The shortened 2019-20 season has left many of us wondering how domestic leagues and European cups would have finished. One of the “surprises” of this year was Paris Saint Germain’s ability to finally make it past the Champions League Round of 16. The prior three seasons had seen PSG suffer a monumental meltdown at the Camp Nou (La Remontada), a thrashing at the Bernabeu, and a devastating loss due to VAR controversy against Manchester United. The French dynasty seemed destined to never win the European prize, let alone qualify for a quarter-final.
The past few years, the world has witnessed PSG add world-class pieces to their squad, one by one. From Neymar to Kylian Mbappe to Mauro Icardi, the star-studded club incessantly purchases star names every year. While we have read about these stars’ exploits all year to get PSG this far, one man hasn’t made any headlines, despite being PSG’s most important piece: Idrissa Gana Gueye.
You Don’t Turn Down PSG
In the summer of 2019, Gueye was signed from Everton for a £30 million fee. PSG desperately ached for a defensive midfielder, a position where they had been deploying Marquinhos to patch gaping holes in the team. The 30-year-old Senegalese machine now consistently occupies this role. Thanks to him and fellow new-boy Keylor Navas, PSG have improved their win percentage in Ligue 1 by 5%, and have slightly improved their goals conceded per game average to a stingy 0.89.
Thomas Tuchel has now found consistent trust in the 4-4-2, where Gueye is paired with deep-lying playmaker Marco Verratti. The tandem plays behind an attack of Neymar, Mbappe, Icardi, and Di Maria, so there is inevitably much tactical responsibility placed on their shoulders. PSG resurgence on the European stage surely comes down to their improved defense, owing credit to their new talisman.
“Gana” comes from Dakar, where he was originally scouted on a dirt football pitch, playing against friends and family far bigger than him. After having trained at the Diambars academy, he made his first big move to Lille in 2008. He broke through at 20 years old in the 2010-2011 season, playing a pivotal role in the title-winning team, with Eden Hazard, Gervinho, Rio Mavuba, and Mathieu Debuchy in the squad. He continued to develop alongside captain and mentor Rio Mavuba (who once was a part of the French national team setup), and gained valuable Champions League experience. In 2015, he moved to Villa Park to bring his talents to the Premier League, but Aston Villa were relegated that season. Everton then triggered his relegation release clause, and deployed him as their anchorman. Despite putting in top-tier performances week-in and week-out, Everton were never able to climb the Premier League ladder as they had hoped. PSG then came along to provide Gana with his next challenge.
What Makes Him So Good?
Gueye possesses a deadly bite when the ball enters his periphery, a trait identified amongst many successful, small, Francophone defensive midfielders, such as N’golo Kanté and Claude Makélélé. Beyond his defensive prowess and awareness, the Senegalese midfielder has good technical ability and speed. He can beat the press and play under control when in possession. Most recently, his performance against Dortmund to put PSG into the Champions League quarter-final was nothing short of stellar. In the empty Parc des Princes, Gueye facilitated ball movement from back to front in a game where PSG had total control. Whenever Dortmund seemed to be on the front foot, Gueye was the first to step out and bite at their midfielders coming across the middle. Despite being on the wrong side of thirty, Gana has the drive, tenacity, and stamina to be considered one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe.
His performance was one of many to catch the eye of those who regularly watch PSG. He might be 30, but Gueye has the talent to finally bring the ultimate European prize to Paris. Click the link below for a YouTube video on his highlights from the first two months of the season.