During Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ tenure as Sunderland owner, the club has signed eight French-speaking players for the first team. Some have fared better than others, but it is becoming a real theme in SAFC’s transfer dealings.
These young lads aren’t nobodies either; they have come to Sunderland with a good pedigree and great potential. Eight players with an average age of 19.8 (when they signed) and a total of 214 senior appearances show just how good a place Sunderland is for young players.
Abdoullah Ba, Edouard Michut, and Amad Diallo were all introduced to the fans at half-time in the 3-0 home win against Rotherham on August 31st, 2022, which also happened to be Tony Mowbray’s first game on Wearside. They were the first three ‘French-speaking’ players to sign for the club since Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji in 2016. The less said about those two, the better!
It’s taken Ba a while to find his feet in England, but this season, he has been a revelation and has already matched last season’s goals/assists tally. He was harshly denied a second assist when he fired the ball across to Bradley Dack against Southampton, with the goal being the result of multiple deflections. The winger is quick, very direct, and always looks to take on his defender. He is also one of the smoothest dribblers I have ever seen in a Sunderland shirt; he glides across the pitch with the ball at his feet. The 20-year-old still has work to do and is far from the finished article, but what a player Sunderland could have on their hands!
Michut is a player who divided the fanbase during his time at the club. The diminutive midfielder had arguably his best game in red and white against Premier League opposition - Fulham away in the FA Cup! The PSG loanee was tidy in possession and probably would have signed for Sunderland if Pierre Ekwah wasn’t as impressive in the last 10 or so games last season. He’s a good player, but I don’t think he would have ever made it in the English game.
Amad Diallo. Do I need to say more? The Ivorian shone in his loan spell from Man United, scoring 14 goals and assisting 3 in an exciting season for the winger. It wasn’t just the goals that made him a fan favourite on Wearside; his infectious personality and the way he embraced the fans really emphasised the ‘don’t fall in love with a loan player’ remark. The fanbase was heartbroken when he didn’t return this summer, and that’s not helped by how active he is on social media. January is only three months away...
Pierre Ekwah was the next Frenchman to enter the Academy of Light doors, and he’s the only player on this list who came to Sunderland without any senior appearances. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t arrive with excitement. This midfielder is precisely what Sunderland fans have been yearning for over the years. While U21 football had become a walk in the park for him, senior football was his next challenge. His slow start, and it was indeed very slow, has quickly been forgotten. Much like he’s done with Ba this season, Mowbray showed immense loyalty to Ekwah, keeping him in the team week after week, and it’s paying off now. He’s just as impressive off the pitch as he is on it, always doing his part for the Foundation of Light and catching Sunderland Women’s matches when they’re at home. Off the pitch, he reminds me a bit of O’Nien.
Ekwah has been incredible for the other French lads who cannot fully understand English yet, acting as a translator for the players and even for TM and his coaching staff. Mowbray, Adil Aouchiche, and Isaac Lihadji have all praised the 21-year-old for this.
Isaac Lihadji is arguably one of Kristjaan Speakman’s most notable ‘fails’ but also one of his biggest ‘wins’ so far as Sporting Director. Lihadji joined from Lille, having won the French Ligue 1 and played 28 games for ‘Les Dogues.’ He looked decent on his home debut against Reading last season but appeared notably weak and was never really given a fair chance to impress. To be fair, he left in the summer, joining Al-Duhail in Qatar, in a deal described by Speakman as one that created “immediate opportunities” in the transfer market. The fee hasn’t been disclosed yet, and rumors suggest a range between £3 million and £10 million (I’d lean towards the lower end of that range being more realistic).
French-born Spanish U18 international Eliezer Mayenda is one of the lesser-known signings on this list and unfortunately, he got injured in his first training session, so we’re still in the dark about how good he really is. Born in 2005, the striker played for FC Sochaux-Montbéliard last term and managed to score once. However, he couldn’t do enough to help his side avoid relegation and made the move from the East of France to the North East of England in July.
Similar to Édouard Michut, Timothee Pembele signed for the Lads from French giants Paris Saint Germain. Pembele spent the 2021/22 season on loan at Bordeaux and left a strong impression before suffering a torn ACL near the end of that season. He made his return to PSG and won the league last season, making his comeback in February during a match against Monaco.
Adil Aouchiche is the most experienced among the Frenchmen. He arrived at Sunderland with 83 senior appearances under his belt, including 1 for PSG, 71 for Saint-Étienne, and 11 for Lorient. In his brief appearances so far, ‘DubbleA,’ as he calls himself, has looked very promising and even managed to provide an assist on his debut against QPR. The 21-year-old boasts 48 appearances for France at the youth level, and while he’s still some way off from breaking into the senior team, Aouchiche will be eager to impress and catch the attention of his country if and when he becomes a Premier League player. Fans are eagerly anticipating his trademark celebration at the Stadium of Light, and judging by his performances so far, it won’t be long before they witness it.
We haven’t seen any of Mayenda or Pembélé yet, so we can’t judge them yet - but one unsuccessful out of six is good going for Louis-Dreyfus and Co.
I’m sure there’ll be more French lads through the door in the transfer windows to come and if they are anything like Pierre Ekwah, Abdoullah Ba or Amad Diallo, they are welcome!
Allez les Lads.