N’Golo Kante might have been named PFA Player of the Year, but the stats suggest another pocket rocket, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, should be considered Signing of the Season.
At the annual PFA awards dinner on Sunday, there were no surprises as to who picked up the individual gongs.
N’Golo Kante was named PFA Player of the Year and Dele Alli the PFA Young Player of the Year in two votes which were viewed as something of a mere formality. While a host of personal accolades are yet to be dished out, many are of the opinion that Kante should also be dubbed the ‘Signing of the Season’.
It looks to be a foregone conclusion, with the Frenchman laying claim to the tag last season following a stunning debut campaign for Leicester City.
Kante was the main cog in the Foxes machine as they secured the Premier League title it what is considered one of the finest sporting achievements in history.
Signed for as little as £5.6million from Caen, the pint-sized 26-year-old has undeniably established himself as one of the finest central midfielders on the planet, with his stunning showings in the middle of the park winning him countless admirers. He looks set to replicate that feat with Chelsea – and could even better it with the Blues on course to secure a domestic double in what would mark not a bad (!) first season in charge for Antonio Conte.
That being said, as far as signing of the season is concerned, a player Chelsea acquired for £32million was hardly a steal all things considered…. Chelsea also knew exactly what they’d be getting and it’s fair to say Kante has not disaappointed.
Gary Neville recently came in for criticism for naming Kante his player of the season and Zlatan Ibrahimovic his signing of the season, with there certainly a platform for the latter to win the award. Yet, in the hubbub over the signing of the campaign, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye has been unfairly overlooked…..
After moving to Aston Villa from Lille, Gueye may have taken his time to get to grips with the pace of the Premier League, but thrived in the second half of the season and it wasn’t too great a shock to see him snapped up by a top-flight side upon the Villans’ relegation.
How Idrissa Gueye has improved Everton
Everton were all too happy to snap up the Senegal star for a measly – by modern football’s standards – £7.2million and there is no denying that Gueye has excelled upon his move to Goodison Park.
The 27-year-old has started 28 of the Toffees’ 34 Premier League games this season, with that number not higher in part due to his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations at the turn of the year.
He’s bought much-needed defensive resolve to an Everton midfield that was often caught short under Roberto Martinez, noted in that the number of goals conceded per game have dropped from 1.45 last season to 1.09 this.
Gueye has been vital to that number falling as much as it has, having made more tackles (127) than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
The Toffees star also ranks in the top 10 for interceptions (71) and possession won in the midfield third (115) in the Premier League this term.
Although perhaps not to be bragged about – but at least a sign of their new-found competitive edge – Everton averaged the fewest fouls per game (8.3) in England’s top tier last season, yet that figure has soared to 12.1, the fifth highest in the Premier League.
Ronald Koeman’s coaching style will have played a huge role in covering Everton’s routinely exposed soft underbelly, but Gueye’s influence in the midfield cannot be overstated.
While teams routinely look to avoid conceding sloppy fouls, the Toffees are far from the manageable opponent they were under Martinez, who would wilt under the first sign of pressure. With Gueye imposing himself in the middle of the park, teams now falter in their pursuit of goal – particularly through the middle – with the number of shots conceded per game dropping from 14.6 to a more respectable 11.6.
For the money spent to secure his services and the way Everton have improved with Gueye in the XI, there is no real reason why he shouldn’t be a serious contender for signing of the season.
That’s not to say Kante and Ibrahimovic – prior to his year-ending knee injury – have underwhelmed, but rather that in the midst of the campaign, Gueye’s impact has flown somewhat under the radar with he instantly establishing himself as a key man for Koeman’s side and a fan favourite to boot upon his arrival.
By Ben McAleer – follow him on Twitter here