Mon 15 Jul by Nick Said
Senegal head into Friday’s Africa Cup of Nations final hoping to secure the continental title for the first time in their history.Victory will end decades of underachievement for a nation that has regularly produced high-quality footballers.The closest they have come before was when runners-up in 2002, but this time there is a real belief they can turn that silver into gold.Central to that is Everton star Idrissa Gana Gueye, the heart-beat of their midfield who acts as the link between the defence and attack.He has long been highly-regarded for his impressive work-rate in the English Premier League, so much so that French giants Paris St Germain were eager to sign him in January, but the Merseyside club flatly refused to sell.PSG will likely come back for him in this transfer window and by then he could have a Nations Cup winner’s medal around his shoulders.“He’s a boy with an enormous amount of quality, who is capable of playing as a holding midfielder or much higher up the pitch,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse says.“He is gifted with great technique that allows him to play in pockets of space and have a bit more creativity. If he scores it’s because he throws himself forward as well.”Gueye came through the Diambars Academy in his homeland, but signed for French side Lille in 2008.Within two years he had made his professional debut and five years later was snapped up by Aston Villa in the English Premier League.
The team were relegated that season, but Gueye was by far the standout player for his tenacity in midfield and Everton moved swiftly ahead of a number of suitors and bought him for a bargain £7.1 million.He was an instant hit and made the highest number of successful tackles and interceptions per match across Europe's top five leagues over the 2016 calendar year.He has continued to shine and last season was named Everton’s Players’ Player of the Year.
Gueye made his international debut back in 2011 and has been virtually a regular since, winning 62 caps.If Senegal are to lift the Nations Cup trophy this week, you can be sure it will be in no small part down to his ball-winning ability in the midfield and runs from deep.