Lamine Kone has been rightly hailed as one of the signings of the season for Sunderland.
But the modest 27-year-old is keen to highlight the contribution of the “absolute wall” alongside him – Younes Kaboul.
Kaboul took time to find his feet on Wearside after moving to the club from Tottenham last summer on a four-year deal.
The 30-year-old’s form in the final few weeks of the campaign, though, was a key factor in Sunderland recording four clean sheets on their way to survival.
And defensive partner Kone has heaped praise on towering 6ft 3in Frenchman Kaboul for his impact in Sunderland’s rearguard.
“Younes has been absolutely fantastic since he came back from his injury,” Kone told the Echo.
“Maybe in his first games back, it was a little bit tough for him, but that’s the same for any player coming back.
“He’s been an absolute wall. No-one gets past him.
“He’s a great player and he’s someone I get on really well with.”
Defensive reinforcements are among Sam Allardyce’s summer wishlist, but he will have been buoyed by the form of his French-speaking double act ahead of the 2016-17 campaign.
Kone, a £5million January recruit from Lorient, made an instant impact.
But he really came into his own after being partnered with Kaboul, with the duo forming an effective double act, securing clean sheets against West Brom, Norwich City, Arsenal and Everton.
Unlike Kone, it took time for Kaboul to find his feet in a Sunderland shirt after failing to make a competitive appearance during his final four months at former club Spurs and then being hampered by niggling injury problems during the first half of the season.
But, after returning from hamstring and ankle issues in March, Kaboul was a colossus at the back – typified by his display in the victory over Everton which sealed Sunderland’s Premier League survival.
The defensive duo were a key factor in survival, with Allardyce’s pursuit of Kone reaping rewards.
Kone’s move had twice fallen through after a topsy-turvy transfer window before the Black Cats and Lorient finally thrashed out a suitable deal.
Alongside £9million ex-Bordeaux winger Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff, a £750,000 bargain from Bayern Munich, Kone has been a revelation.
He has spoken of his own surprise at how well – and quickly – he settled in and established himself as a Premier League player.
“I don’t think it could have gone any better for me,” added Kone.