Wahbi Khazri has opened up again on what went wrong at Sunderland last season, his ambitions to play for a top six club in the Premier League and on accusations he was overweight during his spell at the Stadium of Light.
The Tunisian playmaker is again the focus of attention for his exploits on loan at Stade Rennais this season The 26-year-old has scored 4 goals in seven league games this term and bagged a brace in the Brittany derby last weekend to sink Claudio Ranieri’s Nantes.
And next summer, the attacker will feature on a global stage as Tunisia face England in the opening group match of Russia 2018. Not a bad platform to show the doubters in this country what he can do perhaps, but is he likely to still be a Sunderland player by the time the World Cup kicks off next June?
Khazri has been talking to French newspaper L’Equipe and suggested he had a variety of avenues open to him this summer. Reflecting on his options after Sunderland were relegated, he said:
The question was: “Do I absolutely want to stay in the Premier League?”. The answer was no because, for example, I like the United States and the MLS could interest me. Without pretension, I do not think I need to sell myself.
But the player who scored 3 goals in thirty-eight appearances during his initial 18 months at Sunderland, suggests doubts over his ability last season closed the door on staying in the English top flight:
There, in the Premier League, there was nothing for me. Clubs may have felt that I did not have the level. Last season, I played very little [seven starts] and it weighed a lot whereas after my first six months, with the maintenance of the club I had a good image. When you play less, they forget you.
There have been suggestions that Khazri could be a divisive figure behind the scenes at Sunderland last season, but it seems he was just enjoying himself despite not playing:
Even if I did not play last season, I do not regret because I had a lot of fun in training. It made me progress mentally. I hardened myself because I was frustrated at the weekend not to play. But I continued to have fun for me. Otherwise I would have gone home and quarrelled with my wife [smiles].
And his thoughts on the contrast between Sam Allardyce and David Moyes remain clear:
I do not regret a second because it was the Premier League, a championship that attracted me, that I wanted to discover. And then when Big Sam calls you - a very famous coach in England, it makes you want it. He may not be the greatest tactician but he is a great manager who makes his team work and progress.
Against Chelsea, I scored a great goal. Hazard and Willian came to congratulate me in the match. It was nice if guys like that come to talk to me - it’s because they recognise my qualities.
Then a new coach arrived [David Moyes] and he did not trust me. I was not in his plans but the fact we finished with 20 points [it was actually 24] speaks about him.
Yet the big question remains of course. Is Khazri likely to return to Sunderland next summer after his loan deal with Rennes expires? It remains unclear but surely unlikely:
I’m only on loan, it’s not over. I’m only twenty-six years old. My goal is to reach the top 5-6 in England and it’s achievable. It’s harder to be noticed when you’re playing in a declining team.
And on recurring accusations that he was overweight during his time in Sunderland:
This has never been the case. In Bastia [2009-14], Bordeaux [2014-16] and Sunderland I had good performances and I had the same weight. Why was I not overweight the first six months in England when it worked and why would I have been then?
Khazri will return to Sunderland at the end of the season, but with the Black Cats unlikely to be returning to the Premier League any time soon, it seems but a matter of time before he’s sold and his stint at the Stadium of Light is finally over.