Ed Dove, KwesÃ©ESPN
Victor Moses became the 15th African player and third Nigerian to win the Premier League when Chelsea beat West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, with the title success completing a remarkable rise to prominence for the wideman.
Unlike some of his predecessors, who have played somewhat peripheral roles in their sides’ respective successes, Moses has been a key figure in Chelsea’s fine campaign under Antonio Conte.
Indeed, the 26-year-old’s year has been all the more impressive considering that few gave him a chance of making any kind of an impact ahead of the season.
Moses, it’s easy to forget, came into the campaign on the back of several mixed loan moves away at the likes of Liverpool, West Ham United and Stoke City, and it would have surprised few had he been shown the door last summer.
However, the Super Eagles international has, to date, made 33 appearances for the Pensioners — of which 28 have been starts. He’s also weighed in with two assists and bagged three goals including, notably, the winner against nearest challengers Tottenham Hotspur in late November.
Moses’s key contribution has perhaps been facilitating Conte’s celebrated shift to a 3-4-3 formation in October, following a convincing 3-0 defeat by Arsenal which saw the Italian coach lose faith in his erstwhile approach.
The West African adapted seamlessly to a role as a right wing-back, offering dynamism, vibrancy and direct running in wide areas as the Blues so regularly took the game to their opponents.
Could Conte’s squad have adapted to a 3-4-3 approach so comfortably and effectively had he not had Moses to call upon and had the Nigerian so flawlessly adapted to a new position and brief?
In a title triumph built upon a formation that teams are still trying — and failing — to combat, Moses’s success in a previously unfamiliar role has been crucial.
Certainly, this puts him ahead of some of the continent’s less influential title winners.
Quinton Fortune, for example, required special dispensation to claim a winner’s medal in 2003 after failing to play the requisite number of matches.
Similarly, Ghana’s Daniel Amartey picked up a winner’s medal with Leicester City last term despite featuring just five times after arriving from FC Kobenhavn midway through the campaign.
Chris Wreh weighed in with some key goals during Arsenal’s double-winning triumph in 1998 but largely struggled for gametime, while Kanu scored only four goals during the Gunners’ successes of 2001 and 2004, playing a peripheral — and occasionally frustrating — role in the Invincibles season.
At Chelsea, Geremi Njitap, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou won five titles between them, but on only one occasion — Mikel in 2010 — did any of the trio start over half the games.
Similarly, despite being a key player as Leicester avoided relegation two seasons ago, Jeffrey Schlupp only started 14 matches under Claudio Ranieri last term after being usurped on the left side by Christian Fuchs.
Moses, surely, has been more influential than almost any of these aforementioned players over a single season, putting him into the top half of African players to have won the Premier League title.
Michael Essien struggled with injury during Chelsea’s triumph of 2010, making just 14 appearances, although he was much more influential during the 2005-06 campaign — his first in English football — when he established himself in the first team following an injury to Claude Makelele.
Despite some controversial tackles — notably an ugly lunge on Dietmar Hamann which earned Essien a suspension — the midfielder impressed enough to earn a nomination for the 2006 World Player of the Year award. It’s hard to see Moses matching that!
Similarly, Kolo Toure and Lauren — both key members of Arsenal’s 2003-04 Invincibles — can also lay claim to being more influential in their side’s success than Moses, with the duo playing pivotal roles as the Gunners went undefeated and conceded fewer goals than any other side in the division.
Lauren made the team of the season, and enjoyed a not-too-dissimilar transition to Moses, beginning his career as a winger before being converted into a right-back by Arsene Wenger.
The other three Africans to have won the title — Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Riyad Mahrez — can all lay comfortable claim to being more influential in their sides’ success than Moses.
Drogba won four titles with Chelsea, and while he was peripheral in his fourth success — in 2015 — he played a critical role in the other three successes, notably in the 2009-10 season when he netted 29 goals en route to the title.
Putting that haul into context, there have only been seven players in the division’s history who have bettered that tally in a single campaign.
Toure equalled a record for goalscoring when he fired Manchester City to his second title in 2014.
The Ivorian’s return of 20 goals in 35 appearances made him only the second central midfielder — tied with Frank Lampard — to hit 20 in a single EPL season, while few players were more influential when City ended their wait for a title in 2012.
While Toure was pipped to the individual awards by Luis Suarez, he did earn a spot in the Team of the Season.
Finally, Moses can’t come close to matching Mahrez’s achievements last term, even if — like the Algerian — he has emerged as an unexpected protagonist in a title-winning team.
Only 18 months after being signed from Le Havre for a miserly £350,000, the North African was being feted as one of the Premier League’s finest players, and there aren’t too many in the division who can match his inspirational performances last term.
The 26-year-old scored 17 goals and contributed 11 assists en route to the title last term, claiming the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year and the BBC African Footballer of the Year prizes in the process.
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