Saturday 24 August 2019

John Giles: I watch Eric Dier do nothing as a 'holding' midfielder - Kante is so much more than that

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John Giles

It's a great victory for football that N’Golo Kante has been acclaimed as the Player of the Season. Against the tide of fashion, a true midfield general is the top man.

If things work out for Chelsea at West Brom tonight, Kante can make the proud boast that he was the key man in successive Premier League title wins.

Not that I could ever see him boasting. He’s not built that way and that’s a bonus to go with his talent.

While “holding” midfielders were about their work and clocking up statistics, Kante just did his job and did it brilliantly.

He has good players around him and the best manager in the Premier League this season by some distance but everything Chelsea have done so far can be traced back to his work.

Kante is small in stature but sees the game better than any other midfielder in the Premier League and has the authority his talent gives him to run the show with quiet efficiency.

Players acquire this authority in different ways.

Roy Keane did it by sheer force of personality and willpower and his insistence that his stature as a young lad was irrelevant.

I was a talker in my day. I did it quietly. There was no arm waving and nobody else in the ground would have been aware of it but the if I thought a message needed to be delivered, I did it.

Kante doesn’t need to talk or impose his will in any other way than by prompting other players with his own work-rate and ability.

A trait shared by all players who emerge as midfield leaders is their willingness to take possession of the football. Some do this because they are confident enough to take control and others do it naturally.

As a young lad, Kante’s instinct was to look for the ball and while all kids will chase a football when they start out, very few can hold onto it.

Over time, talent becomes obvious and teammates would have simply accepted Kante’s ability and handed him the responsibility of leadership naturally.

Again, this has nothing to do with armbands or a loud voice. Keane led that way but he matched words with actions and gained the trust of all around him by giving a bit more than everyone else while he was on the pitch.

But Kante’s leadership comes from the same source. Playing football well. When you do that, everything else follows.

He does it so well that he carries the Chelsea team with him, even if Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are the ones who usually get the headlines.

The reason I said that this was a victory for football is simple. Kante is the knife that cuts through all the jargon and nonsense which is spoken about midfield play.

He can do it all and is encouraged to be that player by Antonio Conte who is wise enough to ignore the fashion for a “holding” midfielder.

Any time I hear someone use that phrase in conversation, I always chuckle and wonder whether Billy Bremner was the holding midfielder for Leeds or me.

I know that we both scored 115 goals while we were there and I wonder would that have happened if Don Revie had told either one of us to sit and not budge off the half-way line, pass sideways and back where possible and never venture anywhere near the opposing penalty area.

I suspect the Leeds story would have been very different and one of us would have had a much lower goals total.

I’ve watched Eric Dier for Spurs over the last few weeks do almost nothing of any consequence as a holding midfielder and I find it baffling that Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t see that too.

He would probably be appalled by my assessment of a player he seems to value highly but seriously, Dier is a defender playing in front of two other defenders. He’s no midfielder.

I do understand that lads like Kante are now so rare that managers have to say something to cover the inadequacy of their own players. That’s the main reason we have “holding” midfielders. That and a name for lads in the media to use to show they understand the game.

Players like Kante are not being produced locally because the Lilleshall coaching elite placed skill at sixth place in their list of desirable criteria for a professional footballer a long time ago.

By trying to build athletes instead of footballers, they managed to weed out the players we all like to watch.

All of the greatest teams were rich in gifted midfielders and nobody needed to put them in boxes.

Football fans know this. They know what they see and they can also feel it in their bones when they are watching class in action.

Put simply, Kante is a class act.

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