Why Laurent Koscielny is football's unacknowledged world-class defender
In my banter and football analysis circles, I often find myself with the question, ''Can you name three world-class players in Arsenal Football Club?'' My answer is always a no-brainer 'Yes,' which always has my mates slapping me with 'go ahead' masked with a mocking grin.
Normally, they expect me to mention Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil then get stuck. But I always get them when I begin my list with a most unexpected name - Laurent Koscielny.
Depending on my mood, I may not even mention the first two. If I am in a full-blown banter mood, second on my list comes Olivier Giroud, which always triggers a debate that is only broken up by someone having to leave for work.
When I feel like throwing them off balance, I follow up Bosscielny's name with Petr Cech's. No one sees that one coming, ever! But, no matter the mood, I always have the French defender on my list of Arsenal's world-class players. And I honestly think he is world class, and world-over underrated.
Definition of 'world-class'
In football, goals scored are the most defining aspects of a footballer's quality. For this reason, attacking players are the most acclaimed in the game. Just look at the Ballon d'Or, today and even in the years before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's duopoly. Look who is coming to take over after the two men exit the scene.
Even defenders who contain these goal machines are never hailed; it is often labelled as the attacker's poor form. To receive acclaim as a defender, you have to go forward and score goals like Sergio Ramos or go roughly like Pepe so that your mention is a cry to referees to save attackers from your violent challenges.
A new definition of 'world-class' in the modern game is the transfer fee that comes with your move from one club to another. If a player is bought for £70 million, it goes without saying that one must be world class.
I find the use of these definitions alone to be quite unfair to many players. Because there are some players who will keep clean sheets all season, never score a goal. There are some goalkeepers who seal off the posts completely with shambolic defences in front of them, but never get a mention because of the goals they let in out of no fault of their own. There are some players who won't move to the PSGs and Real Madrids of this world but perform exceptionally well week-in week-out wherever they are.
It can be argued that world-class players ought to be at world-class clubs in the first place; their talent and exploits should take them there. Well, there's a point in that statement, but sometimes luck, or is it fate, also has a hand. Think about Robert Lewandoski who was redirected to Borussia Dortmund by a volcanic eruption while on his way to Blackburn Rovers. What would have become of him had fate not redirected him like so?
Fate conspiring against Koscielny
So Laurent Koscielny is not scoring 30 goals a season, did not cost £70 million and does not play for Barcelona. Every common world-class-player-defining-factor is working against him.
But that has not prevented the clean Frenchman from executing his duties with world-class precision and professionalism.
If you ask me, the boss could fit perfectly in any top back line in the world. Pluck out Mats Hummels and pair him with Jerome Boateng; the Bayern defence is safe. Pair him with Sergio Ramos and Zidane will be a happy manager. Have Samuel Umtiti or Gerrard Pique make way for him and Barcelona still remain solid. In the Premier League, I’m sure Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino would all relish working with Kos. As does Didier Deschamps, with the French national team.
The former Lorient man has performed at a consistently high level for club and country since 2011. At the 2016 Euros, he made more appearances and clocked over 100 minutes more than Pique, Ramos, Hummels and Boateng.
Even when Arsenal have been at their lowest, he has always remained a consistent performer. Care to note that each of the team’s implosions in last season’s 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern in the Champions League came after Koscielny had left the pitch.
When he has been handed the Captain’s armband, he has shown great leadership. He takes his lessons well- like he learned to deal with Diego Costa’s provocation. He has made every defender who played alongside him at Arsenal shine. If that’s not world class, I don’t know what is!