When Jordan Ayew completed a loan move to Crystal Palace from Swansea City on deadline day in 2018, none could have predicted the winger would be penning a new contract five years later.
Following his recent contract extension, Hodgson was full of praise for the 32-year-old in his pre-match press conference for Burnley on Friday, even going as far as to claim that the Ghanaian has been “one of the best signings” the club has ever made.
Considering this, is Jordan Ayew one of the club’s best signings? And is he underrated?
First, let’s consider the fee. Initially, Palace signed the Ghana international on a season-long loan in 2018 from Swansea, before he completed a permanent move to the Eagles the following season, signing for £2.5m on a three-year deal.
In a summer transfer window where Premier League clubs spent £1.43billion, Palace’s £6million was minute, but in hindsight, incredibly smart, with the acquisitions of Ayew and Gary Cahill. While it could be said that his debut season for Palace was underwhelming, only managing two goals and two assists in 25 games, it was his dedicated and hardworking nature that stood out to Hodgson and won him a permanent contract.
The fee in itself is enough to suggest that Ayew is one of the club’s best signings. In comparison to recent acquisitions in the forward areas, such as Christian Benteke (£27million, 2016), Matheus Franca (£17.3million, 2023), Eberechi Eze (£15.4million, 2020), and Andros Townsend (£13.5million, 2016), Ayew was significantly cheaper.
Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that he was an absolute bargain.
It was the 2019/20 season that Ayew really proved his worth to Palace, having what can only be described as a stellar campaign and certainly his best to date. The Ghana international was pivotal to Roy Hodgson, featuring in 39 games across all competitions and scoring nine goals, which were worth an incredible 14 points to the Eagles season. On top of several man of the match awards over the course of the campaign, he also received the Palace Player of the Month award for August and October 2019. However, it was winning Palace’s Player of the Season that was his crowning achievement, receiving a monstrous 37% of the total votes. And, of course, who can forget that outrageous goal against West Ham at Selhurst Park, which won him yet another award, Palace’s Goal of the Season.
Even though his next season wasn’t quite as impressive as the season prior, he still remained a mainstay in Hodgsons side, featuring heavily and making 35 appearances in all competitions. Once again, his output of one goal and three assists left a lot to be desired, but we all know there is much more to Ayew’s game than meets the eye, and often he goes under the radar.
Throughout the 2020/21 campaign, the Ghanaian was deployed in a whole host of positions across the front line; for example, he started 15 games at centre forward, 12 games at RW, and 5 games at LW. An incredibly handy asset for Roy, it was his versatility and reliability, missing just two games that season, that was essential in Palace comfortably avoiding relegation. While his second-half goal at the Amex to win Palace the three points will live long in the memory of Eagles fans.
With the arrival of Patrick Viera at Palace in the summer of 2021, it was difficult to see where Ayew would fit in and how he would continue to be a vital cog in the club’s success. Eleven players were out of contract and needed replacing; the average age of the squad needed reducing; and there was a greater emphasis on investing in young talent. However, it was during the tenure of Viera that we got to see the true worth of Ayew.
To start with, despite signing exciting young prospect Michael Olise for £8million, he was not only injured but also needed time to settle into the Premier League. Ayew started the first eight games of the 21/22 season, which enabled Olise to recover from his injury and allowed Viera to ease him slowly into Premier League football, staggering his minutes. In fact, it wasn’t until Leeds, on matchday 14, that he became a first-team starter. With Ayew having started the last 13 games prior to that, Ayew was pivotal in enabling Olise to develop and embed himself successfully within the squad. Starting 13+ games, Ayew was a vital cog in Patrick Viera’s system leading up to Christmas, with the Frenchman even stating: “There is no player who works as hard as he does in games for the team.”
Following Christmas, Olise gradually began to cement a starting spot at the expense of Ayew’s playing time. Despite this, he still started 15+ games in the second half of the season, proving ever-reliable, slotting in for injured personnel, and playing a crucial role in Palace finishing in 12th place.
What was really impressive during Ayew’s 2022/23 season, amid the chaos of Viera’s sacking in March and Hodgson returning to Selhurst Park, was not only did Ayew feature in 41 games, his highest to date in red and blue, but he also took his versatility to another level when Viera asked him to play in centre midfield at the beginning of the campaign, making 5 appearances. However, it was the Frenchman’s comments in November 2022 that really emphasised the importance of Jordan Ayew: “In every football club, you have a Jordan Ayew that the manager loves to have in the squad.”
Even when Viera was sacked and Hodgson made an unlikely return to South London, Ayew was a mainstay in the starting eleven, contributing a fantastic brace in the 5-1 victory over Leeds as well as a goal in the 4-3 win over West Ham. Whatever you think of Ayew, it isn’t an accident that he makes an impression on every manager he plays under; ultimately, it comes down to his dedicated, hardworking, and selfless nature.
So far this season, Ayew has been integral to Palace languishing just outside the top ten. Olise’s injury left a gaping hole in the squad, but it’s fair to say that the Ghanaian has stepped up. Starting all 13 games with 3assists and a goal, the 32-year-old has proved an invaluable asset.
Overall, with all the factors considered, Ayew has to be considered one of our best attacking acquisitions in recent history. Not only is the fee alone enough to suggest this, but his reliability and longevity cannot go underappreciated. Without Ayew, we would’ve struggled to maintain our Premier League status, particularly in 2019/20 and 2022/23. He’s provided a unique willingness to play whatever role the manager demands, whether that be on the pitch or off it. While his output in terms of goals and assists has been extremely underwhelming, this has never been a strength of his game; however, it is his dedication and hard work that has never failed to impress the fans, manager, and board.
That’s why Jordan Ayew must be considered one of our most underappreciated players in recent history.