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Black Cats Analects: The Inevitable Charles N’Zogbia

Charles N’Zogbia may have joined Sunderland about six years late, but is it too late?

Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

It seems like every year Charles N’Zogbia gets that little closer to a Sunderland AFC playing contract and right now he’s as close as it gets.  After weeks on trial with the squad; a match captaincy and arguably a pre-season man-of-the-match performance to his name, it’s beginning to look a lot like the Frenchman’s long-awaited signing is finally happening.

But should it?

Honestly, looking at the winger’s record in recent years, you’d be justified in giving an emphatic hell no to seeing N’Zogbia playing competitively for Sunderland.  This season demands the best of squads, and this is one player who has crumbled in decline over the last five years.

The stats say it all.  N’Zogbia played eighty matches for Aston Villa over a five season contract and contributed to just eighteen goals in that time.  This also happened during his usually-perceived peak age as a footballer, by the way.  Being involved in a goal for 22% of total appearances is not great reading when, over the player’s prior two-season stint at Wigan Athletic; he contributed to goals in 48% of his matches, with thirty goals from seventy appearances.  That’s not progression – that’s retrogression.

It gets worse.  Actually, everything gets worse.  From his final year with the Latics (2011) to final year at Villa Park (2016), N’Zogbia’s decline has been a monumental freefall; his frequency of dribbling take-ons dropped from an average three per game to not even one, ditto his chance creation per game; and shots per game fell from two to barely mustering one.  The blowoff of these sorry stats was a half-decade struggle for N’Zogbia to even equal his best single season at Wigan Athletic for goals and assists.

Now, as always here, it’s okay to play devil’s advocate.  Admittedly, ex-Villains chief Paul Lambert (and his tactical boredom) was an antithesis to everything Charles N’Zogbia does well; and as easy as it is to blame Aston Villa’s creative void on the underperforming Frenchman – who was the intended creative outlet for them originally – you can argue that mismanagement stifled a lot of his talent.

Then again, he also botched his chances defensively too.  To dispel any first-thoughts that Paul Lambert drilled players in defensive duties, N’Zogbia actually contributed to more defensive actions at Wigan Athletic for Roberto Martínez – as a winger! – than at Aston Villa.  His tackling attempt rate dropped from two per game down to one every two games between 2011 and 2016, and two years ago it was taking the player nearly five matches on average to even claim an interception.

In fairness to N’Zogbia, he did have hard luck as it pertains to injuries during his time in Birmingham.  However, this is hardly an argument in his favour either.  In fact, since March 2012 the player has had three knee injuries, a hamstring injury and a bout of Achilles tendon surgery.  That’s five instances of time out in four years; it covers 419 days of absence in total, and has meant being unavailable for 59 matches.

At thirty years old, is this a player you would want to take a chance of chunky wages on? And we haven’t even got to how much he would want to be paid.  Last time most reports checked in on that, the winger was living on hard times between £63,000 and £70,000 a week! Seventy.  Thousand.

We could put it all down bluntly right there and say there is no way on this earth Charles N’Zogbia should ever be paid anywhere close to £63,000 a week to join Sunderland.

However, let’s say all parties agree on that.  Let’s say Charles N’Zogbia and his selfless agent agrees to a significant wage cut and a short-term contract.  If those are the conditions of the Frenchman’s recruitment, then maybe we should be tempted to bring him in for the season.

After all, this is still the same Charles N’Zogbia who, not so long ago, we would have well-welcomed at Sunderland.  Yeah, that time may have come and gone, and his market value may have plummeted to the monetary value of a free transfer anyway, but who is to say he couldn’t provide a good turn of form for us? It already looks like he’s in the mood during this pre-season as it is.

And if the club can negotiate a reasonable financial package with the player, maybe there is some value to him as an interchangeable attacking midfielder.  We all already know that N’Zogbia can play anywhere across the attacking midfield line and, really, we don’t have too many options available in those areas; Jeremain Lens, Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini all cannot substitute one another, and Lee Cattermole should never be allowed back in an advanced role.  That merit of versatility N’Zogbia brings is, if nothing else, an appealing advantage for him.

Also, familiarity with this league goes a good distance sometimes.  Sometimes it doesn’t, of course (see Jack Rodwell).  Still, the midfielder has a tally of nearly three hundred Premier League appearances and before his drop into the bomb squad at Aston Villa he was a genuine match-winner.  He saved Wigan Athletic near single-handedly from relegation at least once.

So maybe there is some good Charles N’Zogbia can still give to the Premier League.  However it’s important not to expect much from him should he be signed to a contract here.  The player is evidently over his best form now and isn’t worth anything near the £9.18 million he was purchased for five years ago.  And considering his last competitive fixture was nearly nine months ago, a cautious squad role may be the mutually beneficial option for both him and for Sunderland.

The verdict here: sign him up, keep the squad competitive, and don’t pay him a dime more than he’s worth.

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