Asamoah Gyan can be brilliantly unorthodox on the pitch but off it he is even quirkier.
The Sunderland striker has been psyching himself up for Saturday's derby against Newcastle with a few renditions of the hit song African Girls, one which affords him an alternative identity as the pop star Baby Jet in his native Ghana.
The key chorus, penned by Gyan, booms "African girls dey be, Them be sexy like cheese" and invariably ensures packed dance floors in Accra's nightclubs.
"When you go to the supermarket and you see the cheese designed in a triangle shape and you move it, it's sexy, something funny," he says. "Some footballers play golf, but music is my hobby. I was lucky, I did something and it was a hit, but football's made me who I am."
Not that work and pleasure are necessarily incompatible. "Maybe we should try warming up for the derby by singing," says Gyan. "I sang one of my songs to the squad in training on Wednesday and in the hotel before playing Liverpool last week, they all told me to sing. Everybody sat down and had a look at me."
If they liked what they saw, Sunderland's players thought the sound was even better. "When someone new arrives he has to sing a song in front of everyone," he adds. "But they've been asking me to sing along too. It's really fun, even though some of them aren't in tune."
His team-mates are even worse at wiggling their hips. So bad indeed that only the now-departed Boudewijn Zenden has dared join in Gyan's unique goal-celebratory dance routines. "No one's tried since Zenden," he says. "The only person here who dances better than me is Anton Ferdinand. He joins me in the dressing room; he's got some good moves."
Dressed in a diamante-encrusted Michael Jackson T-shirt, the former Udinese and Rennes striker imparts the slight aura of a playboy. It is hugely deceptive. In January Gyan will launch a two-pronged charity in Ghana. "It's about having clean water in the villages and helping the girls, the child brides," he says. "Sometimes they marry very easily at 15 and then go to the marital home without education, so it's about them being educated. At 15, girls need to be able to go to school."
In return, the £13m signing hopes his compatriots will continue cheering Sunderland. "Now Chelsea's Michael Essien is injured and I'm the only Ghanaian in the Premier League, everybody at home watches Sunderland on television," he says. "Ghana is not with Chelsea or Manchester United it is supporting Sunderland. The Newcastle game will be massive with maybe millions watching on TV. I've played in a lot of big-rivalry games, but this one's special, there's something extraordinary about it, the atmosphere's incredible. There are games like Real Madrid v Barça but this is something else."
The man who scored the last-gasp equaliser in last season's equivalent fixture, as Sunderland clawed back some pride after an autumnal 5-1 humiliation at St James' Park with a 1-1 draw, says he regards Cheik Tioté's ability to dominate midfield as Newcastle's main threat. "He's the one who does everything for them – he's very strong and controls games."
Gyan, originally a left-back, was toughened up by playing barefoot as child, just as Newcastle's Ivorian midfielder was. "Until I was 10 I played without boots," the 25-year-old recalls. "Without boots you keep hurting yourself, you kick the ground and see blood pouring out. It sounds strange, but it was fun."
A pronounced sense of fun also saw Gyan buy Steve Bruce a special present during a trip home and his only disappointment so far is that Sunderland's manager has not been spotted wearing his diamante-studded shellsuit top embossed with a sparkly map of Africa while on technical-area patrol. "But I met his wife in a restaurant and she told me it was very nice," says the striker who scored 11 goals in 20 games last season.
Bruce trusts he will score again on Saturday. "I'm expecting big things from Asamoah," the manager says. "He's a big-time player – I hope he treats playing Newcastle as a World Cup final."
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