather than his reflexes. It was a staggeringly cold-blooded moment and, actually, there are very few players who could have replicated it.
That isn’t an attempt to elevate him beyond his true level in the game. Already in his career he has been the top goal-scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations and he is a former African footballer of the Year (2011), but he does not belong in the truly elite category of world players. He is still just twenty-five and his theoretical prime remains a few years away, but he is not someone for whom excellence is habitual.
Rather than making a statement about his technical capability, then, that goal came from a rare mind. The Premier League is all pace and athleticism and so when a player is able to operate outside of those conditions – when he effectively presses pause on the game around him – it creates the most wonderful contrast, like watching a ballet dancer in a boxing ring.
It was more than composure or calm under pressure, it was cerebral artistry and as perfect an entry onto the English stage as he could have imagined.