Freddie Kanoute: From Premier League mediocrity to Sevilla’s foreign star

Many avid viewers of the Premier League in the early 2000’s will remember Malian striker, Freddie Kanoute. The almost gangly looking forward broke onto the scene at West Ham in 2000 before making the move across London to Tottenham in 2003. By 2005, the former Lyon apprentice was deemed surplus to requirements, an experiment that did not reap the benefits it originally proposed.

With the Hammers, Kanoute had a promising partnership with a certain man called Paolo di Canio, but despite sporadic appearances of his class, the striker was often criticised for his languid movement and poor body language on the pitch. In a way, the Malian was the predecessor to Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, blessed with talent but unable to match it with the so-called ‘passion’ often required to succeed in the Premier League.

It didn’t really help that in 2003, the Hammers were relegated and fans grew tired of Kanoute almost strutting around the field in a manner reminiscent of Dimitar Berbatov. He must have cared, but his body just could not mirror the feelings in his head.

A move to Tottenham followed where identically, Kanoute struggled to have the impact he craved. Again, there were glimpses of his class; none more prominent than his dipping half-volley against Everton from around 30 yards out, one of the finest strikes seen in modern times.

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But, the presence of Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe pushed Kanoute to the peripheries. When included, he was forced to adapt his game to support either of the two, acting as almost a creative force rather than the goal scoring entity he wanted to be.

Thankfully, in 2005, when Sevilla came calling, his wish to become the focal point of attack was granted. Well, at first he struggled to establish his prowess in front of goal, registering just 14 goals in all competitions during the 2005/06 season.

The following campaign, Kanoute exploded onto the La Liga scene, scoring 21 goals in the league and finishing third – tied with Barcelona’s Ronaldinho – in the pichichi rankings. For the next two campaigns, the Malian was a potent force in Seville, recording 25 goals in all competitions in 2007/08 before hitting another 23 the following season. Alongside the likes of Dani Alves, Jesus Navas and Luis Fabiano, the once average striker became a beacon of success.

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Kanoute was also pretty prolific in a European sense, scoring 16 goals in three seasons with the club while lifting two consecutive UEFA Cup’s in his first two seasons – he even scored late on in the 2006 final against Middlesbrough. After his final three years with the club, the casual-looking striker had recorded 89 goals, still the most by any foreign player for Sevilla.

He had found a home in sunny Spain, an environment which allowed his unique style to thrive rather than be jumped on and criticised like it was in England. Many strikers have found this theory to be true, just look at Diego Forlan, labelled a flop during his time with Manchester United but for Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, the Uruguayan was a goal scoring machine.

Radamel Falcao, Roberto Soldado and even Lucas Perez for Arsenal this season, have all discovered the sunny shores of Spain to be far more fruitful than the brutal overcast environment of the Premier League. It really is hard to name strikers that have succeeded in both leagues; Ruud van Nistelrooy and Sergio Aguero being the only two that spring to mind.

Kanoute was a misused product in England but in Seville, he found his place to thrive and etched himself into the club’s folklore.