Wilfried Bony: A Potential Premier League Powerhouse

by Ciaran Kelly

236261hp2It says a lot for the growing reputation of Wilfried Bony that, in the past eight months, he has reportedly signed for Aston Villa, Liverpool, West Ham and Chelsea.

Clearly, this is a striker in demand – not just in the Premier League, with tangible interest from Zenit St Petersburg and Juventus, too.

However, given the warning signs of prolific Eredivise alumni like Alfonso Alves, Mateja Kežman, Salomon Kalou and Dirk Kuyt – when they could not replicate their incredible goalscoring achievements in a different league – the question has to be asked, what makes Bony different?

Well, as well as being just 24 years of age and an incredibly dogged, physical presence at 6ft 0in, Bony’s game has consistently evolved throughout his career.

After all, Bony’s now lauded physique was once a stickler in his career development: he was deemed too lightweight as a leggy 19 year old at his first European trial, at Liverpool, in 2007; yet, ironically, after becoming accustomed to European weight training programmes, was deemed too reliant on his physical qualities by Chelsea’s notorious sporting director, Michael Emenalo, last November.

Still, it must be noted that Bony’s doggedness – honed all those years ago in playing Maracana, African street football, in Abidjan in the Côte d’Ivoire – saw him pull through and achieve his childhood dream of playing in Europe.

Bony’s break was a fairly unglamorous loan deal at Sparta Prague B in October, 2007 but after proving himself to the first-team – including taking part in cross-country skiing training camps to ‘master’ the Czech Republic’s harsh winters and learning the language – Bony was signed permanently and promoted to the first-team in 2008.

Clearly, this is man whose strength and swagger are matched, mentally, by his determination and humble nature and when told he was too leggy, Bony bulked up, and when the Ivorian was deemed too physical, he worked on his finishing and technique after training.

This may seem something of a surprise, given the non-chalant, casual way Bony moves about the field – even when, in trademark fashion, coming deep for the ball – but this is a man who, clearly, is desperate to play at the highest level.

The fact Bony has always had his first name printed on the back of his shirt is testament to his thirst for fans across Europe to fully recognise the Ivorian  – not just his quirky, four-letter second name.

Bony’s efforts have led to a steady evolvement, with the striker continually improving on his goalscoring record – having gone from just two goals in 14 games for Sparta’s B team in 2007/2008 to netting five goals in eight games for Sparta Prague in the Europa League in 2010/2011.

With often-underrated speed over a short distance, commanding hold-up play, fantastic close chest control and near-unrivalled upper-body strength, it was little surprise that Bony’s impact on the Europa League saw him join Rademel Falcao in acquiring a transfer.

After all, this is a man who never commanded a notable transfer fee and while Falcao was to go to Atletico Madrid for £35 million, the fact that Bony went to Vitesse for a more modest £3.5 million was not a reflection of the similar cult impact he was to have on his new club.

After all, such is the affinity Vitesse hold Bony in, he was awarded the unprecedented honour of individual playing music – the suitably titled, Boney M’s Daddy Cool – and his trademark dance celebration has been incessantly impersonated by fans.

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A warning precedent: Machlas scored 60 goals in 92 games for Vitesse between 1996 and 1999, before struggling to replicate this feat with Ajax after a big-money move

Bony has, without doubt, being Vitesse’s most impressive and prolific finisher since Nikos Machlas and for a club who have been known across Europe for relative mediocrity and relying on Chelsea Academy products of late, this cannot be downplayed.

Regardless of the standard of league, Bony being behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as mainland Europe’s top scorer – with 27 goals in 31 games in all competitions – has put Vitesse back on the footballing map.

After all, this was a club who only avoided a relegation play-off in 2010/2011 – with Bony having only played seven games but scored a crucial three goals towards the end of that campaign – because they had conceded two less goals than Excelsior.

The appointment of John van den Brom as manager and Bony having his first full season saw Vitesse leap an incredible eight places in the league and qualify for Europe.

Still, then, Bony’s 12 league goals in 28 games – often coming in inconsistent patches – hardly set Europe alight, even if that had, incredibly, been the highest individual, club haul since Santi Kolk’s 12 goals in 2007/2008.

Something has changed in 2012/2013 and while van den Brom moving to Anderlecht may have seemed a blow to Vitesse’s continuing resurgence, Fred Rutten has taken the team to another level.

Rutten has, unashamedly, built the team around the temperament and finishing of Bony as a lone striker and it has reaped reward – with Vitesse consistent title contenders throughtout 2012/2013 and just three-points off current leaders and champions, Ajax.

Once lamented for not scoring in big games, Bony has been the reason for Vitesse triumphing against the likes of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord and has also bagged some crucial late winners.

Clearly, there is no disputing the fact that Bony is armed with the right mentality, pedigree and 90-minute predatory instincts and Chelsea player and current Vitesse loanee, Tomas Kaláš, touched on the Ivorian’s top-level credentials:

Chelsea need a player like Wilfried Bony at the moment. Torres is always moving and works hard, but he is not strong enough to lead the line. I’m sorry for Torres, but that’s my personal opinion.

 

Bony has so much quality. It’s incredible how strong he is and he’s excellent on the ball, too.

The fact that Bony has eternally been compared to Didier Drogba has done little to sway his ego or game either, compared to, say, Romelu Lukaku who has, near-obsessively, styled himself on Drogba.

Bony, meanwhile, knows his assets and limits: that he is not as quick a thinker as Drogba; not as deft a passer; and not a noted set-piece taker.

Instead, Bony has focused on what he can improve in the short-term: his finishing, his hold-up play and his heading.

Sure, he is far from polished, but Bony – like in the previous four seasons – will continue to get better and has the raw ability, mentality and physique to adjust to the rigours of leading the line in the Premier League.

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