A Young player moves on loan to Wearside from a top club; he’s got bags of potential and plenty to prove? Perhaps the name Danny Rose comes to mind? Danny Welbeck even? How about Jonny Evans? Take your pick really. Whilst our permanent purchases have left a lot to be desired, we’ve had a great deal of success over the last decade with our loan signings - even if they have perhaps hurt us in the long run.
However, another player who fitted the ‘youngster with potential’ tag, but was the polar opposite of success, was a certain Frenchman brought into the club from Gérard Houllier’s Liverpool in 2005: Anthony Le Tallec.
We were told Le Tallec was a star in the making. Given the honour of the ‘silver boot’ in the Under-17 World Cup, he was immediately snapped up alongside his cousin and golden boot winner from the same tournament, Florent Sinama-Pongolle. The youngster’s career had been so successful at youth level he was dubbed "the next Zidane" by French media outlets and coaches alike, and Sunderland fans were intrigued as to what the young Liverpool player could bring to our newly-promoted side.
Whilst rivals Manchester United picked up another wonderkid, namely Cristiano Ronaldo, and put him straight into the team, Houllier was quick to play down expectations of the French duo. He instead sent them straight back on loan to the team he had purchased them from, Le Havre.
The then 17-year-old, Le Tallec, would spend two years back in his homeland, scoring seven goals. The Liverpool Manager commenting that although he felt they weren’t ready for the Premiership - "in the future they will both be seen as important signings. It is only a matter of time, I can promise you that." A further loan to St. Etienne would give the youngster more game time, but in the summer of 2005, Mick McCarthy launched a bid to take the 21-year-old striker on loan for a season.
Seen as a chance to get the game time and secure vital experience in the Premiership, Le Tallec appeared to give a limited squad with minimal spending power an injection of quality. Upon arrival the Frenchman was alleged to have noted that, "I am a competitor and I want to play all the time, but with Liverpool it was impossible. I chose to come to Sunderland because I need to play every week.”
As a newly promoted Sunderland followed up a Darren Bent inspired defeat to Charlton Athletic with a narrow 1-0 defeat at Anfield, the loanee was given his chance in a night game against Manchester City, lining up alongside fellow new boy Andy Gray. Two first half goals from Stuart Pearce’s City would leave us staring a third defeat in a row before August had even ended. However, a superb header from Le Tallec just before half time gave the Lads a fighting chance of gaining a point in the second half. With McCarthy partnering the goal scorer with Jon Stead in the second half though, it came as no surprise that fight-back never materialised, and Sunderland left the SoL pointless. It was a recurring theme we’d unfortunately become accustomed to in what become a record low point scoring season.
He kept his place the following week away to Wigan Athletic, but sadly the team lost once more. He would however have brief respite from the continuing defeats as he hit an extra-time winner in the League Cup - a 92nd minute winner knocking out John Ward’s Cheltenham Town and giving McCarthy’s team their first win of the campaign. Although not in the starting line-up, we would go on to pick up our first league win the campaign at Middlesbrough the following weekend.
That win though would probably be the best it got all season as a string of shambolic performances saw the team pick up only two points over the next fourteen games. The team looked to be consigned to relegation by January, and the Frenchman looked increasingly uninterested. Le Tallec would go on to score only three more goals for the club over the course of the season; against Spurs, Northwich Victoria and Fulham. Whilst it may seem a paltry amount, he still ended the season as our top goalscorer.
The 6ft 2in striker then had two further loan moves following our relegation, both of which were reminiscent of his Sunderland nightmare. At Sochaux he managed only four goals, whilst netting five during his spell at Le Mans. However, when the team from the Sarth River lost their main attacking threat in Stephane Sessegnon that summer, they decided to make Le Tallec’s his replacement - this time on a permanent basis. He was deemed enough of a success there that Auxerre bought the Liverpool man for €3m in 2010.
Le Tallec, now in his mid-twenties, had long been forgotten as the next big French hope and unfortunately his move to Auxerre failed to change that. A second career relegation was to befall the former Liverpool man, as the Burgundy city suffered a turbulent season which subsequently ended with their relegation.
Seen as a player capable of scoring goals in Ligue 1, he found a move to Valenciennes. Although, much like Bill Murray in the popular 80’s film Groundhog Day, he once again found himself falling through the trap door and suffered his third relegation after only two seasons there. A player that was billed as the next big French hope is now washed up in the Greek leagues, struggling for goals at Atromitos FC, a team with a stadium that holds just over 10k in the city of Peristeri, Athens.
Interestingly however, in an interview last year he claimed his unfulfilled potential wasn’t solely his fault, but was the infact the fault of current Newcastle Manager Rafa Benitez - "Everything started well for me at Liverpool but, unfortunately, the arrival of Rafa Benítez broke my entire career strategy", said the former Red. Shocking behaviour Rafa - ruining the young lad’s hopes, dreams and erm... chance at stardom.