The career of Gervais Yao Kouassi, a/k/a Gervinho, is, in many ways, pretty typical in today's game. Gervinho started his journey off as a blue chip prospect in his native Ivory Coast, then, in traditional fashion, gradually worked his way up through Europe's major leagues. Following a two year stint in Belgium, Gervinho soon found himself in France, toiling away for lowly Le Mans before making his first major move, a €6m transfer to Lille, where he truly broke out onto the world stage, helping his new club to their first title in more than 50 years.
Sensing the opportunity to snare the next big thing in world football, Arsenal doled out over £10 million to secure Gervinho's services, but what happened next left many Arsenal fans frustrated and Gervinho questioning his own ability. Rather than setting the Premiership a flame, Gervinho's embers barely glowed, as one was more likely to see Gervinho missing a sitter or flub a cross than score a match winner.
Gervinho's Arsenal career ultimately amounted to little more than 2,700 league minutes, less than he earned in his final season at Lille alone. The charismatic young man with the bright smile--the same one who scored 28 goals and dished out 14 assists across two seasons in Lille--was suddenly ineffective, inefficient, and inoperative.
Enter Roma and Rudi Garcia.
The Italian club, seeking a reclamation project, purchased Gervinho for €8m, and, as it turned out, Arsenal's multi-million dollar loss was Roma's good fortune. Gervinho, now reunited with Garcia, his manager at Lille, experienced a rebirth few football insiders, let alone Roma fans, expected.
Despite their second place finish, Roma's 85 points was a club record, one achieved in large measure because of Gervinho's renaissance. Over 33 appearances, Gervinho managed nine goals and a league leading 10 assists. To put those numbers in perspective, consider this: during his two seasons at Arsenal, he amassed a total of nine goals and nine assists. Gervinho was a man reborn in Rome, reminding everyone of the promise he showed during his days at Lille.
But how does Gervinho's Roman renaissance compare to his career for Côte d'Ivoire, and what, if anything, will it tell us about his role in Brazil?
Caps: 54 Goals: 14
Service for Ivory Coast
Although he only recently celebrated his 27th birthday, Gervinho has been an integral to Ivory Coast from his youngest days, captaining Les Elephants at both the U-21 and Olympic level, both of which helped him earn promotion to the senior squad in time for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, where the then 21-year-old was given the honor of wearing the #10.
Gervinho's scoring prowess was evident in the buildup to the 2010 World Cup, where he scored two goals in only three qualification appearances, though his penalty miss in the final of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations helped hand the title to Zambia.
So, for Gervinho, the story for country is much the same as club; flashes of brilliances dragged down by periods of frustration. All told, Gervinho has 14 goals for the Ivory Coast at the senior level.
What makes him interesting
Well, according to his countrymen, Gervinho is at once, the fastest, worst dancing, and strangest looking member of the Ivory Coast national team.
However, beyond his ability to withstand some good natured ribbing, what makes Gervinho most interesting is his athleticism, which he has in spades. Thanks in part to his blinding speed and feline-like agility, Gervinho was among Italy's most successful one-v-one players, using that athleticism to dance around defenders, terrorize keepers, and create chances for his teammates. Simply put, when Gervinho wants to, he can evade nearly any defender in the world.
Part of what made Gervinho's 2013-2014 season so remarkable was the extent to which he improved upon his traditional weak spots, shot accuracy and chance creation. Gervinho put nearly 66% of his shots on target this season, a whopping 30% improvement, while his chances created rose from 15 during his last days in London all the way up to 50, which trailed only Miralem Pjanic and Francesco Totti for the club lead.
Gervinho will never be the world's most efficient player, but there are few in the game who can match his amalgam of speed, creativity, and scoring.
What to expect in Brazil
Despite exorcising the ghosts of his days as a Gunner, you won't catch Gervinho leading this parade of Elephants. Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré are the traditional leaders of Côte d'Ivoire's national team. Given the numbers they've respectively thrown up for Chelsea and Manchester City, it's an honor well earned. Touré, in particular, is the real leader of this team and the current back-to-back-to-back African Footballer of the year.
Between Drogba and Yaya Touré, not to mention his older brother, Kolo, the Ivory Coast's golden generation is starting down the barrel of their last World Cup together, one last chance to finally escape the group stages. At 27-years-old and entering the prime of his career, Gervinho might be the missing link in the Ivory Coast's World Cup evolution.
With Yaya Touré pulling the strings in central midfield and Didier Drogba holding up play up front, look for Gervinho to utilize his speed and dribbling to wreak havoc on the right flank, darting into open channels and threatening opponents from a wide position.