After 28 years in the English top flight, Aston Villa are heading back down to the second division. And not everyone is exactly keen on hanging onto the railings as the ship dips below the icy waters.
A disaster at least five years in the making, Villa, to their credit, tried to reverse course last summer with a few astute signings. One of the dozen new arrivals was midfielder Idrissa Gueye*, who once played (and even won the French title in 2011) at Lille alongside (future) stars like Eden Hazard, Dimitri Payet, Yohan Cabaye, and Gervinho. Last season, Gueye was one of two highly coveted Ligue 1 midfielders by middling Premier League sides. You may have heard of the other, N'Golo Kante.
* Gueye recently revealed that he chose to come to the Premier League on advice of none other than Didier Drogba, with whom he shares an agent.
Writing for Eurosport, Rich Jolly looked at the vastly diverging fortunes of the two defensive midfielders, both of whom were statistical standouts the season before in France.
Last summer, too, both wanted a defensive midfielder. They seemed to study the statistics. Leicester recruited N'Golo Kante, whose 145 tackles for Caen made him much Ligue 1's most prolific ball-winner. Villa opted for Lille's Idrissa Gueye, who had proved so adept at regaining possession that, in the previous two seasons, only Lyon's Maxime Gonalons had a higher figure in the combined chart for successful tackles and interceptions.
Now Kante, who cost £5.6 million, seems a shoo-in for the unofficial award for signing of the season. The pricier Gueye can be called a £9 million flop. And yet the Premier League's tackling totals are instructive. The all-action Kante, with 105, has won the ball more often than anyone else in the division. His closest challenger? That would be Gueye, with 96. The Villa player, with 4.4 interceptions per game, actually averages more than his Leicester counterpart, on 4.2. No one else in the division gets remotely close to them.
Statistics paint a very limited picture, and, as Jolly points out later in the piece, it's equally likely that these numbers are simply irrelevant as that they are indicative. But if the latter is the case, the conclusion that he draws is basically that Kante, surrounded by superior players at a team where everything has gone right, and Gueye, surrounded by terrible players at a team where everything has gone wrong, are both excellent players in their own rights. Certainly, their prior successes back in France would agree with this.
Unsurprisingly, Kante is attracting interest from all corners of the league, with a rumored price multiple times what Leicester paid for him. Some have claimed that a £20m buyout exists, which would still make him a bargain.
Meanwhile, Gueye is drowning with the rest of the Villa chumps. Unsurprisingly, he wants out. Villa paid £9m for him and can't exactly claim a strong negotiating position with the walls caving in and the team probably looking to cut costs.
"Leaving will be logical between Idrissa and Aston Villa. Thankfully, he's been one of the best signings this season, and has shown throughout the season he easily has the level for the Premier League. As gentlemen and people responsible, we'll sit down around a table and find an agreement for sure. There are offers coming in because of the club's situation, and they know it's probably in their best interest to let him go."
-Thierno Seydi, agent; source: APS via Sport Witness
Gueye wants to remain in top flight football, either in England, France, or Germany. He doesn't have the cachet of a Pogba or even a Nainggolan, but neither does he have their price tag and wage demands. Idrissa Gueye could prove a very astute, low-risk signing.
To repeat a question that was posed in a FanShot a few days ago...