Boss piece on Gana by Paul Joyce:
NO ONE would have clocked the pair sat on the flight from Paris to Birmingham Idrissa Gueye and N’Golo Kante chatted together, wished each other luck and, after touching down to embark upon a new life in the Premier League, headed off in very different directions.
Gueye smiles as he relives their encounter last summer and sees merit, rather than any embarrassment, in revisiting a story that would end with a championship for his friend and the Championship for him.
“I was on my way to Aston Villa and he was on his way to Leicester,” said the midfielder.
“If you looked at the two clubs at the start of last season you would probably have said Villa are a bigger club and would have had a better season.
“But it shows how things move quickly in football. Football is full of destiny and every player has his own path to follow.
“I was pleased for Leicester, and it was great for N’Golo that they won the league. It was different for me, but mentally I have improved.
“It has made me stronger and better.”
A year on and, to some extent, their symmetry has reconfigured.
Following Kante’s move to Chelsea, Gueye switched to Everton where his immediate impact is serving to reward the faith they showed in scratching beneath the surface of what was a harrowing campaign for everyone involved at Villa.
Gueye’s personal statistics proved better than the team, a point recognised by Everton’s new director of football, Steve Walsh, who having been credited with taking Kante to Leicester now pushed for the £7.1m signing of the 26-year-old.
The Senegal international has brought intelligence in reading the game, tenacity and work-rate to Ronald Koeman’s side. There has been craft, too, as he supplied the deft cross which teed up Romelu Lukaku for the first of his three goals in Monday’s victory over Sunderland, a victory which garnered a third success in four games.
That number is significant.
“We only managed to pick up three victories all season with Villa,” said Gueye, who was second only to Kante for interceptions (156 plays 140) and tackles (125 versus 108) last term.
“But the one real source of motivation was that the fans would appreciate you if they felt you put effort in and worked hard and did your best. So that is what I tried to do.
“The fans at Everton are like that. They live for the club. Maybe I am exaggerating by saying they would rather spend their money on going to the match than eating, but it is that feeling. They are willing to die for the colours almost, so it is your absolute duty to perform to your best level.
“It didn’t turn out well at Villa. Unfortunately the team went down but now, turning a page on that, Everton saw something in my game and in my qualities. Now it is all about trying to pay them back.
“I am grateful in the confidence they showed me and I want to pay that back by working hard throughout the season and give it my best and learning all the time.
“I’m pleased with how the season has started. It has almost been like an automatic understanding with the players.
“After the last game Yannick (Bolasie) was talking about when he needs the ball to feet, and I am learning that when he makes a specific movement he needs it over the top. To be played into space.
“Also, you kind of get to know that Ross (Barkley) likes it to feet.”
The bond already built between player and supporters is seldom far from his thoughts. An hour after the interview has finished, Everton’s press officer receives a call. Gueye has something to add.
“It’s a pleasure to have fans who recognise your job on the pitch and like it,” he says. “They give us a lot of power to never give up and keep going forward.”
However, it is Ronald Koeman, a manager so intent on maintaining standards that he queried why one group was battering another into submission in head tennis this week, he must really impress.
So far, so good as the Man of the Match accolades Gueye is quickly accumulating testify.
“When I heard Everton wanted me, I was told only but positive things. I spoke to (Liverpool’s) Sadio Mane – my rival now – on international duty and he said how good the manager was to play for,” said Gueye.
“He will help me make another step up. Together we will cross the line and hit the target.
“For sure it helps that the manager played in my position. But he is also someone who knows what he wants to achieve and where he wants to go.”
Gueye’s route to England followed a familiar path.
He credits the five years he spent at Patrick Vieira’s Diambers academy just outside Dakar with successfully shaping his career. Bringing focus, a new position on the pitch and, later on, the opportunity to impress French club Lille where he would share a dressing room with Eden Hazard.
“Not only were they creating footballers, but they were creating men who knew how to behave and not to just go off the rails and do any old thing,” said Gueye.
“Some of the kids were coming from poor backgrounds and some from well to do backgrounds, but so we would all be equal they made us do two things. The first was to send all our clothes back to our families, so that we all dressed the same.
“And no one was allowed a mobile phone.
“When I went there I was a pure No10. I would like the ball to feet, stroll around, go where I wanted and try and run the game that way, but I was inspired by a guy who was more of a No6. His name was Matar.
“The first year I wasn’t featuring in the team and so I watched him from the bench or stand. The way he pressed all over the field - more of the style I have adopted.
“We played with two No6s so my chance to get in was to follow his lead. That is how things started to click for me and I went onto become captain.
“Maybe there is more glory at No10, but I like my role.
“Growing up my life was football. My dad bought me footballs from an early age and we lived right by the sea, so I would play on the beach all the time. My brother taught me to do keepy-uppies. For all my friends, it the thing we loved. Our passion was football.”
Winning is suddenly a habit again with Gueye anxious to clarify team-mate Oumar Niasse has not had the upper-hand in their table tennis duals at Everton’s Finch Farm training HQ.
“Oumar has helped me settle in, told me I needed to be in at a certain time, the importance of being punctual. He’s shown me around the city and where to eat,” adds Gueye.
“But no, no, no, I win all the time in our games. I play every morning and even today I won again. I always want to win.”