N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba were two of the star midfielders that dominated the transfer talk during the summer as records tumbled and serious cash was spent. Manchester United broke new ground with four shiny new acquisitions, including lavishing a world record sum on Pogba. Sometimes, though, clubs do not get what they need most. United might just have missed out on a bargain amid all the spending.
Kante was the player many United supporters wanted to partner Pogba, not only for country, but for club as well after a barnstorming campaign as the key man in Leicester City’s miracle title win. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy dominated the headlines last season, but Kante’s departure to Chelsea has demonstrated that it might well have been the Frenchman who was most important in Claudio Ranieri’s now faltering team.
Kante is an all-action midfielder, to the extent that there were games last season when it seemed as if there were more than one of him on the pitch. That kind of talent is rare, as United know better than most. The club has searched for years for an able midfielder to replace the engine room brilliance that Roy Keane offered. To that point Pogba is the best midfielder at the club in, perhaps, a decade. But United’s squad lacks the perfect defensive partner to release Pogba’s talent, with Ander Herrera filling in ably this season. It could have been Kante.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]Kante and Pogba were two of the star midfielders that dominated the transfer talk during the summer as records tumbled. Sometimes, though, clubs do not get what they need most.[/blockquote]
Yet, another midfielder plying his trade in the Midlands was possibly an equally good option last summer, and a cheaper one too. Bargains are a rare find with money flowing through the Premier League. The days of finding a steal, such as Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra for £7 and £5.5 million respectively, might very well be a thing of the past. This summer gone, however, Everton picked up the bargain of the window with a £7 million purchase from Aston Villa. The Toffees‘ new man? Idrissa Gueye.
The Senegalese player was on the radar for few top clubs. He plied his trade at modest Lille for seven years until Aston Villa came calling in 2015, although any personal brilliance couldn’t keep the Birmingham side in the Premier League as the Villains self-detonated in a impressive fashion last season.
It seems infeasible that a midfielder at a relegated side came close to Kante’s achievements last season, but the 27-year-old’s numbers were impressive. He’s a terrific tackler, moves the ball well with both short and long range passing, intercepts and reads play superbly. Gueye’s ball retention and positioning is strong, and the Frenchman can even dribble a bit when necessary. Meanwhile, defensively, the player is seemingly everywhere; just the qualities that might allow Herrera and Pogba to thrive in more attacking roles. In fact Gueye’s numbers from last season versus Kante make for interesting reading.
Bear in mind that no player completed more successful interceptions and tackles combined in Europe’s big five leagues than Kante last season. Gueye? Second on that list. Pundits and fellow pros have begun to notice the Frenchman’s work.
“His passing tonight was fantastic and I didn’t know he had that in his game. He wins challenges and tackles, he passes and wants the next ball as well,” said Sky’s Jamie Carragher after Everton demolished Sunderland 3-0 this season.
“He’s not thinking like a defensive midfielder that wants to get back and do his job. Everton have a real player, and considering the prices in football these days, £7m is a steal for Everton.”
The former Liverpool defender is spot on as well. Ronald Koeman’s new club on Merseyside required midfield steel after Roberto Martinez’ limited focus on the back four, not least to protect one of the top flight’s weakest defence. Gueye, alongside summer recruit Ashley Williams, has made all the difference turning the ship around. Martinez’ team conceded 1.45 goals per 90 minutes last season before the Spaniard’s dismissal. Koeman has brought that down to 0.75 per 90 so far this campaign.
It is early days for Gueye – or Gana, as some know him – but there are signs of genuine class coming through. Perhaps even enough for the Senegalese player to become one of the best all round midfielders in Europe. It’s unlikely that the player will be a bargain next time he moves and United would be foolish to miss out again.
And while not all fans know the 2011 Ligue 1 champion, it probably won’t be long Gueye is a spoken of in the same revered tones as Chelsea’s Kante. Either would have served Pogba well. Perhaps the Senagalese will in the future?