Why West Ham United are right to buy Anderlecht’s Cheikhou Kouyaté

Cheikhou Kouyaté arrived in Belgium in 2006 when FC Brussels discovered the Senegalese player at his club AS Yego Dakar. The Belgian club offered him a trial and gave the defensive midfielder a chance to prove himself.

FC Brussels signed him in November after a long look at the player. It took Kouyaté some time to adapt to the Belgium life; he trained for a long time with the second team of FC Brussels until Franky Van der Elst replaced Albert Cartier as coach. The former Belgian international gave Kouyaté a chance and the Senegalese didn’t disappoint van Der Elst, his debut season came to an abrupt end after a nasty injury kept him from the pitch, he needed a lot of revalidation and to make things worse FC Brussels started to doubt about him and stopped paying him.

Anderlecht already had an eye on Kouyaté for a while and found it the right time to lure him to the Constant Vanden Stock stadium. FC Brussels didn’t want to release their talented player but they lost their case in court due to late payments. Cheikhou Kouyaté broke his contract with FC Brussels and became a free agent, Anderlecht were happy to give him a contract having avoided having to pay his former employer for his services.

Anderlecht bought Kouyaté on a long term vision. The defending midfielder went on a loan period to KV Kortrijk where Hein Van Haezebrouck was coach and it turned out to be a perfect match for both parties. The Belgian coach is one of the best tactical coaches in the Jupiler Pro League, an aspect in football where Kouyaté still needed to improve a lot.

Kouyaté was one of the revelations in Jupiler Pro League’s 2008-2009 season. Impossible to beat in aerial duels, some precise tackles and recovering balls like only the best can but his weakest spot was that he made sloppy mistakes in almost every game, Kouyaté couldn’t keep himself focus for ninety minutes. His pace and acceleration are exceptional for a defending player which gave him the opportunity to undo a lot of his mistakes. Yet it was blatantly apparent that he needed to improve if he ever wanted to become one of Anderlecht’s midfielders in the future.

In the next season Anderlecht were prepared to give Kouyaté a chance. He had a good season next to Anderlecht’s general Lucas Biglia and Anderlecht won the title that season with Kouyaté looking set to become a certainty in Anderlecht’s midfield for years.

Cheikhou Kouyaté battling with Standard Liège's Michy Batshuayi (Photo: Isosport)

Cheikhou Kouyaté battling with Standard Liège’s Michy Batshuayi (Photo: Isosport)

In 2010-2011 things changed with the arrival of Sacha Kljestan. Ariël Jacobs wanted to dominate more with Anderlecht and turned Kouyaté into a central defender; with his pace he also looked to be very useful in the back line but it still took him some time to adapt to his new position. Over the next years Kouyaté became Anderlecht’s rock in their defence. Helping Anderlecht win four Jupiler Pro League titles and three Belgian Supercups.

His most special year must have been last season. During the regular competition, he played as a central defender and Anderlecht struggled a lot in the middle but after John van den Brom’s sacking and Besnik Hasi’s subsequent promotion he moved the Senegalese player to Anderlecht’s midfield again. Kouyaté impressed a lot and gave more space to his very talented and young team mate Youri Tielemans. Anderlecht excelled in Play Off 1 and won the title after looking knocked out in the regular season. Anderlecht stood up again and that was mainly thanks to Cheikhou Kouyaté’s exceptionally high-quality performances as a defending midfielder.

That last season took him back on the radar of several teams and especially some Premier League clubs, Kouyaté’s biggest dream. West Ham United were prepared to go far for the Senegalese defending midfielder and signed him for four years and rumours are that Anderlecht received around £7 million for Kouyaté. A great deal for all parties, at least if West Ham use him at his best position. Cheikhou Kouyaté was always one of the best central defenders in the Jupiler Pro League.

The Belgian league is sometimes a bit underestimated but the Premier League is by far a much stronger league of course. Kouyaté will be at his best in West Ham United’s midfield but it will be important to surround him with some technically gifted midfielders. Don’t expect him to be a playmaker otherwise a lot of fans will be disappointed. He’s a great defending midfielder who will win a lot of duels both in the air and on the ground and he will recover a lot of balls for his team.

In my opinion West Ham United did well giving Kouyaté a chance. Surrounded with some good players he will give the Premier League club a lot back. He’s a true warrior and never stops running. Once you think an opponent’s player breaks through you’ll see that Kouyaté is capable of doing some unlikely things to stop him.

Good luck Cheikhou Kouyaté and make the Jupiler Pro League proud in England!

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