According to reports out in France, Gabon international Didier Ndong turned down a move to Ligue 1 side St Etienne in January before he opted to sign instead for Watford.
The decision, by all accounts, came down to money and the fact that the French club would not have been able to match the terms of the contract that Ndong had agreed with Sunderland when he arrived as our club-record signing from Lorient on summer deadline day in 2016.
Ndong preference was to stay and find a club in England’s top flight, a gamble which eventually paid off when he achieved his loan move to Javi Gracia’s Hornets on the final day of the January transfer window.
As a result of the rejection, St Etienne instead opted to sign former Sunderland midfielder Yann M’Vila on a free transfer.
M’Vila - who Sunderland opted against signing on a permanent basis following a successful loan spell here in the 2015-16 season - was allowed to leave his reported £100k-per-week contract with Russian side Rubin Kazan on a free transfer in order to find a new club and settled on St Etienne, who aren’t a kick in the backside off the Ligue 1 relegation zone and will no doubt benefit from the quality and defensive steel that we all know that the former France international can provide.
Who got the better end of the deal? I think we’d have to concede that despite being three years younger, Ndong isn’t on the same level as M’Vila in terms of ability and whilst St Etienne may not have been able to secure their first choice, their second is infinitely better anyways.
The terms of Ndong’s loan deal with Watford are not yet clear, though Chris Coleman did admit that the offer we received was an improvement on the one made earlier in the window by the Hertforshire-based Premier League club.
Speaking on January 30th, the Sunderland manager said:
Ndong is going to Watford, he’s made it clear that he wanted to be back in the Premier League. The deal suited us this time, there’s stipulations in the contract that could make it permanent, but he could come back.
Ndong has been an unused substitute in both of the games that Watford have played since he arrived at Vicarage Road such is the competition for places at a club blessed with talent in the centre of midfield.
The 23-year old is joined by Tom Cleverley, Nathaniel Chalobah, highly-rated Abdoulaye Doucouré, Will Hughes, Étienne Capoue and Roberto Pereyra in competing for the two central starting berths in Javi Gracia’s team - quite how much football that he will actually play between now and the end of the season is entirely up for debate.