Sam Allardyce is known for his shrewd forays into the transfer market. He found a real gem in January in the form of Jan Kirchhoff.
Kirchhoff has been utilised as a holding midfielder since signing for £750,000 from Bayern Munich in January, and has been consistently fantastic in that position. He is not a flair player, but keeps his head down, works hard, and gets on with the game. Since his arrival, the stats bear witness to his skill: he's made more tackles and had more touches than anyone else in the team.
His arrival has taken a lot of pressure off an often overworked back four, with the German able to act as a third centre-back when required. He also has attacking skill, though: a frequently overlooked part of his game is his ability to ping the ball to any part of the pitch. He's also strong in the air offensively and defensively; he knows how to make the most of his 6 foot 5 frame to make any opponent's task that much harder.
When discussing Kirchhoff, the elephant in the room is his disastrous debut against Tottenham. With the game poised at 1-1 after an hour, Kirchhoff came on for his first appearance for SAFC. One minute later, he was all over the place as Mousa Dembele fired Spurs in front. He then turned his back on a Christian Eriksen effort which deflected off him and into the net for 3-1. To cap off this horror story, he hacked down Danny Rose in the box, conceding a penalty which was promptly converted.
4-1 then, and Kirchhoff came in for a storm of criticism from all quarters. Some, not entirely unfairly, called his debut the worst in Premier League history. But Sam Allardyce refused to be drawn into it. He said that he should be blamed for Kirchhoff's dismal performance, having played him when he wasn't ready for the Premier League. He would be proven right, as the defender put his White Hart Lane experience behind him to become one of the first names on the Sunderland team sheet.
Lesser players would have gone to pieces in the wake of that debut. Not Kirchhoff, and not with Sam Allardyce in charge. Allardyce knew he had unearthed a quality player who needed time to adjust to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. Sam followed his opinion, not anyone else's, and his judgement has shown through. As well as showing the character to bounce back from his display against Spurs, Kirchhoff brings a robust, stabilising presence to this team and works his socks off every game. He's a real engine room, in a style that we haven't seen since Alex Rae, and he will never give less than 100% commitment.
Whatever Allardyce is aiming for next season, it's already certain that Kirchhoff will be a key part of it. He's been growing into his role more and more in every game, and no-one will be looking forward to going up against him. With his commitment and dedication, and questions over the future of Lee Cattermole, could the big German even be future captain material? I wouldn't count against him. He makes the team tick, and is an inspiring presence in our midfield. Look out for him to be one of our stars of the season.
WAW Reader's Score - 6.95
Despite only on Wearside since January, Kirchhoff managed to scoop 3rd place in your votes for the season. The score is calculated by averaging each vote from every match, no doubt his average was brought down significantly by his debut. Who did you rate higher? Stick around to find out!