For Emmanuel Gyasi, it was a dream come true: sharing the same space as, and walking right next to, the one player he’d always regarded and revered as an inspiration.
No sooner had the sound of referee Rosario Abisso’s final whistle gone at the Stadio Alberto Picco, to signal the end of Juventus’ first-ever Serie A game against Spezia, than Gyasi walked up to his self-confessed “idol”, Cristiano Ronaldo, for a moment and one of the most prized mementos in all of sport.
“I went to him and spoke with him,” Gyasi later told Joy Sport, “but unfortunately he couldn’t give me the jersey.”
Four months later, ahead of the reverse, Gyasi’s disappointment would be wiped away with the very collector’s item that he had sought but missed out on — and in a manner he found quite wonderfully surprising.
“In the second game, before we started the game, [Ronaldo] just came to me and asked ‘Gyasi, how are you?’
“I was shocked, he remembered me!”
“When he came and he hugged me, and asked how I was doing,” Gyasi related, “I was very happy — very, very happy.”
Well, who wouldn’t be?
Of all the things the great Ronaldo has to keep in mind — the goals, the milestones, the records, his assets, memories great and small — he still found that tiny bit of room in his brain to remember Gyasi’s name.
It might not seem like such a huge thing, but to Gyasi, knowing how far he’d come just to stand a chance of having Ronaldo for company, it meant the world.
Born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, Gyasi had spent some of his formative years as a footballer in Turin — a city that Ronaldo would later call home — with Torino, Juventus’ local rivals, in a period when Ronaldo was carving out a special place for himself in Real Madrid history.
Much of Gyasi’s time on Torino’s books, though, was spent on loan with lower-tier Italian clubs. In 2016, Gyasi moved to Spezia and was farmed out for the first two years, before his performances warranted a return to contribute to the couple of campaigns that culminated in the Aquilotti‘s maiden promotion to the top-flight in 2020.
His goal, in the decisive playoff against Frosinone, ultimately earned Spezia the ticket.
So while Gyasi isn’t quite the forward Ronaldo is, he must have had his own story to tell the man who’s seen and done it all when they later got together for a brief conversation.
“After the [second] game, we met in the dressing room and had a chat,” Gyasi said.
Juventus won those first couple of Serie A games with Spezia by three-goal margins — with Ronaldo, entirely unsurprisingly, scoring thrice — but their next meeting with the Ligurian outfit, on Wednesday evening, came at a time when the record champions weren’t feeling too confident of bagging another comfortable victory.
They were, shockingly, without a win four games into the new league season, and in the relegation zone; Spezia, to even their own surprise, ranked higher on the table.
Even more significantly, however, they had no Ronaldo, with the Portugal captain opting to rejoin boyhood club Manchester United late in the summer transfer window.
But Gyasi would make sure his man wouldn’t be missed.
Five minutes after Moise Kean — brought back to the Juventus Stadium to replace some of the goals they’d inevitably lose through Ronaldo’s absence — gave the Bianconeri the lead, Gyasi leveled with a goal taken straight from the ‘CR7’ catalogue.
Welcome to the ‘EG11’ show.
Juventus keeper Wojciech Szczesny brilliantly palmed away a splendid Daniele Verde effort from the right, but only as far as Gyasi on the left. The Ghana international took a few steps into the box, pried open a little space to set himself up, before striking powerfully — and beautifully — past Szczesny, helpless this time.
And then, in front of the buzzing Curva Ferrovia, he pulled it out: ‘SIU!’
It just had to be another Emmanuel, though, didn’t it?
Gyasi’s little Ronaldo act came nearly two years to the day another African forward, Nigerian Emmanuel Dennis, visited the Santiago Bernabeu with Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League, scored twice — neither as spectacular as Gyasi’s finish, though — and dropped the same epic goal celebration on Madrid’s hallowed turf as a mocking reminder of what the Spanish side had missed in the year or so since losing Ronaldo to Juventus.
As the camera panned to the face of Juventus legend and vice-chairman Pavel Nedved up in the VIP area, his face was a picture of bewilderment — at what he had just seen, and at what it meant for Juventus’ efforts to haul themselves off the canvas.
Fortunately for Nedved and Co., Juventus found a way to win the game — not before going behind, though — but the post-match headlines were dominated by the guy who had just mimicked, even if for just a few seconds, one of the greatest footballers of all time.
Now, I won’t be dumb enough to suggest that Gyasi would transform into Ronaldo 2.0 anytime soon, but his incoming national team head coach, Milovan ‘Milo’ Rajevac (are we still pretending it’s anyone else?), would have reason to feel there is something in the 27-year-old that he could tap into for the Black Stars.
Gyasi, who scored another stunner in Spezia’s first game of the current Serie A season, only played his first game for Ghana in March this year, and had just two more — a total of 67 minutes in those — before being omitted from the roster named for the Black Stars’ most recent outings, Charles Akonnor’s last in charge.
Rajevac surely can’t rely on Gyasi to solve Ghana’s current goalscoring challenge, as he’s just a winger and not a very prolific one at that, but the young man is definitely in his prime and has already matched half his tally of league goals from last season.
If he could summon just a bit more inspiration from the player he’s spent his youth and adult life trying to emulate — the best bits, that is — Gyasi, utilised properly, could prove quite an asset.
Are you watching, Milo?
Yaw Frimpong — Ink & Kicks