Having left Wearside in order to join Watford on a season-long loan on deadline day, Didier Ndong is still waiting to make his debut for the Hornets - despite being ready to play.
The £14m club-record signing was an unused substitute in the two games that Watford played after he arrived at Vicarage Road but hasn’t even made the matchday squad for their last two fixtures - a pair of 1-0 wins over Everton and West Bromwich Albion.
According to Matt Storey of the Hertfordshire Mercury, Ndong was omitted for the Everton game due to ‘personal issues’, but was assumed fit and ready selection ahead of the home victory over Alan Pardew’s Baggies on Saturday afternoon.
The 23-year old Gabon international agreed a deal which could potentially see him depart on a permanent basis in the summer, but the terms that were agreed 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 Premier League side.
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.
The competition for places at a club blessed with talent in the centre of midfield has been the main reason behind his non-inclusion. The 23-year old is joined by Tom Cleverley, Nathaniel Chalobah, highly-rated Abdoulaye Doucouré, Will Hughes, Étienne Capoue and Roberto Pereyra in fighting it out for the two central starting berths in Gracia’s team - and quite how much football that he will actually play between now and the end of the season is entirely up for debate.
This has, of course, raised some intrigue amongst keen observers on Wearside as to what the point in letting him leave even was. With that in mind, we spoke to our friends at Watford blog ‘The Hornets Nest’ to find out the crack.
RR: It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Didier Ndong still hasn’t kicked a ball yet for Watford. Any idea what is going on?
The Hornet’s Nest: When Ndong was brought in in January it always felt like he was more of a ‘just in case’ player rather than a contender for the starting XI. Our injury crisis was so bad, especially in our midfield that I think the owners thought we just needed some cover should anything happen to our fit midfielders before the injured ones came back into the squad.
RR: What are the Watford fans saying about it - is it a case that the player wasn’t signed by the manager and just isn’t fancied?
The Hornet’s Nest: The Watford fans in all honesty aren’t saying much... with Will Hughes making a heroic return to the squad at the weekend with an assist for the winning goal, it’s hard to see how Ndong would get into the squad for a reason other than injuries or suspensions.
RR: Have you any hope that you’ll see much of him between now and the end of the season?
The Hornet’s Nest: If the reason we brought him in was to cover ourselves during our injury crisis then no, I don’t hope we see him, as that would mean our starters are sidelined!
In all seriousness though I think there’s too much competition for Ndong with Hughes coming back, Capoue has been performing well under Gracia and Chalobah has started training again after his lengthy injury, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t make an appearance for the ‘Orns at all.
Was letting Ndong leave just a case of getting rid of another player who doesn’t want to play for us, or was it more to do with the fact Watford were prepared to take him off our wage bill for a little while?
Either way, it seems like it was an odd move for both the player and Sunderland. If he joined the Hornets with the proviso that he wouldn’t be a regular in their team, I don’t understand why he swapped that for playing regularly in Chris Coleman’s side.
Granted, our situation is awful and you wouldn’t blame anyone for taking a chance elsewhere, but surely getting minutes on the pitch somewhere is better than not even making the matchday squad somewhere else?