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OPINION: Damning assessment of the Didier Ndong-Sunderland standoff; his actions are inexcusable

The truth is that things between Sunderland and Didier Ndong have now become personal. The owners will not brook this degree of insult and will not be seen doing so, even if they have to fight to achieve that.

Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images

A few days ago we heard on the grapevine that Stewart Donald wasn’t best pleased with messers Ndong and Djilibodji. This comes as no surprise to any of us - how could any owner be anything but infuriated at the notion that two players on his books couldn’t even summon the professionalism to turn in for training after an unsuccessful transfer window searching for greener pastures?

It’s the height of poor form, and the higher-ups are rightly incensed.

It’s apparent to all that neither player nor their agents had any intention of protecting their positions of privilege, secured in a contract with a guaranteed wage at a big club vying for a return to it’s former status.

I’m not going to waste my time speaking about Papy - suffice it to say that he’s an ill-fit for this and previous Sunderland teams and is, frankly, not a particularly good player. I never really thought he was terrible but at his peak he’s simply bang-average; his loss is no real loss at all and so I couldn’t care less whether he’s playing on a pitch or in a car park – good riddance.

My primary point here is about Didier Ndong.

Upon hearing about this big mess, before long of course my innate sense of empathy kicked in and I tried to come up with some kind of explanation, some rationale that would allow me to view the whole mashugana nonsense from their points of view, or at the very least take the sting out of it and try to gain an impersonal, business-like perspective.

Crystal Palace v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

I have this tick where I have to play Devil’s advocate you see, and so my thinking went like this: Didier Ndong came to Sunderland AFC as a record signing in 2016 when we were fighting for stability in the Premier League. At 22 years old this was undoubtedly the highest level he had (and arguably would ever) play at, and we saw good things. We saw a player that was young and perhaps rash, but one who had clear talent and was seemingly willing to get stuck in. The club was upside down in quicksand with it’s feet sticking out of the ground while David Moyes was sinking alongside us with a stupid grin on his face talking about Britishness, whatever the f*ck that is. Within six months Moyes buggered off on a quest to drive half of East London to suicide and was replaced by Simon Grayson, a man whose “tactics” I had the misfortune of documenting for a short time during his tenure before it became so blatantly obvious that there were no tactics that I stopped bothering trying to find them. Etcetera, etcetera. My point is that in many ways Ndong was sold a lemon, a young foreign player brought to the dirtiest of scraps in the Premier League as a record-signing – with all the remarkable pressure that brings – only to find his promised land in upheaval and the path to glorious destiny crumbling at his feet.

So that’s the empathy bit out of the way.

What about the practical reality? How much money do we still owe for Didier Ndong? The last I heard we had paid a small percentage of the £13 million (rising to £17 million if I recall correctly?) fee. His former club Lorient are in no way responsible for his behaviour since his arrival in Sunderland, so there’s no reason for them to waive the fee.

He himself isn’t in any way capable of reimbursing the club to that extent. What can we take away from him? The last three months wages? What will the club stand to gain beyond paying out money to punish a couple of fools?

Unless the Ndong fee was part of the debt paid off by Ellis Short before his departure you’re looking at three or four times our entire transfer budget this season still owed for a player that we allegedly want to either terminate the contract of or lock in the academy and throw away the key, despite the fact that if we pursued the latter option, much like with Rodwell we would remain bound by law to continue paying wages regardless of whether he plays at all.

I was willing to entertain all of these opinions at least until I saw what level of effort both players put into their apologies, and for some hint as to the feelings towards them in the dressing room. I was willing to conceive that there may be an avenue of redemption open for at least Ndong, who could actually serve a purpose in this league.

Then this happened.

Didier Ndong had the opportunity to be a man and face his responsibilities.

He made a move to leave and screwed a lot of people over in the process, but now instead of falling in line and seeking forgiveness for what was clearly a d*ck move (and a waste of whatever he pays his agent) by getting his head down and working to earn some respect and empathy where there now is none, he did that. Posted a picture of himself poolside, soaking up the sun after a hard days work doing f*ck all while his team-mates are busting a gut getting ready to once more take the fight to our opponents for the sake of the badge.

What a monumental, narcissistic tit. What a stupid, stupid boy. What a waste.

The sad thing is that looking at it from a personal perspective I had considered that perhaps some fans were being a bit precious considering the realities of modern football. Players using our club as a stepping stone is hardly shocking to us – it’s happened since time immemorial at Sunderland AFC, let alone in football. It’s a sometimes regrettable but tolerable event occurring every year at all but the most successful of clubs, and clubs like ours in particular that spent a long time treading water without every actually swimming anywhere.

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

Not only that but the tactics Ndong, Djilobodji and their representatives engaged in is tried and tested. It doesn’t often work as we can clearly see but it isn’t alien to anyone that’s been paying attention to a transfer window or two. So why are we so enraged at the prospect of it being done to us now?

Because we all need to buy into this - we all need Sunderland AFC to be better than it has been for so long. It’s showing signs of life but the edge it all balances on is so precarious that it would be so easy to fall off, and all of us are fully aware of it.

The owners are aware of it – they need this season to be a success, that’s their plan and that’s why they spent their money and why they’re at the games and in the stands with the rest of us. The players are aware of it; they want to be playing at the most elite level possible, packing out huge stadiums across the country and becoming lost in the pomp and glory.

For all the disappointment and sorrow that’s come before, it’s all happening and we’re all on the ground floor to watch it.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I’ve heard more than a few fans say they’d worry for the team chemistry and morale if the outcasts were now to walk back into the dressing room; that it’s too risky to challenge the newfound equilibrium by bringing these dissenters into the ranks.

I understand the place that concern comes from but in my opinion there is no chance of this brand of immature and unprofessional behaviour corrupting the equilibrium that seems to have manifested in that dressing room. It is not a thing a sulking child can break.

Lee Cattermole almost acts like a barometer for me in this - a player who I honestly believed could no longer have given two sh*ts about another season slogging it as a Sunderland player mere months ago. He is testament to the reforged camaraderie now present, and which has been missing through years of disaster.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that while stupidity can be explained away or even forgiven, ignorance really can’t be excused, and that’s precisely what Didier Ndong and his representatives are guilty of. It isn’t merely a difference of perspective or a lack of understanding or appreciation of both parties needs and circumstances, it’s a wanton and flagrant act of deliberate and willful ignorance by a contractually-obligated employee and his hangers-on.

I’ve tried to rationalise and understand but it has brought me to only one conclusion - Ndong’s actions as a player and a man are inexcusable.

The reality is that simply because of the almost extraordinary levels of short-sightedness in the application of employment law to the Football industry, I would wager that whatever legal battle Sunderland AFC engage in with both errant players results in very little by way of remunerations or satisfaction of any kind for either club or employee.

I think then that the truth is that things have become personal. The owners will not brook this degree of insult and will not be seen doing so, even if they have to fight to achieve that.

Whether you believe that business is reckless or principled, it’s important to bear in mind that often those two things come hand in hand. There’s no point in having principles if you aren’t willing to stand for them. If the owners believe they can make an example of these prats all power to them. We’ve got things to be getting on with, and the sooner this bad noise is behind us the sooner we can forge ahead.

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