This is the title of an article by Barney Ronay that appeared on The Guardian and you should check it out here. If you haven’t- I strongly recommend that you do, before reading this.

The article is founded on a statement by Joey Barton that:

At the moment, everyone swears by N’Golo Kanté. It’s fashionable. For pundits, he’s the best midfielder in the world. That’s not the case.

 

But what is the case? Who do you reckon is the best midfielder in the world, hence or otherwise should be the player of the year? (leave a comment)

Some time ago, this was also raised during our podcast, hosted and co-hosted by the Dugout Team, fans of the beautiful game, who’d rather be pundits- if they didn’t have bills to pay. Follow and share the podcast here. The show too was apprehensive of endorsing N’golo Kanté, of the renowned quip: “Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, the rest by Kanté” for the Player of the Year, bizarrely.

There is consensus, however, that N’golo Kanté deserves to be called the best midfielder in the Premier League and named the league’s Player of the Year. Although, in all likelihood, he won’t.  Barton is right until an undefined, precarious, hard-to-notice line is crossed: N’golo as the best is too popular, fame begets infamy, so he can not be the best! This precipitates the need to look further afield to his teammate, Eden Hazard of the “most fouled player” brigade. But why? This feels like one of those extremely rare occasions when a title, an award, plaudit is denied the most deserving man only to be wrongfully presented to another.

Numbers lie– stats certainly do. Partly? For the most part? Numbers l-i-e!! Yet, stats are applied universally and wrongly especially in sport, but luckily not nearly enough in football. Kanté’s numbers speak for themselves. Fact. Thankfully, neither the article delved nor will I delve into stats to put our point(s) across.There are figures that hint towards the distance Kanté covers, the number of interceptions he’s made, the number of times that he’s slain Pogba, the passes he’s made to himself, to others, or not made. Ironically, there are also numbers that proclaim that he’s not all that. Numbers to the end that, say, Herrera is better (I’m dead serious). Hell, I bet I could find a stat that Sportpesa’s Ryan Mason is better! Football is too simple a game to be corrupted by those kind of numbers.

Throwing out the numbers, one cannot deny that to his energy, athletic aplomb et cetera, summarised by the well-worn cliché of English football, ‘Pace, Power and Passion’, one cannot take away Kanté’s intelligence. Already, I feel worse for wear keeping up with him. The odes to his presence, vigour, rigour are sufficient, in fact, their abundance has led to some people ‘pissing on the harvest’ because, well it is too much. However, I will not for a moment hesitate to emphasise that Kanté (with his head, heart and boot), with the addition of David Luiz and manager Antonio Conte’s revitalization of the wreck that Jose Mourinho left behind, are the raison d’etre for Chelsea lifting the Premiership this year.

However, Ronay would have us believe that for every time you watch Kanté, in awe of how he seems to have the multiplicity of space in the singularity of time (without that covering every blade of grass like a headless chicken, bull); or gasp when he passes the ball (even to himself): goes into a tackle against three United brawlers and somehow connives away the ball with the daring and elegance of grifter Neal Caffrey (I miss White Collar, do you remember the show? No? Anyway…); or happens to be at the right place at the right time to make that interception, izza lie. Izza lie people. At least according to Barney and company.

I remember watching Kanté last year and being convinced he reads the way players run, the way they turn their bodies, such is his ability to snaffle into the right space, utterly certain of the flickering picture in his head, like a fire engine always heading to the right fire.

 

To declare a love of Kanté, who is also patently a fine man and generous team-mate, is to suggest, or at least to crave, something more rarified, nicer, more honourable. Just as to fail to appreciate fully the beauty of Kanté’s excellent running around and blocking is presumably to misunderstand football, to become a sop to the preening celebrification of the game, the step‑over fancy-boys, the YouTube twerps.

 

Albeit this is something of a false position given Kanté is himself the most visible person on the pitch in every game, a player who dominates the tackle charts and the interception rosters, whose running around is almost a form of showboating, of athletic display in itself.

           

I imagine going to my former favourite club finding the patrons have formed a circle, enthralled by this beautiful lass (preferably with dark skin, and is truly and wonderfully ‘gifted’, my former watering hole is frequented by Onyibos,) who dances in the most captivating, ensnaring, outlandish, rhythmic way to the music (Starboy’s Make me Dance?). The show stopper would be Kanté, yet because, for mates, I have Ronay and some of the Dugout team, who go, ‘Meh! Look!’ Behind the DJ’s booth, or somewhere thereof is this genderless, raceless dancer whose expression of self through dance is ‘different’, attacking the railings, jumping over tables and chairs, yet always getting back up and still eliciting a cheer or two. Perhaps in a different era at a different place to a different crowd, they would have been the lass at the centre. Eden Hazard. Eden is at the centre in Ronay’s ‘local’.

Hazard has come to under Conte. Especially, considering his ‘fallout’ with Mourinho, which denied him the opportunity- that has come around- of being courted by Real Madrid (if Twitter were to be believed, Kanté is also on Real Madrid’s radar- a £135M bid- for him and Coutinho. Coutinho at £15M will be a steal). Eden plays differently to the Pace-Power-and-Passion of the English game, whose fans, would naturally adore a player like Kanté, who dances, rather plays to their misguided style. Eden “is the most captivating, talented, high‑end attacking midfield player in the league”, of course, afforded the freedom to cause problems to the opposition by Conte, which he has done brilliantly, and at great personal cost, especially when Mourinho sent his minions out to purposefully assault Eden during their FA Cup tie. And because there are among us people who believe that the “correct” be-all and end-all of football is attacking, Hazard is better, period! Is Hazard better?

Ronay started his article thus:

There are some things in sport that you’re just not allowed to say, lines that must not be crossed. For a long time, it was more or less impossible to say in public that you thought Paul Scholes was simply a very good footballer.

 

Scholes is unarguably the most naturally gifted English midfielder we’ll ever see. He isn’t particularly tall or burly, suffers from asthma hence could neither do the box-to-box to everywhere within and without the park like Kanté, or play every minute of every fixture like Pogba (because United are trying to make back every penny of that £100M price tag- Lol). Despite all these peculiarities, the ginger stood out. With a wicked shot, outstanding mastery of his role, unerring vision and precise distribution, culminating in him being… underrated! I was, literally, afraid of Scholes, especially when supporting a side he was playing against. We all were. And later came to enjoy how he dispatched teams that I couldn’t care less about, like Barcelona. Yet, despite Xavi, Zidane and co.’s positive appraisal; Fergie bringing Paul out of retirement, because, a retired Scholes was still unplayable, the rest of us continue(d) to undervalue him and worse still not truly say what we thought about him, what he deserved. Because we’re afraid of what people would think of us? Ridiculous! (John Kiarie, Walter Mong’are and Tony Njuguna– you guys were awesome!)

The best of the rest, is what I call, second placed and last season’s biggest bottlers in the league- Tottenham Hotspur, who somehow finished 3rd in a 2-horse race. They play, arguably, the most interesting (and entertaining) football on the island, play with the ball, attack the opposition like a woman scorned, yaani without holding back; understand space- genuinely understand the tenet that football is a sport about controlling space- creating it in attack and obliterating it in defence. One of the reasons, behind their place at second, I imagine, Pochettino would give, outside Chelsea being better and playing in fewer competitions- is that they (the bottlers) have at different times of the season been dealt unfavourable hands with injuries to their best players. Who are their best players, consequently, who is their best player?

Again, we refrain from all forms of objectivity or lack thereof by throwing out the stats- those are for American sports and American interests in European sports. Instead, we embrace the subjectivity or lack thereof of ‘feelings’ and ‘thought’. Pochettino’s best man would have to be the one who’s been invaluable when on the pitch, obviously, as well as the most missed when dogged by injury, gutted, broken, dreary and drenched in the misery of watching from the sidelines. Harry Kane, also called Katrina or Victor Mugubi Wanyama, the Lion of Muthurwa, Christian Ericksen, Toby Alderweireld? Who is Poch’s MVP?

A lot of us would go for Kane, with goals upwards of 20, and hard work, a lot of hard work, especially, taking into account his chequered history in reaching the level he is at right now. Congratulations Kane and Poch. Look, I’m an Arsenal fan, give me a hard-working Centre Forward, who has the drive, physical ability and intelligence to deliver the goods, in England, and I’d be eternally grateful. Yet, if Kane were the most popular option, then we’d be cultist and wrong! It would definitely be time to look farther afield, specifically to the back, but not too far back. Victor Wanyama.

Wanyama, to begin with, is underrated. He’s in fact, more reliable than most, all of his teammates, arguably. I believe the Kenyan, is yet to miss a league game due to injury this campaign. Wanyama, is a beast, in part if you were to crudely translate his name and fully because of the role he plays for Poch. I would like to unequivocally pay homage to Moussa Dembele, the other cog in the sitting midfield duo of the Spur’s setup. I would be remiss if I were to pretend that for Spurs, the deal is anything less of a Dembele/Wanyama package. But indulge me to dwell lightly on the mysticism that has led to Spurs having the best defensive record, in the league. For the way, they are set up, buffering the defence, being the ‘out’ when recycling possession and making his mark on other players (yes, even Scholes did it), Tottenham would be amock without the beast, especially, since they lost Toby Alderweireld, of the ‘office defender’ fame to injury. This is why Wanyama has been so pivotal to them. Yet again, we would be wrong, because Wanyama is not an attacking player. The irony.   

We cannot deny that of football, working hard, running fast, and making tackles in the left back position is a part, in the English game. Barney and Barton, challenge the plebs, and quite rightfully so, that these are not the only things. Preach Barney! To emancipate these masses, the introduction of skill, guile, tact, confidence and intelligence is welcome. Yet, you, missionaries in Barney and Burton cannot divorce the latter (skill, guile and tact…) from the former (100-yard dash in ten point nought seconds, tackles in the 18-yard box etc…). The sprint after the nutmeg is as important as the awareness to make an interception. It’s like preaching monogamy to African converts, we get it but would still take another wife because that’s who we are. Build on what we (and the English game) have, don’t take it away. As a matter of fact, these skilful, brilliant, ball playing, intelligent and always tackled players, also run, track back and recover the ball at some point (even Oezil!) and more importantly, the hard runners, prescient, I’ll-tackle-you-to-death, in this case of African heritage, players have the intelligence, poise and confidence to reflect, that in part, your gospel is already on the island and is celebrated on occasion. Attack wins games, Defence wins titles. The shield wins the title, and from Hollywood, I gather, shields are effective in bashing in your enemies’ skulls. Attack!  

In conclusion, take away, the Player of the Year award from N’golo Kanté (more accurately, take away Kanté deserving to win it the most), after all, he isn’t all that, what do I care? But, take it away from him, only if you’re proposing the Dembele-Wanyama duo for it. Don’t take it away from him, because of the orthodoxy of that choice. He embodies what the herd are accustomed to and for once, I pray, that the herd’s wishes are given in to. There isn’t a player more deserving in the English game. Let’s not take Kanté the Scholes way, shall we? (or ‘lessent we?‘) 

 

PS:

By the numbers, Hazard is the best player in the Premiership, Herrera is in the top 10, Kanté, Dembele, Wanyama are not. Ericksen is Spurs’ best player and Kanté is the most popular player for the Player of the Year. Wanyama picked up an injury during his side’s latest away trip to Burnley and we wish him a speedy recovery. Finally, it’s Wizkid’s ‘Daddy Yo’. These Nigerians -o! *shakes head*