At 26-years-old, Valentin Roberge is a somewhat well-travelled man. Born in the suburbs of Paris, perhaps the most surprising thing to learn about him is that he has never played a professional game in French football. His path from his hometown of Montreuil to the island of Madeira has already cast him in a number of interesting situations
Beginning his career at Guingamp B in the Championnat de France amateur, the club were keen for him to stay, but only as an amateur. Believing he had more potential than a life in France's lower leagues, he made the move to Paris Saint Germain's B-team. While also playing in the CFA, there was a wholly different mood to the club in terms of the players in the squad.
A blend of promising youngsters and first team players, the potential to be scouted and subsequently elevated in the game was far greater. It was during that period former PSG midfielder Edvin Murati took an interest in Roberge. Then working for Aris in Greece, he signed Roberge to a 3-year-deal, his first in professional football.
Despite describing his time at PSG B as ‘a decisive boost to my career', Roberge has been far from complimentary towards his lack of opportunities in France. Yet it is indicative of his character that he was so willing to seize his chance abroad when domestic opportunities were not forthcoming. He also believes that moving abroad has improved his habits: "I grew especially in way I work in training," he said. "I learned to hate defeat, be it in training or competition." The kind of mentality Di Canio appears to demand.
Making such a move at a young age requires a degree of bravery. It's the kind of self confidence that will serve him well in the Premier League. Beginning his Aris career with a daunting trip to Panathinikos, the pitch draped in flares and other projectiles, the game provided the kind of atmosphere readily associated with Greek football. Admitting it was a rather surreal situation to be present in, his ability to handle it underlines a strong mentality, a facet to his game that will be tested strongly now.
With the Greek side arguably his biggest club to date, Roberge has also performed well in some of Marítimo's bigger games and being identified as one of the league's best defenders. Afforded the opportunity to play in European competition he once again displayed his confidence on the ball.
Of course it should be noted there's a difference between proving yourself at a high level and a big club. Expectations are likely to surpass anything he has previously encountered, which is why it remains important the club allow him to potentially make a few mistakes and nurture him gently into a new style of football.
Unfortunately for Roberge, his time in Greece didn't end amicably. Unpaid for several months, a spell of unemployment was the precursor to him eventually signing in Portugal. As he has previously admitted, while the country's climate can be incredibly advantageous it isn't perfect: "The Portuguese league is less publicized, so harder to be seen,"
Once again signing a three-year-contract, finding French players in Portugal is not uncommon. Nabil Ghilas, brother of former Hull City striker Kamel, is currently forging an impressive reputation at Moreirense, with Aly Cissokho representing the best example. The Valencia fullback enjoyed a meteoric rise that saw him capped internationally after FC Porto purchased him from Vitoria Setubal in 2009.
Boasting the same kind of impressive physical presence as his compatriot Cissokho, Roberge is a robust well rounded defender in terms of his ability to play with the ball. Portuguese football does not cater well to defenders possessing limited technique. Given how much Sunderland have lacked a player to bring the ball forward out of defence, expect Roberge to have no qualms with providing this skill and taking charge as he often did for Marítimo.
As a consequence of his time in Portugal, he will also prefer the short over long option. Against Newcastle in the Europa League for example, he hit just one long pass out of thirty five attempted and registered a pass completion rate of 88%.
It is for that reason so many clubs have taken an interest in him. Attracting attention from Reading, Hannover 96 and even Lyon, Sporting Lisbon were rumoured to have made an offer for his services - something the club later denied.
Despite being able to discuss a move as early as January, Roberge remained respectful towards Marítimo for providing him the opportunity to get back into football. "Personally, I have made no effort to force a move or show that I was above [the club] because we must not forget that without Marítimo, I may have stopped in football," Roberge explained.
Now blessed with a campaign in the Europa League, ultimately Roberge's strength and composure will make him a potentially complimentary partner for Modibo Diakite in the heart of defence. While his disciplinary record is far from perfect (eleven yellow cards and one red last season), the league he was playing in should be noted.
Referees in the Premier League will operate with a somewhat more lenient approach than those in Portugal and consequently expect to see his card count diminish during his time in England. He will however have to adapt to a faster pace, something that tends to affect defenders more than most given how little leeway they are granted to make mistakes.
If afforded a slow transition to English football by Paolo Di Canio, Roberge has potential to be an astute acquisition from the club. At a minimum Roberge represents better defensive cover than was previously present. His technical skills set him apart from the club's other options in that position, casting him as the potential long term successor for John O'Shea if he can adapt.
Regardless, Roberge seems a smart purchase by the club, and one that will improve the side.