21 August 2018

West Africa: FT Hidden Gems Series - Idrissa Gana Gueye

We continue heralding some of the unsung African heroes of the modern game of football mainly because we can and quite frankly, we also care. The first of the bunch was the 22-year old Adama Traore, the Malian whom we think will light up the English Premier League this season.

Our next pick is also from West Africa, Senegal to be specific. Idrissa Gueye, popularly known as Gana by his teammates has won hearts in the blue half of Merseyside, Everton. In the club's constant change in management, from Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce and now, Marco Silva, Gana is one of the few players whose name have topped the team sheet. Ever since joining the club in the 2016/17 season, he has made a remarkable 33 Premier League appearances out of the available 38 in that debut season and then also another 33 appearances in the subsequent one. Only two of those in the entire period were from the bench, which is a glimpse of how important he has become at Everton.

Idrissa Gueye of Everton tackles Joao Moutinho of Wolverhampton Wanderers during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Everton FC at Molineux on August 11, 2018 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.

"To give an even more interesting sense of scale, Gana was statistically the best holding midfielder in the whole of Europe in the 2016 calendar year, averaging 8.25 tackles and interceptions per game. This man can stop anyone in their tracks or put them on the grass at will." - Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch Africa

He is not very outspoken and neither is his game, but you feel it when he is not in the match. Gana's style of play is not very different from that of Barcelona's Sergio Busquets or everyone's favorite, N'golo Kante. Of course, it's arguable whether he is at the same level as these two, he may be smaller but he is not too far away. Even though he plays for a mid-table club in the Premier League, which does not always afford him the chance to win trophies and be shone on the medals podium, his statistics speak for themselves. In the 2017/18 season, he made the second highest number of tackles in the league, only second to Nigeria's Wilfried Ndidi, another gem in the making. But the thing is, he has been doing this consistently. Since his Premier League debut in 2015 under Aston Villa, Gueye has made a total of, 396 tackles, only the acclaimed N'golo Kante has made more, just nineteen more. To give an even more interesting sense of scale, Gana was statistically the best holding midfielder in the whole of Europe in the 2016 calendar year, averaging 8.25 tackles and interceptions per game. This man can stop anyone in their tracks or put them on the grass at will.

Gueye is growing and developing into an effective holding midfielder, especially in the modern game, but he has weaknesses too. He a very deep-lying midfielder who only lies deep, too deep at times. He is not as adventurous as Kante, who periodically runs up the field to attack, assist or get some goals on the scoresheet. This is something which may not be part of his job description but has become crucial to the modern game and definitely nothing he cannot learn. The 28-year old has been criticised for his "nonchalant defending" by some, even emerging as one of the reasons why others think Senegal were knocked out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup by Colombia.

Idrissa is arguably one of the top tough tacklers in the game today and will continue being the difference to any side fortunate to have him.

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