One almighty weight was lifted from the shoulders of Sunderland AFC last week when it was confirmed that Lamine Kone had finally left the club on a permanent basis following the culmination of his season-long loan with French Ligue 1 side Strasbourg.
On the back of a successful season back in France, where Kone won the French League Cup with Le Racing, the Ivory Coast international joined back up with his former loan side in a deal worth around €1.5m - a pittance when compared to the inflated fees Sunderland had been offered by Everton to sign Kone in the past, but a decent amount nonetheless that will go some way towards boosting the club’s coffers as we look to rebuild in the summer.
Whilst Kone proved himself as capable in the Premier League, he never truly showed the passion or application you’d traditionally associate with a successful Sunderland player and was, in the eyes of many supporters, seen as one of many players who were a root cause for the cancerous issues infecting the club with their toxic negativity and honking attitudes.
For whilst Kone was a regular fixture in the side that was relegated from both the top flight and the Championship, his behaviour when Everton showed serious interest in securing his services in the summer of 2016 left deep scars.
Sunderland supporters never forgave Kone for his attitude during that mini-fiasco, and he was often picked out as a scapegoat during some tough times and after some unforgivable team performances.
Rightly or wrongly, Kone was deemed as unworthy of the shirt and was pinpointed as one of the players who were dragging the club further and further backwards by contributing to a negative attitude in the dressing room.
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Très heureux de m’engager pour 2 saisons avec le Racing Club de Strasbourg. Hâte de découvrir la compétition européenne avec le maillot Bleu. @rcsa Je tiens à travers ce message à remercier Sunderland. Tout n’a pas été parfait durant ces années, mais j’ai été fier de porter ce maillot Rouge et Blanc, fier d’avoir aidé le club à rester une saison de plus en Premier League. Je ne garderai que les bons moments et pour cela je remercie le club, les employés et surtout les fans. Merci pour votre accueil Bonnes vacances à tous et à bientôt sur les terrains de foot. — Very happy to sign for 2 seasons with Strasbourg. Looking forward to discover the European competition with the blue jersey. I want to thank Sunderland through this message. It was not perfect during those years,but I was proud to wear this Red and White jersey, proud to have helped the club to stay one more season in the Premier League. I will only keep the good moments and for that I thank the club, the employees and especially the fans. Thank you for your welcome Happy holidays everyone and see you soon on the pitch. @sunderlandafcofficial
To me, he represents the last of a bad bunch to leave - the final player at the club who was brought in and demonstrated an attitude not befitting of the kind of footballer that Sunderland supporters want to see wear our shirt. Another player who, despite possessing more ability in his little toe than almost any other defender we’ve seen in League One this season, has a pea-sized heart and ultimately came to Sunderland for all the wrong reasons.
Don’t get me wrong - there were good times with Kone as part of our team. I loved that season under Big Sam where we pulled out all the stops from February onward as we escaped relegation and sent Newcastle down in the process.
Don’t forget, it was Kone who scored two of the goals in that final home game against Everton that saw us secure our survival. That was at a time when Allardyce had every player singing from the same hymn sheet, regardless of where they came from or who they were. He managed to foster a fantastic team spirit that was ultimately broken by his departure - one that saw Kone lurch rather quickly from being a fan favourite to one of the most despised players in the squad. As Big Sam left, so did the warmth within the club that allowed players like Kone to thrive.
And with Everton desperate to sign him, he made no secret of his desire to leave.
David Moyes ultimately put the brakes on his departure and, after a long and protracted saga that was played out through the media, Kone returned back to Sunderland with his tail between his legs.
He refused to play a game down at Southampton which led to Moyes being forced to change his lineup before kick off, famously faked a back injury and went about his business in the entirely wrong manner, which only led to the resentment from fans towards Kone intensifying.
When Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven arrived at Sunderland last summer they made no secret of their desire to rid the club of any players who were attempting to hold us back. Wahbi Khazri was allowed to join up St Etienne back in France, whilst a protracted legal saga ended with Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong being sacked.
Kone’s situation wasn’t quite as clear. While he did indeed leave the club late in the transfer window, it was only on a loan with a purchase option at the end should Strasbourg have chose to action it.
The deal suited Sunderland as Kone forgave the majority of his wages in order to facilitate the move, citing the need to move his family back to France as the main reason, but the truth was that should the move not have worked out he could well have been our problem again this summer.
Luckily, Strasbourg were eventually happy to stump up the cash (this after indicating through the French press that they weren’t going to take up their option to sign him) and Kone left us with some good memories in tow, but with a whole load of baggage and bad feeling stemming from some sh*tty attitude issues and having the gall to stamp all over the hearts of the supporters who genuinely believed that he loved playing for our football club.
Now he’s gone I feel its important to reflect and learn from the mini crisis that Sunderland suffered from in the aftermath of our back-to-back relegations from the Premier League and Championship.
No matter where we end up from here, no matter how quickly or slowly we progress, never again can this football club be seen as a place where mediocre players can land, picking up inflated pay packets before moving on as quickly and as disruptively as they can as we’re left to pick up the pieces.
The scars left from that era are deep and I have no doubt that we’ll be more careful in the future, in full knowledge that paying above what a player is worth to convince them to come here is not a plan for sustainability and long-term success.
Instead, we have to view signing a player like we do a personal relationship.
The connection between a player, the fans and a club are more important than we perhaps realised last time we were a top flight club, and whilst we can’t expect every single player that comes to Sunderland to ‘fall in love’ with us, we have to ensure that when we are signing them they are coming here because they realise just how huge an opportunity they have to play for a fantastic football club, and not because their fat-cat agents are just trying to bag themselves a pretty pay day whilst their clients pick up a massive weekly wage at the behest of the club’s moral standing.
So here’s to the future, where hopefully the likes of Lamine Kone shall never be seen again.