Let me ask, where were YOU when AS Roma bought Gervais Yao Kouassi ‘Gervinho’ from Arsenal for the sum of €8 million in 2013? Gervinho, who was seen as a joke figure by many Arsenal fans, was often left rotting on the bench by Wenger. With only 1,000 minutes of Premier League action in 2012-2013, he was deemed a failure and one-trick pony. He’s, ummm, fast. And that’s it, really. He should aim for athletics, not football.
Ok, so he won a title in France with Lille and scored 15 league goals in 2010-2011. But after two seasons in England, he was mismanaged by Wenger and lost nearly all his confidence. His speed means nothing if you don’t have the work rate. And now he joins Roma of all teams, an environment so hostile not even Ethan Hunt would take on this mission (and that dude has seen some sh*t in his life). Yao would just turn into one of those flopped transfer deals, the next Bojan or Adriano. The next one in and out of Trigoria’s ever-revolving door.
Yet what followed was truly special and nothing short of a miracle. Yao amassed a total of approximately 3,000 minutes and managed double-digits in goals AND assists: 12 goals and 12 assists in 37 games in 2013-2014. Rarely has a player made such an immediate impact in Rome as Gervinho that season. Even pope Francesco Totti called him a beast. But why? Why him? Why that specific year?
Well, Gervinho and Rudi Garcia might be one of the best examples of how a coach needs a certain type of player to get the most out of his favorite formation. Yao was tailormade for Rudi’s 4-3-3 which needed speedy wingers with a lot of dribbles and tricks in the bag. It’s no coincidence they have been on the same team three times already in their respective careers. If he’s happy, Rudi’s happy. If Rudi’s happy, he’s happy. Everybody is happy!
Gervais was only a teen when he took his first football steps in Europe, at Beveren in Belgium (ah, there’s my obligatory Belgian reference in my post). Later on, Garcia discovered the raw Yao at Le Mans, then both men thrived at Lille (winning the French title and cup in 2011). Now Rudi would complete his personal hattrick by bringing Yao to Rome. Gervais enjoyed full confidence from his mentor, he flourished because Garcia’s 4-3-3 focused heavily on Yao’s abilities. One of the first names on the sheet, next to De Sanctis, Castan, Pjanic, and De Rossi.
Also, Gervinho was new to Serie A and vice versa. Serie A defenders didn’t know what to expect from him. He was an unknown entity, a rare specimen in Italy and that was one of Gervinho’s advantages I guess. Players like Raul Albiol, Maggio, Chiellini, Barzagli, Ranocchia, Abate, Rami, Cana, and Radu all got a serious cold when Yao breezed past them on his way to goal.
Unfortunately, his hot rise to fame in Rome was followed by a cold recoil. After a less stellar 2014-2015, Yao chose the path of the Pharaoh (El Shaarawy that is). After half a season, Yao left Europe in January 2016 for a big-money move to China. And, shockingly, that wasn’t the best decision he has made in his career. He couldn’t repeat his Roman trick and just amassed about 30 games in three years.
Yao clearly missed Italy because in 2018 he would return to the peninsula, but this time he ended up north of Rome, at Parma. Once again Gervinho proved his doubters wrong and scored 11 Serie A goals in his debut season at Parma. The Predator was back, baby!
The now 33-year-old Gervinho (still a part of the NT of Ivory Coast btw) recently struggled with a nasty hamstring injury but returned to the pitch last weekend in Parma’s 3-3 thriller vs Fiorentina. He played 60 minutes which could mean he’s not yet 100% fit.
Whether he plays on Sunday against Mancini, Cristante, and company or not, Yao will remain one of Roma’s strangest deals ever. One who was an instant success though. A smart deal. A player who certainly won’t disappear in the club’s history highlights, all thanks to that amazing 2013-2014 season and his chemistry with Rudi Garcia; chemistry worth 85 points in Serie A and only bested by the well-oiled machine of Conte’s Juve and a record 102 points.
Back in 2013, we all had our doubts when Roma purchased Gervinho. He and Rudi silenced the doubters. Quickly silenced them. Quick as you would expect from an exceptional athlete such as Yao.