So alongside my quadrennial bet on who will win the World Cup (I’ve opted for Argentina by the way), I also find myself eyeing up who I should throw my money at to enter the pantheons of greats, who have had individual glory thrust upon them in football’s biggest jamboree by firing themselves to winning the golden boot. Iconic World Cup names such as Eusebio, Muller, Lineker, Rossi, Stoichkov and the World Cup’s all-time top goalscorer Ronaldo, have all scored themselves into the history books by winning the award and the question now is who will fire themselves to the top of the goalscoring charts out in Brazil this summer.
As my eyes carefully went over each player’s name and my mind wandered down the avenues that arise from the question ‘Will this player score a lot in the World Cup?’, I found myself repeatedly drawn to one name on the list. Maybe surprisingly to some, the player plies their trade in the Premier League. Luis Suarez? Of course, it has to be him. The top goalscorer in the Premier League and undeniably the star of the league’s 2013/2014 campaign. I wasn’t looking at him. Well, then it has to be Daniel Sturridge then doesn’t it? Suarez’s Liverpool partner in crime, who scored a bucket-load in the league last season and looks set to play an important role for England this summer. Not him either. Then surely I must be talking about the Ivorian powerhouse that is Yaya Toure, who scored for fun from midfield last season and helped lead Manchester City to the title? Not him either, but much closer this time. In fact, my money ended up being lumped on a compatriot of Yaya’s: Wilfried Bony.
Right, so I should probably admit now that, like almost every football fan, heart is ruling over head here a little bit as I am a Swansea City fan, the club where Bony is venerated by the fans. However, even when I tried to take my obvious bias out of the equation, Bony still keeps arising in my head as an outside shout for winning the coveted golden boot.
It is incredible to think that in the opening months of last season, Swansea City fans were still rather sceptical about whether Bony was going to go on and live up to his star billing at SA1. After scoring a few goals in the Europa League qualifying rounds and marking his Premier League debut with a consolation goal against Manchester United, the goals dried up for Bony and the Ivorian’s performances became more and more lacklustre. One fan even infamously took to a Swansea messageboard to dub Bony ‘a poor man’s Jason Scotland’. Now, I love Jason Scotland as much as the next Swansea fan after he scored for fun for us in the Football League, but I’m fairly sure this disgruntled keyboard warrior was trying to massively put down our new £12m signing, who had only played a handful of games before such derogatory ‘poor man’s’ jibes were being thrown about it. Sadly, the aforementioned messageboard frequenter was not the only Swansea fan unimpressed with our record signing’s early showings. I’d love to know now if these fans now join in with the thousands of Swansea fans who now sing the “Come on Wilfried Bony! Score some goals for Swansea…” chant. This chant would go onto to be the soundtrack to Swansea’s season, as the Jack Army regularly serenaded the player who would go onto win both the club’s Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Season award and fire the club to Premier League safety rather comfortably (eventually).
Apart from the Europa League, former Swansea manager Michael Laudrup found it difficult to get the best out of Bony and eventually placed him on the bench for many games during the closing months of 2013, citing ‘lack of fitness’ as his reason. Laudrup’s inability to get the best out of such a talent, a talent that Swansea had smashed their transfer record to acquire, will always be one of the black marks against Laudrup’s name when they look back on his reign as manager. However, it is fair to say that since 2013 turned into 2014, and perhaps more significantly, since Garry Monk ousted Laudrup and found himself in the managerial hotseat, Bony has emerged as one of the outstanding players in the Premier league – in fact, no player has scored more than Bony in the Premier League since the 1st January 2014 (12 goals) with only Luis Suarez equalling his 2014 goalscoring exploits (although Bony has scored 1 goal in the FA Cup in 2014, whereas Suarez has n0t). Altogether Bony has racked up an impressive 25 goals in 48 games in all competitions with 13 of those goals coming since January. Impressive stuff, especially considering that Bony did not really start to make a real impact on the league until January – something that may actually aid the Ivory Coast out in Brazil.
Swansea’s loss of not getting Bony performing during the opening months of 2013/2014 and the fact that he started many games on the bench under Laudrup, may well be Cote d’Ivoire’s gain. Unlike many Premier League players heading out to Brazil, Bony has only really played consistently since Christmas meaning that there shouldn’t be too much of an issue with him being burned out this summer. Throw in the fact that Bony has hit form in the build up to the tournament and you have yourself the deadly cocktail of a striker in-form, scoring goals and fighting fit leading up to the finals.
As well as Bony firing on all cylinders, the Ivory Coast themselves will be expected to deliver a performance in this World Cup as their ‘Golden Generation’ draws to a close having remarkably underachieved. Fate has been cruel to the Ivory Coast in the past two World Cups having been drawn in the same group as Holland, Argentina and Serbia in 2006 and then with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea out in South Africa in 2010. This time, Les Éléphants find themselves more generously placed in a tight group with Japan, Greece and ‘dark horses’, Colombia. It is never going to be easy at a World Cup, but Ivory Coast will certainly fancy their chances against their opponents in the group, as I imagine will Bony. There are surely goals to be had for Bony with no real world-class defenders ahead of him in the group; although admittedly, Greece and Colombia have experienced defences and may take some time to break down.
There is still one real obstacle in Bony’s way that may derail a bid to score goals in this summer’s tournament; that obstacle goes by the name of Didier Drogba. Ivory Coast boss Sabri Lamouchi looks almost certain to use a 4-3-3 formation out in Brazil with it looking likely that Gervinho and Saloman Kalou will be deployed out on the flanks, as part of the team’s front three. This leaves just one frontman berth left. As it stands, it appears that Drogba is going to get the nod over Bony, but with Drogba now 36, I am in no doubt that we’ll be seeing Bony taking to the field at some point during their opening fixture against Japan – and, as I’ve clearly made quite obvious by now, I wouldn’t bet against him scoring. Despite Drogba being ahead in the pecking order at the moment, one shining substitute performance from Bony and I think we can expect the Swansea striker to usurp the Ivory Coast legend.
Once again, I’ll repeat that I know I’m probably viewing this whole ‘Wilfried Bony for World Cup top goalscorer’ idea through my Swansea City eyes, but I just cannot shake the idea now. Perhaps it’s purely my desire to see our ‘Wilfried 10’ appreciated on the world stage, as I still feel that Bony, despite many Premier League pundits alluding to his goals, was slightly under-appreciated and underrated by people outside of Swansea last season; maybe it’s because he plays for lowly Swansea City. Which brings me on to my final reason to why I’ll be backing Bony out in Brazil.
Quite simply, Wilfried Bony is a superb footballer. Goals are not the only component of Bony’s game as any Swansea fan (or Vitesse Arnhem fan, Bony’s previous club) will testify. Alongside goalscoring, Bony’s undoubted strength is, well, his strength. He is still the only player I’ve ever seen effortlessly shrug and hold off his fellow colossal countryman Yaya Toure on a football pitch; also, you can expect to see a lot of Bony’s trademark ‘foot-on-the-ball-and-hand-off-defender’ move during the tournament – a trick clearly used to intimidate and almost mock defenders with his sheer power (many Premier League defenders encountered this act last season). Speaking of the word ‘trick’, you can also expect some of them from the big Ivorian too. Despite being a powerful and imposing figure, Bony can also be as graceful as anyone, with a whole host of tricks up his sleeve. There were certainly not many goals in the Premier League last season that had a more sumptuous assist than Jonathan De Guzman’s goal against Norwich, set up by an audacious backheel through ball from Bony, which utterly took the defence out of the game and left De Guzman with just the keeper to beat. Plus, Bony’s elastico against Spurs that left Vlad Chiriches kicking clean air was as spellbinding a sight as any football fan would have seen last year.
Ultimately though, the reason I’m backing Bony is because he is a goal machine. He is a player who you can see clearly gets frustrated when he isn’t putting the ball in the back of the net, yet will not shy away from the task until he has put it there. Either foot or his head, Bony can put the ball in any way he wants to; 13 right foot strikes, 4 left foot strikes and 8 headed goals last season testifies to that – heading another lethal component of his game with his massive thighs seemingly able to launch the Ivorian unnaturally high into the air and above defenders.
Bony is certainly not Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and perhaps if you want to be wiser and safer with your money it is probably worth throwing your money on one of the big dogs; however, if you are looking for an outside bet for the golden boot, then Wilfried is your man. After all, this is a man who has scored 62 goals in 84 games over the past two seasons, first at Vitesse and then with the Swans. Goals is Bony’s game. More than anything, I hope that a player that is so revered by the Swansea City support (including myself) performs on the world stage – as long as he doesn’t play himself into a transfer away from South West Wales that is.