When Yann M’Vila signed for Sunderland in the summer, it was obviously regarded as a major coup. Here was a guy who had been linked with top Premier League teams in previous windows and the Black Cats; who have been in and around the relegation zone in the last few seasons, had managed to get him on loan. Along with Jeremain Lens, much was expected from the French defensive midfielder.
M’Vila has been regarded as a player who at 25, is yet to maximise on his potential. Problems on and off the pitch have also led to the same conclusions. The midfielder was used as the older player in Sunderland’s U-21 clash with Norwich City immediately after he arrived on loan. In the match, he was sent off for head-butting an opponent. While the ban only applied on junior games and there was no problem in M’Vila making his debut the coming weekend; coincidentally against Norwich, it was an unwelcome incident and one which might have had many wondering whether getting him would pay dividends or not. Sunderland fans were obviously aware that this was a player whose loan was terminated by Roberto Mancini last season as he was sent five months early to Russia.
Fortunately, the worries have not been realized and slowly but surely, M’Vila seems to be rebuilding his career and reputation. He has arguably been Sunderland’s best player this season. Both Dick Advocaat and now Sam Allardyce realise his value and the former Rennes midfielder has played every minute of 15 league games so far, missing only one. Charged with doing the dirty work in the middle of the park; an area normally reserved for the cult figure of Lee Cattermole, the Frenchman is performing it with utmost command.
Sunderland have consistently been a team that concedes goals for fun. With 30 goals let in this season already, the Black Cats have the joint second worst defence in the league along with fellow relegation strugglers Aston Villa. The fact that Sunderland have then only conceded four goals in the last five league matches; three of which came against Arsenal, is testament to how he is contributing to the best of his abilities in recent games and is the perfect midfielder for pragmatic Sam Allardyce, who needs someone to do the dirty work of the team.
He averages 0.8 fouls per game and has one booking to his name all season, which shows that he is timing the numerous tackles to perfection in the most part, except a rash one against Southampton which resulted in a penalty. He averages 2.9 tackles and interceptions apiece in the Premier League (every 90 minutes). M’Vila was brought in to ensure that he adds some steel, determination and bite to the team, that he could help dictate play and pull the strings from the centre of the pitch. He has one goal, three assists, and averages 1.6 passes every 90 minutes, which is a good return for a defensive midfielder and shows that he does the transitioning from defence to offence in good effect.
Despite Sunderland losing against Arsenal, the player was the club’s man of the match with three tackles, an equivalent number of interceptions, and a pass accuracy of 87%. Before the game, his value was enhanced by the fact that Arsene Wenger claimed that he wanted the defensive midfielder when he was playing in France. The veteran manager stated: “He had a few off-the-field problems, but it looks like now he’s stabilised and he’s, of course, a very good player who is a regular player in the national team in France.”
The Arsenal manager couldn’t be more right and given the fact that the side lacks a genuine midfield enforcer, it wouldn’t be strange to see the Frenchman attempting to get his compatriot to London. For Sunderland of course, that would be a problem. They have a real star within their ranks and do have the option of converting the loan switch to a permanent one. If Arsenal do come calling, M’Vila will find it extremely tough to say no. What would you rather do – be involved in a relegation battle every season or play in Europe’s elite competition? It is highly pleasing from a neutral perspective to see this once potential star of the future finally start to cash in on his talent on British shores.
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