Captain's Blog: N'Diaye Exit Necessary To Fulfill Paolo's Promise

Stu Forster

Alfred N'Diaye's surprise Sunderland exit last week provided a rare spot of despondency amid the fanbase this summer, but it was probably necessary to the bigger picture.

One of the first things that Paolo Di Canio did upon strutting into Sunderland last March was to promise a brighter brand of football. He extolled the need to attack, condemned the inclination to simply protect.

How welcome that was, too. It seemed like every other week during the past year I started this, and my other weekly Sunderland blogs elsewhere, by describing the season as 'bleak'. I loath repetition but my hands were somewhat tied by the reality.

This week, I am starting Captain's Blog referencing it once again - though hopefully for the final time - by saying that Alfred N'Diaye was one of the very few players I'd have happily salvaged from that cindering hull of the Black Cats' wretched campaign.

He was a strong, mobile presence in the middle of the pitch who would run all day, physically impose himself, and generally distribute it neatly enough. Nothing spectacular but not to be sniffed at either.

There looked to be something to work with moving forward whilst still being nice and safe in the meantime. On top of that he just seemed like one of the good guys too. So there a touch of surprise and a lot of personal disappointment when he completed a loan move to Turkish club Eskişehirspor.

It wasn't so much that he was brilliant or anything. In purely footballing sense, he was actually more likeable than he was laudable. But like him I did.

There have been a number of theories put forward to explain why the Frenchman's stay on Wearside has been so brief. Some have speculated that he failed to really settle in England, a point perhaps escalated by the recent addition to his family. Others have postulated that, as a remnant of the O'Neill era, perhaps N'Diaye was on a significant enough wage to make the club believe it could be better used elsewhere. There is always the possibility, of course, that Paolo Di Canio just didn't rate him.

The truth probably lies with a degree of all three, but why he left isn't really the point here. Why Sunderland did not fight to keep him is far more telling.

After all, efforts, albeit ultimately futile ones, were made to keep Simon Mignolet out of Liverpool's clutches early on in the summer and Jack Colback's recent reported utterances of discontent have been met squarely with a wall of resolve from the club.

The fact Sunderland have been so willing to lose N'Diaye likely offers us a final clue into the kind of 'identity' that Di Canio keeps on telling us he wants to instil into his side, with the former Bursaspor man finding himself consigned to the 'non-technical' pile along with the likes of Lee Cattermole, whilst Cabral and Seb Larsson have drawn praise.

That is surely relevant, as Larsson looked far more vulnerable going into this summer than N'Diaye did. The Swede has just one year left on his contract and has seen his popularity plummet amongst the fans having struggled to really impose himself in a new central midfield role. Yet it was him who was named as a midfield option whilst N'Diaye was being ushered towards the exit.

The implication seems clear - if you want to be a part of the new Sunderland, you need to be able to be progressive with a football at your feet. The reported full back targets all come with an attacking element, and Cabral - much hailed as a purely 'holding' player - showed plenty of ability to provide penetration further up the field in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, players with a strictly defensive dimension are falling considerably out of favour. N'Diaye has gone, Lee Cattermole has apparently been ostracised from the squad, whilst Phil Bardsley seemingly can't be literally given away quickly enough.

Granted there are other circumstances at play such as elevated wages and concerns over fitness and professionalism, but could any different be said of Adam Johnson or, regarding wages, Stephane Sessegnon? Yet they offer an attacking bang for their buck. 'Genuine ability', Di Canio calls it; they have 'the keys to the house'.

I will miss Alfred N'Diaye. I was genuinely disappointed when he left. It was mostly just the boyhood inclination to irrationally grow attached to footballers, though, and I will neither deny, or apologise for, that.

But ultimately his departure is probably just Paolo Di Canio making good on his promise to deliver attacking, progressive, exciting football, and that is something that N'Diaye could only ever really play a bit-part role in.

After spending just about the whole of the last twelve months complaining about a dour and overly-cautious approach, I am simply not churlish enough to protest any change to the contrary with any genuine gusto - no matter how much affection I had for Big Alf.

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