Gana's Outstanding Season

@Everton

Romelu Lukaku’s reaction and acceptance speech at the Club’s awards evening said it all.
 
When his name was read out as the winner of the Players’ Player of the Season, the Belgian had a glance across his shoulder to acknowledge his teammate before stepping off his seat to accept the trophy from host Mark Chapman.
 
“I’m genuinely surprised,” declared the Lukaku. “For me, personally, I thought Gana would win. He has been the best player, consistently.”
 
Ultimately, 25 Premier League goals had been enough to secure the award ahead of his colleague but, on centre stage, Lukaku felt it important to highlight the contributions of a player little-known on Merseyside just 12 months ago.
 
Relegated Aston Villa finished rock bottom of the Premier League in 2015/16 and lost 27 of their 38 Premier League fixtures - but new Blues Director of Football Steve Walsh had identified an outstanding performer in a struggling Villans side.

 
“Gana was playing with a really poor back-four [at Aston Villa] and being bypassed a lot when the ball went the other way,” Walsh said earlier this season. "But I remember thinking, 'if I get the chance... this guy is better than he’s showing.’”
 
Walsh got that chance. Ronald Koeman was also suitably impressed and gave the green light for the Blues to complete the Senegalese’s recruitment in a cut-price deal, the former Lille man departing the Midlands after one year to get his second hit at the Premier League.
 
“Idrissa was one of the players last season with the best record in interceptions and pressing in the midfield. He will provide quality in our squad in the midfield,” said the manager when his acquisition was announced a week before the start of the Premier League campaign last August.
 
Gana gave away a penalty just six minutes into his first appearance in an Everton shirt - but it wasn’t the mistimed challenge that Blues streaming out of Goodison after the Espanyol friendly were talking about.
 
Gana’s all-action, energetic, industrious style in holding midfield had left them to believe that Koeman could have potentially picked up one of the steals of the season. And they weren’t wrong.
 
The 27-year-old started every Premier League match aside from one - when he sat out the defeat at Stamford Bridge in January through suspension - up until his departure to the Africa Cup of Nations at the start of January.
 
The N’Golo Kante comparisons were quick to come too, a logical observation given both players’ similar physique and on-field attributes. A statistic often referenced was Gana’s tackling record and, by the season’s conclusion, he had topped that chart with 135 in the Premier League, seven more than Kante who was crowned the PFA Player of the Year.

 
Gana wasn’t signed to score goals but his maiden Everton strike against Sunderland in February was worth waiting for - a blockbuster of a finish after a precise cutback from Seamus Coleman.
 
Back in the 1980s, Peter Reid patrolled around the centre of Goodison in a similar fashion to Gana. A veteran of 229 Toffees appearances, he was well-positioned to give this insightful, honest verdict on Gana’s debut season when he took his place as a special guest on the Everton Show last month. 
 
“When we bought Gana, I couldn’t remember him from his time at Aston Villa,” Reid explained. “I thought his signing was a bit of a surprise but he has been absolutely terrific. Great energy, he intercepts and plays it simple.
 
“He’s got good knowledge of the game - he knows where the ball is going to bounce. When you are in the middle of the park, you need that. I find that attribute hard to coach - it’s something that’s in your football brain. I had it. I’m not sure from where, maybe the King George Playing Fields in Huyton!
 
“You read situations and where the ball is going to go. You don’t get it right all the time but that is just part of your game, part of your make up.”
 
Gana heads away on his summer break having played 34 times for Everton this season. It’s an achievement he reflects on with satisfaction but the most exciting aspect, maybe, is the promise of more next term.
 
“I’m reasonably happy with my form this season but I also believe I can improve upon this, hopefully in seasons to come,” said the midfielder. “But it’s not just about me - it’s about the team and that we continue to improve together. Hopefully my good performances can help the team to progress.”

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