There has been a lot of talk on social media about how Wilfred Ndidi deserved to be in the CAF Team of the year 2019. While the clamor for him and even Thomas Partey are certainly valid, as both players were very impressive in 2019, they was no chance that either player would make it into the XI.
The buzz for the Super Eagles midfielder was louder and there was genuinely outrage, especially from Nigerians, over him missing out. Let us take a look at how good his chances were.
The midfield consisted of one defensive midfielder and two attacking players – Idrissa Gana Gueye, Riyad Mahrez and Hakim Ziyech. Of these three, it’s easy to see that Ndidi’s main competition was Gana, the only defensive minded player in midfield. So how was Ndidi’s year compared to Gana’s? Let us look at it.
A lot of people point to the Leciester’s man wonderful stats for his position; stats which are some of the best/highest in Europe for players in his position – tackles, interceptions, possession won, etc. The truth of the matter is, if you compare those stats from the 18/19 season to Gueye’s – at two teams around the same level requiring them to do an identical amount of work, Gueye edges it slightly. Let’s have a look.
Ndidi vs Gueye (stats per 90)
Ndidi – 3.8
Gueye – 4.3
Ndidi – 2.2
Gueye – 2.3
Possession won (final third)
Ndidi – 0.4
Gueye – 0.5
Ndidi – 2.1
Gueye – 1.3
Ndidi – 8.6 (57% success)
Gueye – 7.1 (59% success)
Ndidi – 1.3
Gueye – 1.2
While the above certainly means it is so close that it could become subjective, Gueye forges ahead of Ndidi because of his performance at the 2019 AFCON.
Senegal made the final, Nigeria didn’t. Both players were instrumental for their countries but again, the Senegalese edged it by being a top 3 performer for a finalist. He even scored the goal that won them their quarter final tie.
While Senegal conceded only 2 goals in the entire tournament, the Super Eagles looked more vulnerable conceding 7. Both Gueye and Ndidi were tasked with shielding their defences. The vulnerability levels of both defences were vastly different. Gueye made it to the team of the tournament, Ndidi did not.
Furthermore, Gueye went on to earn himself a move to PSG in the summer and has been pivotal for them for the past few months, notably in their Champions League game against Real Madrid in Paris. He was MOTM that day; a performance that solidified what had been a great year for him already.
Ndidi certainly continued his great form for Leicester, becoming undoubtedly the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League for the remaining months of the year as the Foxes shot up the table. PSG themselves are top of the table in France, topped their CL group containing Real Madrid and conceded the least goals in the CL group stage. They also have the joint-best defensive record in Europe. Gueye was very instrumental to all these.
With all explained above, it is hard to see how a solid case can be made for Ndidi to be placed ahead of Gueye, who edged him for both club and country. The alternative would be to put both midfielders in. That would mean taking out one of Mahrez and Ziyech. Both players simply cannot be removed.
For starters, Mahrez made the team of the tournament at AFCON and was the second-best player for the team that won the title. His huge moment against Nigeria – the last-minute winner – made his case very strong. He also ‘came clutch’ for Man City during the second half of the 18/19 season as they swept all trophies in England. He crowned it by delivering on the final day of the season in the ultimate title decider. He was also top 3 in the CAF African Player of the Year voting. He just could not be left out.
As for Ziyech, he had insane numbers as Ajax shocked Europe on their way to the CL semi-finals. He topped the assists chart in Netherlands, made it into the UEFA squad of the season & the Eredivisie team of the year. He also went on to win three trophies. The only place where Ndidi outdid him was at AFCON where the Moroccan flopped.
Unfortunately, Ndidi’s case isn’t strong enough because he was not in the team of the tournament. Bennacer, who was the player of that tournament, also got rightly snubbed in this team of the year as well as Partey. The reality is that Ziyech could not also be left out because of how great his club season was.
All in all, it is easy to see why Ndidi as left out, even though he had a whirlwind year. Some players just had stronger cases. It happens. What is almost certain is that the Super Eagles midfield enforcer should and will make it to the team in 2020 if he continues his incredible form. He truly is one of Africa’s best players.