Despite the fact that he’s still a hugely popular figure among our fanbase, I’ve always had a slightly ambivalent relationship with Yann M’Vila and his time at Sunderland, but it’s certainly not because of the player himself.
Instead, it’s more to do with how the picture looked at the Stadium of Light when he last played for us, which feels like a lifetime away. Since then, we’ve fallen spectacularly, bottomed out, and slowly started to rise again, and the seven-year gap feels a hell of a lot bigger than it is.
The man himself was always a classy operator in a red and white shirt, with his athleticism, strength and prowess on the ball shining like a beacon, and there’s no doubt that he represented a very rare success story during the dying embers of our most recent top flight stint.
His range of passing was superb, he was rarely outmatched in the physical duels, and he really seemed to embrace the challenge of playing for Sunderland.
When Dick Advocaat was replaced by Sam Allardyce in 2015/2016, M’Vila came into his own with a series of exceptional performances as Premier League survival was eventually secured. As the old saying goes, he was very much an ‘Allardyce player’, and it was a match made in heaven at the time.
On the other hand, the club’s downward slide subsequently began to pick up speed shortly afterwards, and the forlorn pursuit of the midfielder (emotional Instagram posts and all) during the summer of 2016 was possibly an unnecessary distraction as we tried to move from the Allardyce’s stewardship into the David Moyes era, which ended in disaster the following May.
Still, even as we attempted to move forward and the landscape changed, the love for M’Vila lingered, and so there was a familiar sense of excitement when he was linked with a Wearside return over the weekend.
Ourselves and West Bromwich Albion were the rumoured suitors, with Carlos Corberan familiar with the midfielder from their time in Greece, and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ French connections seemingly coming in handy once again as we apparently consider the possibility of adding another body in a key area.
Could the dream reunion eventually come to pass? Could the fans’ favourite don the red and white stripes for the first time in seven years and play a role in helping us to mount another top six challenge?
At thirty three, you suspect that M’Vila will easily have enough left in the tank to be a formidable force at this level, and there’s no doubt that he’d also add some of that much coveted quality: experience. His class and pedigree are in no doubt, and he’d immediately become a senior figure within the squad.
So, all things considered, could it happen? Personally, I’d be staggered if it did, even though a Roker Report poll resulted in an overwhelming ‘Yes’ when the question of bringing him back was posed.
Even though this wouldn’t be a Jermain Defoe ‘One Last Dance’-type signing, it does feel like only a remarkable turn of events would see M’Vila unveiled for a second time, but this is Sunderland after all, so you can’t rule anything out!
In the first instance, it would cover off an area of weakness that can’t be overlooked and could potentially be crucial to our hopes this season. A glance at our current squad shows impressive strength in depth in most areas, except for midfield.
Yes, Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah have formed a tremendously exciting partnership in the engine room, but with Corry Evans and Jay Matete still some way from a return and Jobe’s workload clearly needing to be managed, a lack of depth in the middle is apparent, and M’Vila’s return would certainly go some way to addressing that.
A midfield trio of Neil, Ekwah and M’Vila is the sort of fantasy football scenario that most coaches at this level would give anything to be able to choose from, and M’Vila’s attributes would surely appeal to Tony Mowbray just as they did to Allardyce.
On the other hand, when you consider issues such as wages and a possibly limited amount of playing time, this is where the romance is replaced by realism.
Would M’Vila potentially attempt to command a wage that we simply aren’t willing to pay under our current structure? Would he be reluctant to rejoin the club unless he felt he’d be a first choice pick and not expected to fit into a system of rotation?
These aren’t unreasonable issues to consider, and that’s where it starts to feel like a slightly more remote possibility.
At the moment, Sunderland aren’t really in the business of buying big names. Instead, we’re in the business of investing in and nurturing talent and hopefully turning them into big names through high-quality coaching and regular game time in senior football.
M’Vila definitely fits into the former category, but if we did take the plunge and ‘bring him home’ as so many supporters have demanded, we’d be venturing outside of the model for a seriously talented footballer.