Brighton are on the cusp of promotion and their midfielder has played a huge part
THE Championship’s Player of the Year has been a real revelation this term.
But the big question is: Can Anthony Knockaert do it in the Premier League?
The Frenchman, 25, struggled to make an impact in the top flight three years ago at Leicester.
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He started just three of his nine appearances, tasting only 330 Prem minutes.
Yet having played such a pivotal role in Brighton’s stunning season, which is set to end in promotion — probably today against Wigan at the Amex — surely he will feature more next term.
Kevin Phillips coached Knockaert at the King Power and has an insight into why it did not happen for him.
The ex-Sunderland striker said: “We didn’t really give him an opportunity.
“He played the first game against Everton and we all agreed he did very well.
“But for some reason Nigel Pearson decided not to play him. I think he felt that perhaps he didn’t have the pace for the Premier League at that time.
“We should have given Anthony more of an opportunity because what he lacks in out-and-out pace he makes up in energy on the ball, creating, causing a problem, drifting inside and scoring goals.”
That perceived lack of pace, coupled with struggling Leicester’s need to shore things up at the back, saw Pearson use wing-backs rather than wingers.
So Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp played while Knockaert kicked his heels on the bench.
Ironically, he would surely have shone in the 4-4-2 Claudio Ranieri used to win the title the next season.
Phillips added: “The manager had already made the decision. It was a shame.
“In hindsight, it was probably the best thing for Anthony — even though I doubt he saw it that way at the time.
“Now he’s a much more mature player with qualities he didn’t have three or four years ago.”
Knockaert left on a free for Standard Liege and, known for being an emotional character, he left a lasting impression on Phillips.
The current Derby assistant said: “When he left he came round and thanked everyone. He was in tears.
“You don’t often see that from players.
“He could have quite easily left with a bitter taste in his mouth but he didn’t. He shook everyone’s hand.”
Phillips also knows what it takes to repeat second-tier form in the Prem.
He hit 30 goals in his first top-flight campaign with Sunderland 17 years ago.
And he is sure that Knockaert can take the Premier League by storm.
Phillips, 43, said: “Anthony will know this is a wonderful opportunity.
“He’ll see what one of his best mates Riyad Mahrez has done and want to emulate it. He’ll want to perform at the highest level.”
Brighton defender Liam Rosenior also hailed the way Knockaert reacted to losing dad Patrick in November.
Rosenior said: “Anthony’s dad was a key part of his life, he was his best friend.
“They went on holidays and did everything together.
“His dad would be so proud of the way he’s performed and conducted himself off the pitch.”
THERE will be extra cause to celebrate for the Brighton staff today should their promotion mission be completed.
That is because every non-playing worker at the club – from the press team to the cooks and cleaners – will receive a cash bonus for going up.
Chairman Tony Bloom’s scheme was in place last year too but obviously did not kick in after the Seagulls heartbreakingly missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference before crashing out in the play-offs.
But it appears all good things come to those who wait – so do not be surprised if all staff members are smiling just that little bit more should victory over Wigan be achieved later today.