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Jordan Ayew interview: Finding form and aiming high at Crystal Palace

Jordan Ayew tells Sky Sports what's behind his improvement this season; Watch Leicester vs Crystal Palace live on Sky Sports Premier League or Main Event from 2.30pm on Saturday; Kick-off 3pm

Jordan Ayew

Jordan Ayew's future was unclear at the start of last summer. A season on loan at Crystal Palace had yielded a solitary goal in 20 Premier League appearances and while the club had the option to sign him permanently from Swansea at the end of it, they did not immediately take it up.

It was only after he impressed for Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations that the Eagles decided to make their move, handing him a second chance in the form of a three-year contract at Selhurst Park. Ayew vowed to repay their faith when he signed it and that's exactly what he has done.

Having struggled to nail down a place in the side last season, Ayew has started all but one of their 32 Premier League games this time around. It only took him a few weeks to beat his goal tally for the previous campaign. Fast forward to today, and he only needs one more to reach double figures.

"I'm grateful to the whole club," Ayew tells Sky Sports before reeling off the names of manager Roy Hodgson, assistant Ray Lewington, chairman Steven Parish and sporting director Dougie Freedman.

"They are the ones who trusted me and had the belief in me to sign me permanently," he adds. "Since I came to this football club, they have been so supportive and so good to me. The only thing I could do was just try to go on the pitch, perform and do my best for the team. Thank God, things have changed a bit for me this season."

Ayew describes last year's Arica Cup of Nations finals, where he scored twice in four games before Ghana's elimination in the last 16, as a turning point for him - "to be able to perform like that at a massive, massive tournament was a big relief for me and gave me more confidence," he says - and his motivation on his return to Crystal Palace was simple.

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Image: Ayew has scored nine Premier League goals in 31 games this season

"I wanted to show the club that they didn't make the wrong decision to sign me," he says.

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Any doubts among the fanbase did not linger long.

His first goal of the campaign proved decisive in a memorable 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in August. Since then, there have been two goals against Arsenal and a string of other crucial strikes including a sublime solo effort to clinch a 2-1 win over West Ham in December.

It owes a lot to Ayew that, despite Monday's disappointing 1-0 loss to Burnley, Palace are on course to record their highest Premier League points total for the second consecutive season.

His contribution of nine goals represents more than 30 per cent of their total. According to Opta, those strikes have won Palace 14 of their 42 points. Only Raul Jimenez, Sadio Mane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Danny Ings have won their sides more points. For Ayew, this is already the highest-scoring season of a Premier League career which includes a spell at Aston Villa as well as Swansea.

"I've always thought that I was a good finisher, but sometimes you just need a bit of luck," says Ayew. "This year, I've had quite a bit of luck, but luck doesn't just come like that, you need to provoke it. I've been working really, really hard on that but there's still room for improvement."

Ayew's determination to improve is part of the reason why Hodgson values him so highly and his selfless attitude can be seen in the effort he puts in off the ball. On matchdays, the 28-year-old regularly tops the charts at Palace for both distance covered and sprints, his intensity setting the tone for Hodgson's side from front to back.

"When I'm on the pitch, I always give 100 per cent," he says. "If I can track back, I will track back. Even if I had to play in goal, I would. I just want to make sure my teams wins, and I will do anything I can to help make that happen. If I do it and the team wins, I come home and I smile.

Jordan Ayew of Crystal Palace celebrates with his team mates after scoring his sides second goal which is awarded following a VAR review during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at London Stadium
Image: Ayew celebrates with Crystal Palace team-mate Joel Ward

"People tell me that I don't have the killer instinct or aggressiveness in front of goal. But I am in a team where we need to work for each point. I can't just stand up front and wait for the ball and try to take people on and shoot. There are other things I need to do and I enjoy doing them."

Besides, Ayew's scoring record is nothing to be sniffed at.

His latest goal, in Palace's 2-0 win over Bournemouth in their first game of the Premier League restart, was his 25th overall in the competition, making him the top-scoring Ghanaian player in Premier League history ahead of former Leeds United striker Tony Yeboah.

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Ayew's pride at the achievement is obvious. "Tony Yeboah is massive, maybe the best striker of all-time in Ghana," he says, puffing out his cheeks, "so to beat his total and get to 25 goals in the Premier League is a great achievement for me and my family."

Family is a big deal for Ayew and football is in his blood. His older brother, Andre, is currently playing for Swansea in the Championship and his father, Abedi Pele, is a legend of African football who scored 33 times in 77 appearances for Ghana during a decorated playing career in which he helped Marseille to Champions League glory in 1993.

Ayew was only a year old at the time but, like his brother Andre, he would go on to follow his father's footsteps and represent Marseille before making his move to England in 2015. His father has provided support and guidance every step of the way and remains his biggest inspiration today.

Ayew played with older brother brother Andre at Swansea
Image: Ayew played with older brother Andre at Swansea

"My dad has given us so much, in everything, and not only to me, to the whole family," says Ayew. "The only way we can say thank you is to perform week in, week out for him to be proud and that's what we try to do."

Abedi certainly keeps Ayew on his toes. "He doesn't watch the games live because he's a bit too anxious, so they record them and he watches them afterwards," says Ayew. "Then, when he's finished, he briefs me a bit. If I've not done well, he tells me I've not done well. And if I have done well, he still tells me I've not done well."

Ayew chuckles as he utters the last line but his father's high standards are perhaps a clue as to where Ayew's determination to improve comes from. "It drives me," he says. "I can't give my dad enough praise, really. He's unbelievable and I'm lucky to have a father who knows football."

As for Crystal Palace, who sit 12th in the Premier League, the European places still in their sight ahead of Saturday's meeting with Leicester at the King Power Stadium, Ayew hopes the best is yet to come. "This club has so much potential," he says. "We just have to fight for every point and try to finish as high up as possible."

Watch Leicester vs Crystal Palace live on Sky Sports Premier League or Main Event from 2.30pm on Saturday; Kick-off is 3pm

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