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The Khazri conundrum: will Wahbi remain on Wearside?

After two impressive pre-season performances, many fans are wondering whether Simon Grayson will look to keep Wahbi Khazri ahead of the upcoming campaign. Will he stay and fight, or take flight for pastures new?

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

One of last season’s great mysteries was the continued absence of Tunisian playmaker, Wahbi Khazri. It took David Moyes almost six months to realise the impact Khazri could have on a game, but by then the majority of the damage had already been done and the former Bordeaux man could do little to help Sunderland avoid the drop.

I told Wahbi right from the start that I needed him to retain possession. He is the type of player that I need to either score me a goal or make me a goal. And the games where I have put him in, he hasn't done that for me. I need that to happen.

David Moyes’ above comments on the matter did little to really clarify his continued absence - especially when you consider how wasteful Adnan Januzaj and Fabio Borini were for large swathes of the campaign. That, coupled with Khazri’s goal on his return to the starting line-up, acted as the perfect example as to why the Tunisian should have been afforded more opportunities to prove his worth to the club.

The mercurial talent is there for all to see, and even though he can be somewhat frustrating to watch at times, it goes without saying that Wahbi Khazri is a good player who could be a crucial component of any success this season.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Khazri celebrating his goal during last night’s draw.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Simon Grayson, thankfully, is not David Moyes, and although the new manager has certainly been cautious with his words thus far, it is clear to see that Grayson has brought a sense of positivity and optimism to Wearside. He wants the job, and he wants to do well.

When asked about Wahbi Khazri recently, Grayson was quick to note that:

(Khazri) is a talented player, and that’s why he is at Sunderland. He’s played in the Premier League. You’ve seen in the two games that he’s a good player, and we want to keep good players.

Time will tell who will stay at the football club. Every player at every club has a price, but while they’re here, they’ll do what’s required and do everything to try to get in the team for the first game of the season.

It’s interesting to hear Grayson’s opinion of the Tunisian who he clearly rates highly. However, that being said, there are questions that must be asked of the Sunderland playmaker especially in the wake of an interview two months ago with French sports newspaper, L’Equipe, where the Tunisian was quoted as saying:

Mentally, I struggled with playing very little this season, while the team did not turn. I was also not used to it. On the other hand, it hardened me. Having played little for a year allows me to be physically and mentally well. It’s just football, and when you see what’s going on in the world right now, I think there’s more serious in life.

After six very good first months, Sunderland changed coach and I have not played much. My head did not come back. Before being fired (sic - Moyes resigned) on Sunday, he told me clearly that I could leave. It falls well: I do not see myself staying.

I do not want to play in Championship. I have three years left, and my transfer would make everyone happy.

It’s easy to jump on the Tunisian’s comments and brandish them as disrespectful, but can you really blame him after last season’s neglect at the hands of David Moyes? Would you be enthused at staying with a club who had effectively ostracised you for almost a year?

Sunderland v West Ham United - Premier League
Moyes’ decision to continuously exclude Khazri from the starting line-up was but one of his baffling actions at the club.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

One theory worth considering is that perhaps Simon Grayson’s arrival has helped to ease concerns held by players previously unhappy with their role at the club. Khazri’s recent impressive performances lend credence to the thought, and time will tell as to whether Grayson has had a positive impact.

Khazri is clearly a very talented footballer that’s endured a hard time of it in recent months; he’s by no means perfect, but he would undoubtedly be a terrific player in the Championship. Many fans would love to see him remain at the club, and hopefully Wahbi knows this. However, his future lies beyond our reach and it is now his decision alone as to whether he wants to leave the club, or stay and fight for the shirt.

Grayson’s general attitude and actions have been positive thus far, but ultimately success is the only way to show he has developed a rapport with his players, a sign that he has rekindled certain individuals’ desires to perform for the club that employs them. Hopefully he’s been able to wrap an arm around some shoulders, and can successfully cultivate a good relationship with talented players like Khazri who can make a real difference in the season to come.

Keeping him could be a real coup for us; it would lay down a marker ahead of what will be a difficult season ahead and his relationship with Josh Maja looks to be flowering into something quite special. It would be fantastic if he decided to remain on Wearside.

It's easy to see why Wahbi Khazri might not be happy here, but it's important to remember that there are two sides to every story and it isn't so long ago that he was making the shape of a love heart with his hands as he ran expectantly towards the crowd, desperate to be adored. It's important to remember that if we want players to give us everything we have to be willing to understand them in order that we can judge them fairly. If Khazri takes the opportunity to endear himself to the fans and knuckle down for a fight, he can be like a brand new signing for us this season. A player with real flare and obvious ability, if we can get his head in the same place as his heart I believe he'll do wonders for us.