James - Sunderland Were Right To Loan Him Out!
Jeremain Lens was a star of Louis van Gaal's 2014 Netherlands World Cup Squad. But, by the time Dick Advocaat signed him for £9m in the summer of 2015 from Dynamo Kiev, the warnings were all lined up for a Sunderland side with a history of buying the wrong player, with the wrong attitude at the wrong time.
Lens had been hailed as one of the major disappointments of the Ukrainian season before Dick Advocaat persuaded Ellis Short to part with a significant sum of money for him.
Lens signed for Dynamo in 2013 but he appeared to return from the 2014 World Cup with a change in attitude. He encountered issues with the coaching staff at Kiev and voiced them in public. He discussed things that he found "strange" at the club and he was shaken by the MH17 plane crash which was shot down over Ukraine on route from his native Netherlands.
When Advocaat needed a marquee signing of his own, to mark his permanent arrival at the Stadium of Light, he turned to the Dutch winger with whom he had enjoyed a good relationship at AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven.
A swift marriage of convenience - Advocaat got a world cup semi-finalist to add to his ranks and an ally in the Sunderland dressing room. Lens got out of Ukraine and a Premier League pay check. Bingo.
But Dick Advocaat's Wearside jaunt rapidly unraveled. Destroyed by some incredibly naive performances from a side managed by the granddaddy of European coaching, Sunderland looked lost; and by game nine, the 69-year old had walked away muttering that he hadn't a hope in hell without the money he thought he was promised.
And so Jeremain Lens was left stranded, in a struggling side in the autumn in a northern coastal outpost. It soon became apparent that the player wasn't interested in the battling effort that Sam Allardyce would demand to drag his Sunderland side out of the relegation mire. Lens posted videos of his motorbike journeys on YouTube and two weeks before Christmas, he was fined two weeks wages for refusing to take part in a warm down following an eleventh league defeat of the season.
Allardyce continued to make the effort with Lens. He challenged him to get back in the side and he told supporters to judge the mercurial Dutchman on what he would do next season. Lens appeared not to respond.
In the end there was no ‘next season' - Besiktas and Ajax were rumoured to fancy taking him in the summer, but when Advocaat got the gig at Fenerbahçe, Lens' mind was made up. The Turkish club balked at being told to pay what Sunderland had stumped up for the player 12 months earlier, so a loan deal was agreed.
David Moyes had already concluded that he needed battlers, so he identified Duncan Watmore and Fabio Borini as his right midfielders of choice. And if Borini was swiftly injured, the loan deal for Lens still suits.
Lens has earned rave reviews in Turkey, and restored himself to the Netherlands squad. Would he have achieved that while still at the Stadium of Light? Not likely! And in Turkey, his reputation can only continue being rebuilt.
A sustained onslaught on the Turkish League, the Europa League and the Dutch hopes of World Cup qualification will only restore his value still further; and come next summer, with two years left on his deal with Sunderland, an optimal selling price should likely be reached. And for once Ellis Short's club might just recoup what they gambled on a player signed by a previous manager. And wouldn't that make a nice change? The loan was absolutely right.
Callum - We Should Have Kept Him!
Jeremain Lens is not the jolliest guy you’ve ever seen on the football pitch. He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself and - when marooned on the wing in a poor team and trying to help Patrick Van Aanholt out defensively - can you really blame him? I know, I know, you think Lens wasn’t interested. However, despite the reputation he has amongst Sunderland fans, I do not believe it can be said he was disinterested or lazy.
During his first interview with the club, it was clear that we had signed a player who did not doubt his own considerable ability. While this can sometimes be a problem, if managed properly, it can be of immense value to any team. He is a winner and made it abundantly clear that he was not used to losing and didn’t intend to start now. Cheap words? Perhaps. But a personality, mentality and talent that, if nurtured, would be invaluable to a dressing room so used to defeat.
But why do we at Sunderland want to jettison talented - often foreign - players after their first season? Why do we give up on them when they’re not providing goals in every game? And why do we only measure a players commitment by their willingness to ‘get stuck in’? Do we want a player like Lens to show his commitment by tackling a full back on the edge of our own penalty area, or by patiently and methodically using his ability in a precise attacking system to score and create goals? While we are patient and unerring in our support, I believe many fans are unrealistic, judgmental and naive when it comes to players of Lens’ ilk.
We love blood and thunder players in the North East. We love them so much, that we like our attacking players to have a bit of bite to them too. In fact, we’ll forgive a significant lack of ability if there’s fire and passion instead. We demand that these continental big shots with extravagant price tags singlehandedly lead and revolutionise our attack. If not, they must work for the team and selflessly sacrifice their own ego and for this, we’ll forgive any lack of end product. Malbranque is an obvious example. Though Lens’ demeanour was casual and often betrayed his frustration at his lack of involvement in the game, he was willing - sometimes too much - to demonstrate his desire to tackle and go in for crunching challenges.
What is beyond doubt is that Lens is a top player and one that we should have flattered and worked with to ensure he had a place in our team. During his all too brief deployment in central attacking midfield last season, he was excellent. Lens demonstrated vision and passing ability, providing through balls for Van Aanholt and Defoe, working hard to win and retain the ball and effortlessly impacting on the game. Some of the goals he scored demonstrated natural ability, and while his ego and body language may not be to the taste of the average Sunderland supporter, it is to our detriment that he now plies his trade elsewhere.
Lens started this season strongly, coming off the bench and working hard to provide assists and play integral roles in the build up to goals against Middlesbrough and Southampton. He never looked unfit and was clearly keen to do his best whenever he took to the field this season, even though he was benched so that Gooch and Watmore could play instead and Moyes could moan about inexperience. Yet Lens did not sulk, and while the cynics may suggest a shop window mentality explains these performances, do we really believe that without these early season cameos a club would not have taken Lens on loan?
If you are a manager with a dearth of attacking quality and limited experience in your squad, someone like Lens is invaluable. It should have been a priority to massage his ego, explain to him that he was to be crucial to our attacking play and our season and work with him to maximise his impact on a game. But we judge too quickly and our managers often fail to see the promise in such players if only given time. It’s another opportunity missed.