Candidate #3 - Lamine Kone: 15 Appearances, 2 Goals
Laminé Koné is the defender we have been crying out for since before I can remember.
Our defence has limped along, season after season, supplemented by short-term options that were quickly and ignominiously discarded to the fringes. Towards the end of every season, we returned to the trusty old heads of Brown and O’Shea to see us over the line. Despite their ability to see us safe through sheer determination, we all knew we were on borrowed time with this formula. When the news broke in the summer that the signing of Nicolas Lombaerts had broken down, it looked to be an early nail in our long since prepared Premier League coffin.
The first half of the season was a litany of shoddy defending and pitiful performances, resulting in predictable and painful defeats, despite the best efforts of Defoe and M’Vila in particular. By mid-January we had eighteen points and had conceded forty five goals in just twenty-two games. We were quietly on our way down, there is no doubt about it. The arrival of Koné in January had a significant impact, as we collected twenty-one points and conceded just seventeen goals in the remaining sixteen games. That is a quite frankly remarkable transformation, which underlines the impact Koné has had on our defence.
Koné’s role in this turnaround cannot be understated or dismissed. For me, the game that indicated the potential in this Sunderland team and gave me hope that we may have the character and ability to escape was Manchester City at home. This was also Koné’s first game. He was a rock in defence and looked a classy and ready-made Premier League defender. I also cannot neglect to mention his fair but firm demolition of Yaya Touré, barely flinching before jogging away nonchalantly and saving Touré in a heap. If that didn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t want your vote anyway.
Koné may be an absolute mountain of a man, but he has the vital composure and footballing brain to make him a top quality defender. He very rarely gets yellow cards or goes to ground to tackle, preferring to stay on his feet. As such he is not often spectacular, but this is because he so rarely puts himself in positions where spectacular tackles or clearances are necessary. It is this understanding of football and the nuances of defending that makes Koné such an outstanding centre back, with his physical attributes a welcome bonus.
We have had many defenders in the last few years, all of whom have looked like frightened kittens when John O’Shea has not been there to marshal the defence. It has become common knowledge among Sunderland fans and managers alike, that though O’Shea is not the best defender, without him the defence almost always fell apart. Now we have a centre back who can not only defend well, but who can effectively replace O’Shea’s organisational role and be the heart of our defence for years to come.
Koné has quietly and efficiently set about completely reinventing and organising the defence and, perhaps most importantly, gives us hope for the seasons to come. Our survival this season was not just built on luck or firm resolve produced in moments of desperation, as has been the case in previous years, where there was a clear absence of reliable or long term quality. This time, our survival has been built on a very real and high quality defensive foundation that can be utilised straight away next season and is capable of dealing with the Premier League week after week.
Strikers almost always get the glory, but defenders provide the stability for strong teams and winning performances. I believe defenders very rarely get the credit they deserve because their contribution is not as easily measured as goals. It was fitting that he scored two goals against Everton to secure our survival, as though he made his more telling contribution in defence, it put his contribution into an impact more widely recognised than solid defensive displays.
Koné’s importance to our survival is undeniable and cannot be understated. But it is where we can go next season now that we have him that excites me most. For the first time in years, we have watched at the heart of our defence, an organisational influence with pace, strength and power and time on his side.
How much more have you enjoyed watching us play since Koné came in? How much more confident do you feel watching our defence now Koné is in it? How long have we waited to have a player like this in our team? How can you ignore the clear difference in goals conceded since the moment he went into the team? And that defensive improvement is the reason we’re safe. It’s a no-brainer. Vote #TeamKoné.
Join us tomorrow to hear Graeme's case for Jan Kirchhoff, the last pledge before Friday's vote.