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Wahbi Khazri Craic With Kristan Heneage

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Whenever Sunderland are linked to someone we don't know a terrible amount about it's always nice to speak to someone who does. Friend of the site, foreign football expert Kristan Heneage, stopped by to talk with @GRokerReport about Sunderland's latest imminent recruit Wahbi Khazri.

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Sunderland have been crying out for a creative player all season. Just what will Wahbi Khazri give Sam Allardyce and bring to our team?

I think you touched on it there yourself - creativity. Only Angel Di Maria has more assists this season and he cost a lot more than Khazri will.

You’ve also managed to grab a solid set-piece taker as well. There was a goal he created against PSG this season where he whipped in a really dangerous corner to the near post and I’d be surprised if Sam Allardyce doesn’t give him all of the free-kicks/corners when he’s on the field. That’s also underlined by a decent shot from distance.

He’ll offer a bit of versatility in terms of where he can play, which I sense is important to Sam, as he seems to like having options. I think creativity is the big one though. Knowing the club have struggled to score goals, I’d imagine he’s being brought in to give some supply to the strikers.

Where do you think he'll play for Sunderland - our wide, up front or as a 'number ten'?

As I mentioned, he’s quite versatile. This season he’s played four or five different positions, ranging from forward to left wing to central attacking midfield.

It’s always nice to have that option, but I think you need him centrally with license to roam and float. That’s where he has done most damage for Bordeaux this season. It gives him the most creative freedom which is essentially why you’re buying him. How that manifests in terms of a formation is interesting. It could be 5-3-2, 4-2-3-1, either way I’d imagine he’ll sit just ahead of Yann M’Vila and someone else.

How important has Khazri been to Bordeaux?

It’s been a tough old season for Bordeaux under Wily Sagnol, the old Bayern Munich defender. I wouldn’t say he’s pushed them on as he might have liked, and I’m sure you could argue the Europa League has taken it out of them a bit.

However, when they’ve done well, it’s usually down to Khazri. He makes them tick in the final third and if he’s in the mood it’ll tend to spread to the rest of the team. They managed to get a hard fought draw in the aforementioned game away to PSG this season, and that game really sort of summed him up. He scored, (after closing down the keeper) and in general just drove his team forward.

It’s a bit of a punch to the gut for Bordeaux because they’ve now lost their captain Henri Saivet and Khazri in the same window.

Does the rumoured fee of eleven million euros seem about right, or do you think Sunderland have gotten themselves a bargain?

I’d say a little of column a and a little of column b. France is a funny place to buy from in the sense you stand equal chance of picking up a bargain and being mugged. I’d argue Sunderland have gone closer to the former here. He’s a good age, good talent, and for about nine million pounds you can’t really complain, considering he’s got seven assists and five goals already this term.

Imagine what a Premier League equivalent of the same age would cost for example. There’s also space for him in the team. Sometimes you buy a player and shoe-horn him in, but I think Khazri is tailor-made for the hole in the Sunderland team.

In terms of temperament, what is he like? God knows Sunderland are desperate for maturity and leadership in every area of the pitch.

It’s quite funny actually, as I’m sure you’ve read Sunderland scouted him fairly extensively – they had scouts at four or five different Bordeaux games watching him this season. He was actually dismissed during one of them, but it obviously hasn’t put them off.

He was sent off again in the Europa League against Sion, but there were claims he was racially abused. I can’t comment either way, but he’s certainly got a bit of fire in him. That can be channelled in a good way or a bad way, it really depends on him.

The one issue I’d raise is defensive work. We’ve seen Jeremain Lens fall out with Allardyce over his lack of defensive contribution. If he’s expecting Khazri to work on both sides of the ball then expect to be disappointed. He’s an attacker, period.

Some are viewing this as the alternative to Andre Ayew - do you think he's a more suitable signing than Ayew would have been for Sunderland?

It’s tough to truly say. It’s certainly more cost effective. Ayew is a solid player, he’s adjusted to the league, but he’d have been hugely expensive. Even if you ignore the fact you’d be giving up Fabio Borini, he’d want a small fortune in wages. That brings with it other issues in terms of the squad dynamic.

I’d say as well they’re very different players. Ayew is better in a more advanced role, and I don’t think he’d be looking to create the goals rather score them. Sunderland, in theory, have enough of the finishers, they need someone to create the opportunity. That’s Khazri.

I would imagine he’s not on the £120,000 per week that Ayew is on either, more like a third of that. On paper you would say Ayew would have been a top signing, but I don’t think he fits well. So I’d be inclined to say yes, Khazri is a better fit for what the club need.

Sunderland tend not to go after players entering their prime years but in the instance of Khazri we are signing a player that is only twenty-four years old. Do you sense this might be the start of a change in mentality with regards to recruitment at Sunderland?

I’m not sure if the age is so much a mentality change, but what is becoming apparent is the preparation work. Under the last regime it was a lot of buys made sight unseen. It came via recommendation and who was available.

On the surface that seemed a solid idea because they had a ‘super agent’ on board. However, you’ve got to ask yourself why those players were available. In the case of Khazri and also Lamine Kone, they’ve gone out and convinced a club to sell. They’ve watched both men for a while and I would say that means they know exactly what’s arriving at the Stadium of Light. For that reason alone you should be happy.