When I was younger, my hero was former Manchester United midfielder David Beckham.
I watched him all the time on TV. But as I got older and developed into a defensive midfielder, I started to follow other players who played in my position.
Claude Makelele is probably the one that most people remember because he excelled in that role for Chelsea, Real Madrid and France. He won the ball back superbly well and got his team playing.
Around that time, Gennaro Gattuso also did that job well for AC Milan and Italy.
Now everyone is talking about N’Golo Kante. Last season, he helped Leicester win the title and looks set to do it again with Chelsea. For me, Kante is the best midfielder in the world right now.
We both came to England at the same time. On the same plane in fact! He was signing for Leicester, and I was signing for Aston Villa.
We were both excited by the challenge ahead and while we didn’t talk specifically about the season in front of us, we were both aware of the positions each club had found themselves in during the previous year.
It was a massive moment for both of us because we were realising our ambitions to play in the league we had both grown up dreaming of playing in.
Looking back, I was probably joining a bigger club because of Aston Villa’s history, but it’s weird how things work out.
While N’Golo was leading Leicester to the title, I suffered the disappointment of relegation with Villa. Since then, we’ve both moved clubs again and I’m grateful that fate lent a hand and took me to Everton.
This is a big club and I’m very happy to be here, playing with some great players, for a great manager, and for a club that wants to progress, and I firmly believe we are heading in the right direction.
We are entering the business end of the season and after Saturday’s defeat against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby, we now face another big test at Old Trafford.
There are few tougher challenges in the Premier League than United away, but these are exactly the type of games players want to play in.
United are a good team but so are we and we see this fixture as another opportunity to go out and prove that. They have some talented players but we won’t be focusing on individuals – we need to concentrate on stopping their whole team and making it as hard as possible for United.
We know if we play our football and believe in ourselves, we can come away from Old Trafford with a positive result.
Saturday’s setback against Liverpool was hard to take, not least for our fans, but it’s worth remembering that was only our second Premier League defeat in 13 games so overall our recent form is excellent.
Our aim remains the same as it was before the game at Anfield: to qualify for Europe and finish as high as we can in the table.
Of course, that won’t be easy because there are other top teams fighting for the same thing.
But everything is possible.
A win against United would be a perfect way to get the Liverpool result out of our system.
Each week, Sport360 brings you the best five players from the English Premier League, as chosen by you the supporters through our ValoraFutbol fan ratings tool.
YOU have direct influence on who appears in each Top Five, so be sure to rate each weekend.
What do you make of this week’s ratings?
1. DEMARAI GRAY (LEICESTER CITY) – 8.4
Slowly finding his feet in the Premier League is Demarai Gray. He put on a fabulous show against Stoke City and proved to be a real nuisance upfront for the Stokes defenders.
He was just brilliant in the first 30 minutes of the game. Some really good runs, quick-feet and turns set the tone for a comfortable Leicester win.
A couple of more consistent performances and Gray will surely become a regular in Craig Shakespeare’s side.
2. PHILIPPE COUTINHO (LIVERPOOL) – 8.2
Well, it finally looks like Coutinho has put his ankle injury behind him. He produced a scintillating display in the Merseyside Derby against Everton.
It was Coutinho’s clever run that created the space for Sadio Mane’s opener. He then scored with a great curling effort. And lastly provided the assist to Divock Origi to wrap it up 3-1.
Most importantly, he didn’t look a happy man after being substituted after 74 minutes. Coutinho wanting more time on the pitch certainly is good news for Liverpool.
3. JONNY EVANS (WEST BROMVICH ALBION) – 8.1
A hard-fought draw against Manchester United came thanks to a magnificent show by Jonny Evans at the back for West Brom.
Almost faultless throughout, Evans led the back-line and looked like he had a point to prove to his old club.
He put in some superb tackles, was organised, positioned himself well on the pitch, and was disciplined most importantly, for his team.
To think we kept Jones and Smalling over Jonny Evans because they are 2 England internationals. Evans has been unbelievable for WBA— ODIER Ψ (@UlsterRed08) April 1, 2017
4. MAMADOU SAKHO (CRYSTAL PALACE) – 8.1
Mamadou Sakho was at the heart of an upset Crystal Palace produced at the weekend at Stamford Bridge, the home of the league leaders, Chelsea.
Despite losing two of his defensive partners to injury, Sakho stepped up to secure a 2-1 win.
He was commanding, resilient and motivated to keep his team’s lead intact. He made a few nervy clearances at the closing stages of the game too.
5. JAMIE VARDY (LEICESTER CITY) 7.6
Jamie Vardy’s sixth goal in his last eight appearances for club and country, along with a belter from Wilfred Ndidi, was enough for Leicester City to win 2-0 against Stoke City.
Vardy struck a thunderous volley past Lee Grant just after half-time. He caused all sorts of problems in Stokes’ half.
GOAL. JAMIE VARDY smashes home a volley to make it Leicester 2-0 Stoke pic.twitter.com/FaSttjBzKL— NIALL (@niallhoult180) April 1, 2017
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We couldn’t wait for the international break to conclude so we could get on with Gameweek 30 of Fantasy Premier League.
And now, with just a day’s gap, Gameweek 31 springs up on us! Not that we’re complaining though (bring it on!).
Fortunately, you don’t have to panic because in this column, we look at three things you should consider for this round and why Philippe Coutinho is the man to captain.
But first, here’s a look at the tactical geniuses who make up the top five in our fans league this week.
WHO TO PICK AS CAPTAIN
Gylfi Sigurdsson [7.8m] was our captain pick in Gameweek 30 but a drab 0-0 draw saw him secure just three points.
This week, we’re backing Philippe Coutinho [8.3m] for the armband. The Brazilian came to life with a sumptuous goal in the Merseyside derby.
It could prove to be the moment he needed to regain his confidence and resurrect his scintillating form from before his injury this season.
The fact that Adam Lallana and more importantly, Sadio Mane, are both out injured means he’ll need to step up and deliver.
THREE THINGS TO CONSIDER
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back. Thought that’s worth mentioning considering Manchester United’s bluntness in attack.
Also, just a few more things to keep in mind when you set your team up for this round..
WHICH GOALKEEPER TO BACK
Apart from games against Everton and Manchester United, Burnley have a good run in and Tom Heaton [5.1m] is therefore back in contention to be the most popular option.
For those who still have Ben Foster [4.7m] on their roster, remember that while he’s done reasonably well, West Brom have a bit of patchy run and more importantly, don’t feature in Gameweek 34.
Hull City’s Eldin Jakupovic [4.1m] meanwhile has struggled for points of late but with only Manchester City and Spurs left to play from the top eight sides this season, that could well change. On the other hand, while Joel Robles [4.7m] of Everton didn’t cover himself in glory against Liverpool, the stats still say that he’s one of the in-form keepers and may be worth considering.
3 - Keepers with the most saves in Europe's top five leagues in 2016/17:— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 2, 2017
GUILLERMO OCHOA 123
Gianluigi Donnarumma 116
Tom Heaton 115
LEICESTER PLAYERS ON THE RISE
With four wins in the league on the trot, the champions have finally woken from their stupor. Jamie Vardy [10.0m] is back among the goals, scoring 36 points in his last four outings. Riyad Mahrez [9.0m] has improved as well, bagging 23 points over the same period.
However, Leicester don’t have great fixtures coming up and their two top talents come at a high price. Instead, it’s worth looking down the list at the likes of Danny Simpson [4.8m] or Christian Fuchs [5.2m] in defence. Even Wilfred Ndidi [4.9m] is an option if you want a midfielder. Apart from his belter on Saturday, he also provided an assist in each of his previous two games.
Stoke City's Goalkeeper: Ndidi, what is the meaning of "Keeper no dey catch goal"?— Soccer Nation (@SoccerNationNg) April 3, 2017
Wilfred Ndidi: pic.twitter.com/Tg2cfvAVRG
They’re all the craze at the moment. Dele Alli [9.0m] is the most selected midfielder in the game. You can’t argue with that either. In fact, if you don’t have a Spurs midfielder in your team, you’re missing out.
They have a great run in to look forward to apart from fixtures against Arsenal and United but given that even those encounters will take place at White Hart Lane, you’d have to back them to come out on top.
They also have a double Gameweek to come and Alli has delivered a massive 33 points in his last four games. Christian Eriksen [8.7m] is no slouch either, scoring 25 over the same period but it’s Heung-Min Son [7.0m] who could be your ticket into their midfield if you’re strapped for cash.
Despite Victor Janssen starting up front on Saturday, it’s the South Korean who is more likely to deputise for Harry Kane in attack and he reiterated that with a goal off the bench at Burnley.
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