It was unsurprising but still disappointing to see the news that Everton have reportedly triggered a £7.1 million release clause for Idrissa Gana. But it is a chance for the new management to show it has a good deal more financial savvy than the last lot in getting an auction going to secure the best price.
As has been much quoted, Gana was second only to N'Golo Kanté in his rate of tackles and interceptions last season. Kanté was sold to Chelsea for £32 million.
How good is Gana?
So first off let me be clear - Idrissa Gana was not nearly as good as Kanté was last season. Kanté utterly dominated the defensive zone for Leicester last season, protecting the back-four perfectly. When he won the ball he distributed it quickly and effectively, sparking counter-attacks for Riyadh Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. He was seemingly tireless, relieving the pressure from Leicester as they held on to slender leads and a vital part of their tactics.
Gana did not provide that kind of effective shield to the Villa defence. He gave away more fouls (2 per 90m on average, compared to Kanté's 1.29) and in worse positions. He picked up more yellow cards and his distribution was often shaky. He formed a good partnership with Jordan Ayew but rarely managed to connect with other Villa players. He often seemed to tire in the last 30 minutes, making reckless challenges or caught high up the field and his role on the pitch was sometimes confused.
What kind of player is Gana?
A lot of that was due to the fact Gana is fundamentally a different kind of player. He's a box-to-box player instead of Kanté's defensive patrolling.
Where Gana is better than Kanté is his ability to break through the lines of an opposition midfield. He averaged over 2 successful take-ons per game compared to Kanté's 1.40 and often did so in more advanced areas of the pitch. He often sparked attacks down the left wing and he tried more shots, though they were rarely on target.
His attacking output needs improvement but he has clear potential in that area, especially in a side with a more efficient attacking structure than Aston Villa last season. Add that to his midfield endeavour and he´ll easily be a European level player.
So how much is he worth?
Well a fundamental point is that Gana has a buyout clause in his contract, presumably due to relegation, while Kanté had joined Leicester only a year ago and was being offered vastly improved terms.
A better comparison, both contract and player-wise might be Victor Wanyama, just sold from Southampton to Tottenham this summer for around £11 million with only a year remaining on his contract and the player eager to leave. While I would suggest, and the statistics seem to support this, that Gana probably has more potential than Wanyama, with the buyout clause it´s a reasonable target.
How can Villa push up the price?
A major disadvantage is how late in the transfer season Tony Xia finally took over Villa. As already noted, top teams in dire need of a midfield enforcer have already done their business such as Chelsea (Kanté), Spurs (Wanyama) and Arsenal (Granit Xhaka).
While there's reported interest from Marseille, what Villa really need is other Premier League teams with TV cash. While Southampton and Leicester have both already bought midfielders to fill the gaps left by the departures, both might still be tempted to hedge their bets. The new attack-minded Stoke might need a more old-fashioned enforcer and haven't done much business yet with the same going for new boys Hull and Burnley.
Either way, Villa's staff need to be making calls. Too many players have walked out of Villa Park in recent years on the lowest possible fees. It´s time to break that habit.