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Roker Report Player Of The Year - Candidate #4 - Jan Kirchhoff

With the season finally over it's time to crown the Roker Report Player Of The Year. We've already had pledges for Lamine Kone, Jermain Defoe and Yann M'Vila, so rounding things off today is Graeme, explaining why he believes Jan Kirchhoff is the man. On Friday we'll host a poll in which YOU can vote for your winner, with the victor being revealed next Monday morning.

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Candidate #4 - Jan Kirchhoff: 15 Appearances, 0 Goals

Kafka once said, "First impressions are the most unreliable." While old Franz may have been in the midst of a particularly deep existential crisis at the time of espousing this little gem, the turn of phrase is certainly still apt with regards our own Jan Kirchhoff.

Yes, it's fair to say most supporters considered his debut for the Black Cats, away to Spurs, one of the worst in recent memory. Personally, for what it's worth, I wouldn't disagree with anyone who came to this conclusion at the time.

Those views formed of the big German immediately following his disastrous introduction to the Premier League and then those we have now - after a remarkable rise to prominence in Sunderland's midfield. You can't get two more polarised views of a player from two separate moments in time.

Therefore, and this is the crux of it - he is our player of the year for 2015/16.

Ah, but he only signed in January 2016 you may sneer. Yes, we can't deny the glaringly obvious. But I would assert it was following Big Sam's strategic switching of Kirchhoff, from a hapless centre back to deep lying midfield general, that changed the course of our entire season. As a result, he is worthy of inclusion in Roker Report's end of season vote. Of that there can be no doubt.

Let's look at the facts. Up until his signing we had imploded. Metaphorically speaking, prior to that moment, we were in free-fall too, arms and legs flaying, waiting for the Championship ground to meet us with an emotional and painful impact.

It's true striker Jermain Defoe was helping out with goals before the £750,000 arrival of Kirchhoff. But it was the former Bayern Munich man's solid midfield base from which to build that gave Defoe and others the freedom to be more expansive in their approach. This coincided with goals coming from elsewhere on the pitch and it allowed our star striker to push on even further in respect of his own goal tally.

This simple yet effective metamorphosis didn't come from the defenders either. Not on their own, anyway.

Sure, the defence shored up its leaky holes partly because of the arrival of Lamine Koné but it was also the added protection that Kirchhoff gave his defensive teammates that helped immeasurably. His steadying, calming influence sitting in front of the back four provided the added confidence everyone else needed to really showcase their own abilities.

We found, because of Kirchhoff, Sunderland's rear guard wasn't being constantly exposed as it had been in the past. There was no longer that wave after wave of attack that we had become accustomed to seeing. Yes, Lee Cattermole is aggressive and closes down the opposition but when he wins the ball back he can't find a teammate as effectively as Big Jan. Catts isn't as much of a physical presence either and Allardyce likes some height and power in his midfield -€” two boxes Kirchhoff ticks off comfortably.

He just keeps it simple. Nothing flash, no frills but what you do get with that straightforward approach is pure class.

What about Yann M'Vila you may ask? Yes, he's a great footballer and we should be looking to tie him down to a permanent contract. However, personally I prefer him slightly higher up the pitch.  Arguably, for Sunderland at least, he's better suited to that role. His dribbling is better, he's a touch quicker and his passing range is equally as impressive as Kirchhoff. The main difference of course is that the Frenchman just lacks the height of his German teammate and arguably he doesn't sense danger as quickly either - two key attributes in that enforcer role under Big Sam.

Given Kirchhoff has been deployed as a centre back previously, there is that intuitive sniffing out of threat that no other player in any other position has in midfield.

If we want to pick out specific highlights following Kirchhoff's capture then of course we should look no further than his man of the match performance against Manchester City in January. Allardyce rightly named it the best by any midfielder in the Premier League up until that point in the season. Just to put that into context his game prior was Tottenham. West Brom at home was another standout but if we are honest all of the matches he has played in, save for the debut, have shown he is head and shoulders above anyone else we have in that role.

If we want to talk plaudits, he won Roker Report's player of the month twice in a row and also PFA Fans' Player of the Month award for April too, beating the likes of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen to the prestigious accolade.

In summary and simply put, other Sunderland players have more stardust but without everyone's favourite German they wouldn't have shined as bright. That is why Jan Kirchhoff is our player of the year 2015/16.