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Ndong on International Duty, Kone Contract & The 3-Man Back Line

We check in with observers of African football to see how new signing Didier Ndong got on last night; plus thoughts on Kone's future and what it means for Sunderland's back line this season.

Harry Trump/Getty Images

Ndong Distinctly Average in Unfamiliar Position on International Duty

New record signing Didier Ibrahim Ndong was on international duty last night. The 22 year old lined up for Gabon against Sudan in an African Cup of Nations qualifier.

Ndong aided his country to a 2 – 1 victory in a match which had little meaning as Gabon are automatically qualified for the tournament as hosts.

With Sunderland fans keen to assess for themselves the value of Ndong following his big money signing on transfer deadline day, we checked in with the hosts of (@afrikfoot) to see how he got on:

Gabon manager Jorge Costa used Ndong as a right winger and playmaker in this game. Malick Evouna (forward) and Frederic Bulot (winger or offensive midfielder) were absent from the game which is why he was positioned in a more offensive role.

He was often wasteful and over-complicated his passing and assists going forward. A 5.5 / 10 performance.

But on the plus side:

He looks like Michael Essien on the football pitch (not at the same level – yet), as a midfielder he has power and acceleration and he’s more of a runner than a defensive player.

Most importantly, of course, Ndong came through the game unscathed so we should be able to judge for ourselves against Everton next week, if he isn't suspended as expected, or Tottenham a week later.

It’s September, Celebrate Kone Contract Day

Various newspapers and online outlets have noted the calendar has rolled onto September and, as we all know, that can only mean one thing – Kone Contract Day is approaching. Throughout the protracted summer saga over where Sunderland’s Ivorian defender’s future would lie, David Moyes made it clear that contract negotiations would only commence once the window closed. Clearly looking to move the situation on, David Moyes, speaking to the Shields Gazette, said:

It has been a difficult period for us all, I understand Lamine's position but I also understand the position of the club... I will be delighted if Lamine signs a new contract.

The management of the situation by Sunderland was the stand out piece of business in an otherwise mediocre summer window. That said, no one at the club is likely relishing the prospect of sitting down with Kone’s agent Mark MacKay for a few hours of pleasantries and negotiation after the ludicrous shenanigans of recent weeks.

A new contract, in reality, only really means that the player will end up getting paid more, because Kone was already tied down on a four year deal; but it does offer Sunderland an opportunity to refresh any buy-out clauses. The most beneficial net result though, is that Kone simply now has to perform if he’s still dreaming of a big-bucks-mega-buster move at some point in the future.

It does still feel likely that Kone will move on should he continue his form of last season. At present, he’s easily one of the top ten defenders in the Premier League and the summer carry-on, whilst unsavoury from our perspective, will only have raised his profile as one to watch. One thing Sunderland have to do, as a business, is re-learn how to maximise profit from players who are saleable assets. With the club operating as a perpetual loss-making operation on the playing side, perhaps this Kone business is finally proof of a refreshed strategy for doing so.

The Power Of Three

The most important thing, of course, is that in the short term Sunderland’s stand-out defender is, barring injury, available for selection in a red and white and shirt until at least January. David Moyes has already hinted that with the players now at his disposal, he may opt for a three-man defensive back line at times this season.

With Papy Djilobodji and Jason Denayer joining Kone as central defensive options, Moyes suddenly has flexibility in how he lines up Sunderland at the back. Even with the loss of Younes Kaboul, we probably have as good a group of centre halves to pick from as we have had for several seasons. Moyes was recently quoted as saying about Denayer’s signing:

I also wanted him because he gives me the flexibility to play three at the back alongside Kone and Djilibodji, which I will do at times.

Of course, the key to a system based on three at the back is communication and preparation, especially with overlapping wing backs and players operating in positions on the pitch previously unfamiliar to them.

That may take time, and might invite a tonking or two, especially considering English is not the first language of the Senegalese, the Ivorian, the Belgian, the Spaniard and the Dutchman who make up Sunderland’s first choice defenders. French may be a common tongue amongst them however, and a few shouts of Arbite enclulé may well be overheard this season at the back of Sunderland’s line up.

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