From the minute we signed him from Lorient in January and he crashed into Yaya Toure on his debut, Lamine Kone instantly became a cult hero to the Sunderland supporters.
In one of the finest losing performances of the season against Champions League semi-finalists Manchester City, our three new boys - Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri - all looked incredibly impressive, and from that day we went from strength to strength, gradually digging out clean sheets and the required points to keep ourselves in the league.
Lamine scoring two goals in a game where we relegated our nearest rivals with a win - securing our own safety in the process - is a story Walt Disney would have struggled to write.
Prior to his debut, we had struggled to get a settled back four, let alone a settle centre back partnership.
When Sam Allardyce arrived at the club we had started to find the net with regularity, but were conceding too many to turn those goals into points. With the introduction of the Ivorian, we began to keep regular clean sheets and keep the goals we did concede to a minimum, as opposed to our self-destructing defensive performances at Everton, Leicester and Chelsea. Not only that, but his influence on those around him gave us a more reliable, committed and organised back four that picked itself for the seven of the final eight games.
We were conceding an average over two goals per game before Sam Allardyce dipped into the French market. A total of 14 games yielded THIRTY goals conceded. We could not stop leaking goals. Without Kone performing as he did at the back, we would have surely gone down, such was our drastic improvement defensively.
Infact, the fourteen games that preceded his introduction to the team cut our total goals conceded to 14 – less than half of what was let in before he came into the team. It was a ridiculous improvement. We only lost 21% of the games he played in, in comparison to 64% of games before he joined.
Sam Allardyce was like a broken record for the best part of seven of his nine months here, with his desperation for clean sheets at the heart of his plan to keep us in the league from his first game. Quickly realising Coates and co. we’re not cut out to do the job he required, Mr Kone and indeed Kirchhoff were brought in to stop the leaks.
"With Kone coming in, we're becoming a team that's very difficult to break down. That's giving us a platform to win games", Allardyce said. He wasn’t wrong.
That’s why we must not lose this man, regardless of who wants him. He’s way too important, and at this stage of pre-season he’s irreplaceable. A player of his quality, commitment and likeability doesn’t come along very often. Without Lamine Kone, it’s very much possible that we go from being a solid defensive unit to the one that concedes over two goals a game again.
We’ve taken way too many risks since we came back into the Premier League in 2007 - selling one of our best players would be idiotic.