Two of Brighton’s players stood head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch during the Albion’s 2-1 FA Cup win over Derby County on Saturday, and the fortune of one can offer a cautionary tale about getting wildly overexcited about the other.
Anthony Knockaert, facing a Championship defence again, took on the role of the strutting peacock that loved dominating full-backs that made him such a tour de force before the Seagulls’ promotion to the Premier League.
He scored one and gave Scott Malone such a torrid time that Frank Lampard hauled Malone at half-time, turning to England’s greatest ever left back in Ashley Cole to try and deal with the Knockaert threat.
Cole fared slightly better, but this was still a reminder of the brilliance that the Little French Magician possesses.
Knockaert’s goal was set up by the other outstanding performer, Yves Bissouma. The Mali international is becoming a real fan favourite, mainly because of the excitement he brings to the pitch. That excitement stems from unpredictability – at times, Bissouma looks like he doesn’t know what he is going to do next, and if he doesn’t have a clue what he is up to, then how can a defender plan a way to stop him? They can’t.
That unpredictability saw him constantly driving forward with the ball at his feet, something that no other Albion midfielder can do. It saw him pop up on the right wing to cross for Knockaert’s goal.
It saw him take a Jonny Wilkinson-style run up to hit a free kick that was well saved by Kelle Roos. It saw him smash the post from 30 yards to present Jurgen Locadia with a tap in. And it also saw him burst into a promising position before hitting a shot that posed more danger to the International Space Station than the Derby goal. You can’t win them all.
Bissouma’s first-rate showing has led to many Albion fans to demand that he starts every Premier League game from now on, at the expense of either Pascal Gross or Dale Stephens. But as good as Bissouma’s performance was, it needs to be placed in context – which is where the tale of Knockaert comes in.
Bissouma looked outstanding against a Championship side in the same way that Knockaert did every week in his first 18 months at the Amex. When we won promotion to the Premier League, the talk wasn’t of whether Knockaert would make the step up – it was of how long would we be able to hold onto him when he was giving Premier League defences nightmares, and how much we would be able to flog him on for when the time came. £30m? And the rest.
The reality of course has been very different. The top flight is a world away from the second tier in terms of quality and Knockaert has gone from being first name on the team sheet to a man behind Solly March, Locadia, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and presumably Jose Izquierdo whenever he returns from injury in the pecking order.
Yes, Knockaert has had his personal problems but he has found the step up more difficult than anybody could have predicted.
Likewise, just because Bissouma has dominated against the team currently sitting seventh in the Championship and scored a goal against Bournemouth Reserves, doesn’t mean he will be able to do it against the likes of Watford and Everton, let alone the big six.
There’s no doubting he’s got potential and if he becomes as good as most of us think he can be, then £15m could prove to the be the biggest bargain since that day last September when Wetherspoons cut the price of all their food and drink by 7.5 per cent for the day.
But Bissouma is only 22. By all means be excited by him, but remember the cautionary tale of Knockaert before decreeing him to be the best thing since sliced bread. There’s still a long way to go yet.
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