Gervinho strikes fragile balance

Before the Cup of Nations a journalist on a certain Sunday morning discussion programme joked that Arsene Wenger would drive Gervinho to the Nations Cup.

The cutting jibe, given English views of the Nations Cup timing, highlights the paradox that is Gervinho.

His Ivory Coast team mates know his value, but also how key his fragile confidence is to unlocking his potential.

When Gervinho scored the very late winner against Togo in the tight opening Group D game there was even more fervour in the celebrations than usual. It showed the esteem they have for their team mate and a recognition of the ability he has.

Gervinho's goal was a reminder of what a gifted player he is. As the Togo goalkeeper Kossi Agassa missed Yaya Touré's deep free-kick, the ball fell to Gervinho just below waist height, at a narrow angle to a gaping net.

It was easy to imagine him, if he was wearing an Arsenal shirt, being unable to decide whether to head or volley it and ending up falling in an ungainly heap as he tried to do both.

The Ivory Coast need Gervinho. For all the talk about how good they are, thyey need a conductor for the orchestra. A maestro to add the brio and imagination to their controlled efficiency.

At the 2010 Cup of Nations Gervinho was hyped up to be that player, but he, like his team mates lost his head in the quarter-final against Algeria, when Ivory Coast blew an 89th minute lead.

Last year, in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, the fragility came to the fore. In the semi-final against Mali he scored a wonderful winner running from the halfway line before calmly finishing. When the shoot-out arrived in the final, his confidence evaporated. At 7-7, Ivory Coast's coach, François Zahoui, ordered him to go forward; he refused, and Kolo Touré's penalty was saved. Rainford Kalaba fired over the bar, which meant that Gervinho had to step up.

A player that fragile will probably never be a consistent performer at the highest level. The very best players have a mental toughness that allows them to put mistakes behind them. Even if he did, his inability to pick the right option on a reliable basis is a major failing. But what is significant is the difference in attitude between Ivory Coast and Arsenal – perhaps between country and club. The Ivorians know that, for all his failings, he's the best they've got and so it makes sense to try to get the best out of him.

His pedigree is classic Ivory Coast. Born in Anyama, Gervais Kouassi started out as a pupil at the Jean-Mac Guillou Academy of capital side ASEC Mimosas, spending five years with ASEC before turning professional at Toumodi. In the summer of 2005, he joined Romaric, Emmanuel Eboue and Boubacar Barry at Beveren, and although the Belgian side’s results were hardly inspiring during his stay, he shone out on the flank and notched 14 goals in two seasons.

Impressed by his potential, Le Mans brought him on board in June 2007 and, following a season spent adapting to the French game, during which his international debut also came in November 2007, he truly announced his arrival in 2008/09. That persuaded Lille to secure his services.

Ivory Coast captain at U-21 level and a senior first-team regular in the 2008 Olympics, his real breakthrough came in 2009/10. Scorer of two goals in just three qualifiers on the road to South Africa, once he got to the World Cup he raised his profile, winning plaudits for his natural talent, technique and pace.

The 2010/11 season at Lille was a signature season for Gervinho as he helped inspire them to a league and cup double.
Arsenal were certainly impressed as they were persuaded to pay Lille £10.8 million, but his inconsistencies have made it an up and down time at the Emirates. Now at club level the attitude, certainly among fans, seems to be to highlight his deficiencies so that he's got rid of and replaced sooner rather than later.

Perhaps the journalist was right about Wenger diving Gervinho to the Nations Cup. It’s in South Africa he might be able to recover the confidence to be the player who worth nearly £11 million.









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