Malky Mackay would rather not single out individuals but the Cardiff City manager is more than happy to make an exception in the case of Gary Medel, the Chile international and club-record signing whose superb passing statistics put him head and shoulders above his team-mates as well as the England players he will come up against in the friendly at Wembley next Friday.
Bought for £11m from Sevilla in the summer, Medel has been Cardiff's best player by a distance during the opening three months of the season and was man of the match in the 1-0 win over Swansea last Sunday. Nicknamed "the pitbull" because of his tenacious style of play, the 26-year-old defensive midfielder arrived with a reputation for getting on the wrong side of referees after picking up seven red cards in two seasons with Sevilla but he has caught the eye at Cardiff because of his composure on the ball.
Of those players who have made 500 passes or more in the Premier League this season – a long list that includes England's Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, Kyle Walker and Phil Jagielka, as well as highly regarded deep-lying midfielders such as Paulinho and Fernandinho – only Manchester City's Yaya Touré and Chelsea's John Terry have a better completion rate than Medel.
"We did a lot of reports on Medel, spoke to various people, and when you've got Xavi coming out in the Barcelona press last season saying that he thinks they should sign him, that's not a bad marker to have," Mackay said. "Players that keep the ball for the team are gold.
"His pass completion was above 96% against Swansea. He had 99% against Fulham [in September], I don't know I've ever seen that before. In most games so far we've seen someone who has been on the ball an awful lot, whose pass completion is a huge percentage compared to the average and someone who has made a real impact on our team, and that's why I went and got him."
It was a far from straightforward deal for Iain Moody, Cardiff's former head of recruitment, to broker and at times Mackay feared that the Welsh club would miss out as Sevilla played hardball over the fee and other clubs competed for the player's signature. An agreement was finally reached at half-time during Rio Ferdinand's testimonial match in August, when Manchester United were taking on Sevilla at Old Trafford. Immediately after the game Medel travelled back to Cardiff for a medical.
It was quite a coup for Cardiff, given Medel's status back home. "When you look at the press cutting – which I have looked at and it put a smile on my face – after he scored the winner for Chile [against Ecuador last month] in the final game to be put through to the World Cup, there is a photo of the three top players, which is Alexis Sánchez of Barcelona, Arturo Vidal of Juventus and Gary Medel of Cardiff City. The photo has those three names and three teams underneath, which is a bit surreal," Mackay said.