World Soccer
Thursday April 26th, 2007

When Tottenham traveled to face Sevilla in the UEFA Cup over Easter, it could have been forgiven for not recognizing former striker Frédéric Kanouté. After all, he barely recognizes himself these days.

When he arrived at Sevilla at the start of last season, Kanouté insisted: "I'm not the kind of striker who scores goals," and Spurs fans would have agreed. He could be wonderful on the ball; he held it up superbly and brought teammates into the game. But goals? Hardly.

Kanouté had never scored more than 11 in a league season during spells at Lyon, West Ham and Spurs, and had only six league goals in 32 games in his first season at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Yes, he was vital to the team, but not because of his scoring. One Spanish guidebook's pen picture summed him up: "Big, and misses lots of chances, but very important."

Then something changed, dramatically. Kanouté started finding the back of the net and didn't stop.

One Spanish newspaper described him as "the accidental goal-scorer," but it was no fluke. Sevilla had given Kanouté two wingers, who supplied pass after pass, playing to his strengths. The club had yet again taken a player to a higher level, by giving him the right preparation and the right tactical balance.

"Kanouté is the perfect example of what we are doing here," said coach Juande Ramos. "He has been extraordinary."

He certainly has. With 11 matches remaining, Kanouté was Spain's top scorer with 19 goals and on course for the ESM Golden Shoe award for Europe's top scorer. He has played virtually every minute, even through injury, so fundamental has he become to Sevilla's success.

The greatest fear of the fans going into the final weeks of the season is that a pelvic injury, which has kept him out of numerous training sessions, might keep him out of matches. Although Ramos has rested him whenever possible, he has not dared leave him out too often.

Kanouté still has that languid, cool, almost gentle style he showed in England but now is effective with it.

"He scores goals with an incredible insouciance," wrote one columnist. "Imagine how good he would be if he got stung by a wasp."

The Mali striker is "the best player in the League -- and certainly the biggest surprise," according to former Spain star Julio Salinas. He can say that again.

"Of course people are surprised at how many goals I have scored," Kanouté says. "I'm pretty surprised myself."

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