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Big Money Sunderland Duo Deserve Time To Shape Perception

Perception is a big thing in football. It can shape careers, create cult heroes, and define legacy. Right now, you'd have to acknowledge that perception is not being kind to Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji - much of that is most likely down to their fees, in truth, which perhaps isn't fair given neither of them set their own prices.

Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

The African duo of Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji arrived on Wearside in the summer for a combined fee of over twenty-million pounds, and while that appears to be small change in the Premier League right now, it's certainly not at Sunderland.

For that kind of outlay, Sunderland need product. There is no getting away from it. However, whilst perception is not always fair, it is always fluid. It ebbs and flows and can change dramatically in a moment.

Look no further than Victor Anichebe for that. When he was signed in the summer as a free agent no one else of note wanted, very few fans were excited by it. When he made a fool of himself on Twitter after the West Ham defeat, very few fans could even stand the thought of him. Fast forward a bit and a couple of huge performances have seen him one of the most popular players - and cult heroes - I can remember.

Similarly, Billy Jones has enjoyed something of a popularity surge this season with a string of committed and solid performances. I remember being in a storm-besieged Aix-les-Bains karaoke bar last summer in which the impassioned consensus offered by most was that Jones was the 'worst right back we've ever seen.'

Of course, it's perhaps easier to be more receptive to players like Anichebe and Jones. They cost the club nothing, so are held to much lower standards in terms of expectation.

That's just natural really. When we watch our weekend bets draw to their conclusions, we are far less bothered if the 66-1 punt fails than the evens certainly, and far happier if it actually comes in.

Here is the twist in the tale, though: Both Ndong and Djilobodji are actually contributing much more than we probably think.

Nobody in Sunderland's midfield ranks - or in any other positions actually - has made more successful passes than Ndong this season. In fact, the midfielder next closest to him, Steven Pienaar, isn't even within 100 passes of him.

Ndong also tops the midfield charts for defensive actions as well, which is probably less surprising given the absences of Jan Kirchhoff and Lee Cattermole, but should be no less commendable nevertheless.

Papy Djilobodji has probably been more maligned than Ndong and that has been fair enough. As with any analysis, you have have to acknowledge that there are some things that stats can't measure, such as positional lapses and so forth, and Djilobodji has been guilty of plenty of them.

We should also be open-minded to what he is doing right, though.

The Senegal international has made far more interceptions, blocks, and total defensive actions for Sunderland this season than anyone else, and only Lamine Kone has made more clearances.

I'm not sitting here pointing at context-less numbers like some insufferable anorak telling you that it proves both Ndong and Djilobodji have been brilliant - because they haven't. Both have made mistakes, often quite basic ones, and struggled in games. Football is, and always will be, primarily a game for the eyes, not a calculator.

However, both have contributed enough to show there is something there with which to work and neither are being carried by the rest this season. They are right in the thick of it.

Hopefully there is nobody out there writing them off because it would be folly to give up on them. For one thing, Ndong is 22 - the same age as Jordan Pickford and Duncan Watmore - and we consider them bairns in need of patience, so the fact Ndong was bought for big money where as the others weren't shouldn't rob him of the same.

Because, as Anichebe and Jones have proved, perceptions can be changed - if we are open to it.

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