There has been no doubt whatsoever that Everton’s best player this young season has been summer signing Idrissa Gana Gueye.
Everton Director of Football Steve Walsh in his previous role at Leicester had targeted the Senegal international, but ended up going with N’Golo Kante instead. Ironically, Gueye ended up second to Kante over the season in interceptions (156 to 140) and tackles (125 to 108).
“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.”
He has since gotten over that disappointment, joining the Toffees and quickly making himself an indispensable part of the team, resulting in three wins out of four Premier League games.
“We only managed to pick up three victories all season with Villa. 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.”
The soon-to-be 27-year-old has showed off a more creative side to his game lately too, with a pinpoint assist for Romelu Lukaku to score against Sunderland on Monday -
“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.”
Gueye has also noticed that he has quickly become a fan favorite -
“It’s a pleasure to have fans who recognise your job on the pitch and like it. They give us a lot of power to never give up and keep going forward.
“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.
“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.”
He spoke highly of Patrick football academy Diambars FC de Saly outside Senegal capital Dakar where he spent five years of his life. The education he received there allowed him an opportunity at Ligue 1 club Lille in France.
“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.
“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 no. 10. 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 no. 6. 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 no. 6’s so my chance to get in was to follow his lead. That is how things started to click for me and I went on to become captain.
“Maybe there is more glory at no. 10, but I like my role.”
And more about his childhood -
“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.”
He finished off talking about how he has settled in on Merseyside, and what he truly loves - winning.
“Oumar Niasse 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.
“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.”