Steven Pienaar has spoken of how “vital” Idrissa Gana Gueye is to Everton, with the South African former Blues winger pleased to see Everton’s first-team squad continuing to enjoy an African flavour.
Gana will head to Russia to represent Senegal off the back of another impressive campaign at Goodison Park. The midfielder’s 117 tackles in 34 Premier League appearances was the second highest in the Premier League, with Wilfried Ndidi edging him to top spot with 138. Gana also chipped in with 62 interceptions and 1,566 passes – the most of any Everton player.
Pienaar, a former captain of the South Africa national team, was part of an African core while at the Blues, which included the likes of Nigerians Joseph Yobo, Victor Anichebe and Yakubu.
And he is heartened to see that continue, with Gana joining the likes of compatriot Oumar Niasse and DR Congo’s Yannick Bolasie in the current Toffees squad.
“I think Joseph was here for a long time at the Club and is the longest-serving African player,” said Pienaar, who last month become the Club’s first International Ambassador. “For him, he left something special at the Club for the other African players to follow. I am happy with that connection with the Club and African players, it is great for the Club and continent.
“It’s great to see Idrissa and the likes of Oumar Niasse carrying that on and doing well.
“Idrissa is important to the team. If you look around at other clubs, they have one of those players like him. Chelsea have N’Golo Kante. Tottenham have Moussa Dembele, Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama, and City have Fernandinho who can all play that position.
“They are all important players that a lot of people don’t see the work they do. For me, Idrissa is vital because he does the dirty work but is also good on the ball. You need a link between attack and defence and he is that guy.”
Pienaar admits he would have loved to have played in the current Everton side. Added to Leighton Baines – his partner down the Blues’ left flank during his two stints on Merseyside - the 36-year-old has seen enough to know there is plenty of talent within the squad.
“There are a lot of good players I wish I could play alongside,” Pienaar added. “Idrissa has been good, Oumar as well. I have been impressed with Tom Davies, of course I had that chemistry with Bainesy and I have played with Jordan Pickford already (at Sunderland).
“It has been a change with new players coming but everyone needs time. It has been a transitional phase and hopefully from next season the guys can kick on and win some trophies.
“I would have enjoyed playing in this team because there is a lot of quality.”