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How Vergini Turned The Tide

Argentine defender Santiago Vergini recovered from a shaky start at Sunderland in his favoured position of centre-back prior to an enforced switch to right-back which saw his form, and that of the team, improve dramatically. His performances at full-back were key in assisting Sunderland to eventual safety in the Premier League and led to his welcome return to the club this summer.

Shaun Botterill

A first start at the Emirates Stadium against a rampant Arsenal is hardly the easiest task for anyone to undertake, let alone a South American defender making his first career steps in a new country. The 4-1 thrashing meted out by Arsenal that February afternoon saw Santiago Vergini struggling to cope with the power and pace on display in the English Premier League leading to a couple of glaring errors.

That uncertain start certainly didn't bode well for the former Estudiantes man, who'd already made his league debut for the Black Cats as a substitute in another defeat to Hull City at home two weeks before the mauling at the hands of the Gunners.

Vergini seemed unsure, tentative and lacking in conviction, with his defending questionable and passing wayward on far too many occasions. He appeared to be the proverbial 'fish out of water', with a sudden jump in the quality of football he was participating in causing no end of problems for the full Argentine international in his attempts to adapt.

Then, due to Phil Bardsley's suspension, he was forced into action at right-back as something of an emergency stop-gap option. There was some scepticism to say the least - he wasn't performing well enough in his so-called 'best' position, so how on earth was he going to cope at full-back?

To most observers' surprise, he looked completely at ease in his new role. The one man who wasn't shocked by Vergini's positive impact was his boss Gus Poyet, who had previously witnessed him carrying out those duties on occasion in Argentina. With his bold decision to select him in that unfamiliar position, Poyet allowed his new charge to effectively press the reset button on his fledgling career at Sunderland and start afresh.

His showing as a crucial component of a wonderful draw at the Etihad against eventual champions Manchester City helped awaken Sunderland from the dead in their seemingly hopeless dream of staying up. It was the first in a special run of results which elevated Poyet's men from relegation certainties to guaranteed safety with a game to spare once the penultimate match of the season was done.

My previous description of Vergini was a world away from what he was beginning to produce on the right-hand side of the field. His passing had improved in terms of accuracy and the speed at which he chose his next move, while his first touch was sublime and composed in comparison with those unsettling first few appearances in central defence.

Vergini suddenly appeared to be in tune with the frantic speed of the English game and his reaction time to pressure play by the opposition had significantly improved. In fact, he'd very quickly become an integral member of the line-up allowing him to firmly cement a spot ahead of the returning Bardsley until the end of the 2013/14 campaign.

It was a spectacular turnaround in fortunes for the Rosario-born stopper and prompted Gus Poyet to mark him out as one of his top transfer targets following the completion of an initial five-month loan stint at the Stadium of Light. Though it dragged on most of the summer, Santi eventually returned just four days after his 26th birthday to feature in a pre-season friendly versus Real Betis on August 7. What's more, his agreement to come back on a season-long loan deal was roundly welcomed by the fans in attendance at Heritage Park that day.

Unfortunately, he missed out on the opening Premier League contest of the new season at West Brom due to injury, but was immediately restored to the starting eleven for the home match against Manchester United eight days later.

Once again, Vergini looked impressive in a right-back position that he can rightly call his own at this stage, with well-timed surging runs forward into the final third of the pitch becoming an increasingly useful weapon within his armoury.

Should he maintain that kind of form for the remainder of this term, then he will undoubtedly be classed as one of the signings of the summer after all of those trials and tribulations which befell him in his early days on Wearside. Furthermore, a consistent campaign from the ex-Verona man will surely prompt the club to make his stay a permanent one when the current temporary contract comes to a conclusion.

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