Right. Firstly, sorry about the title - one of them 'couldn't help myself' moments!
The much-travelled 26 year-old Frenchman’s free transfer to Sunderland had long been agreed, with confirmation on 01.07.2013 that he signs a three-year contract.
Valentin Roberge was born in Montreuil, which is a suburban area in Paris. As you would expect, he spent his youth career in his hometown which ended with Paris FC before moving to Guingamp. He would never make a senior appearance in France, despite catching the eye of French giants Paris-Saint Germain and moving back to his nation’s capital. Like his time at Guingamp, he would only make appearances at club ‘B’ level.
Roberge left France in search of first team football and found himself playing regularly for Greek side Aris in the Greece Superleague. His first season was successful, with many other European teams interested in the central defender. He had even agreed a move to Racing Santander, which unfortunately broke down. Such was the economic difficulties in Greece, Roberge would terminate his contract as Aris struggled to pay his wages – which paved the way for his move to Madeira based Maritimo.
Roberge never made a secret that he left his heart in France and felt aggrieved that clubs in his native country did not follow up any interest in him;
“Here, many compare my career to that of Aly Cissokho spent by Portugal before signing for Lyon. In France, many clubs say that I do not have enough experience, but I've played about 50 professional matches in front of over 40,000 spectators against Benfica, Olympiakos, Porto, Panathinaikos and PAOK Sporting ... facing forwards as Hulk, Recoba and Saviola.”
Despite being shunned by his home country, Roberge went on to make almost 100 appearances for Maritimo, including an Europa league campaign featuring two games against Newcastle United, before his moved to Wearside. Perhaps his lack of experience has been over blown. According to www.footmercato.net – he was widely regarding as one of the best central defenders in Portugal, and was credited with interest from giants FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon once it was made clear he would not be renewing his contract. In fact, Maritimo president Carlos Pereira was even quoted as saying “We cannot do anything. Sporting recognised [Roberge]” in early May 2013 – but Roberge chose Sunderland as his new club.
Pedro, a Maritimo fan who writes for Rumo Estrelato kindly took the time to tell us what he knows about Roberge from his time at Estádio dos Barreiros;
“In terms of strengths, I think Roberge is an aggressive player, and starts attacks with his good passing skills – he is also good in the air. As far as weaknesses, he is sometimes over aggressive, which harms you in some games. In the Premier League, football is much more physical and with a strong rhythm. I think he will adapt well because he is a tough player and has had experience in this year's Europa League. Roberge preferably plays as a central defender. He could possibly move to left-back but preferred position is central defence. I think it's a good signing for Sunderland and will be a player that will help the club achieve Premier League survival.”
We also spoke with two other Maritimo fans, and they also pointed out Roberge’s aggression and tendency to receive unnecessary bookings. Records suggest he would certainly miss a few games due to suspension should he regularly be in Di Canio’s starting lineup.
Clearly, Roberge is a very driven player. He has shown throughout his career unwillingness to accept playing second fiddle. The lad is obviously talented too, and represents a kind of central defender we are just not accustomed to watching at the Stadium of Light. Football is fast becoming a game where technique is essential all over the pitch - and this boy his it in abundance. Here is an excellent five minute video highlighting his technique and ability to read the game;
I am not sure whether Roberge will be pitted ahead of fellow new signing Modibo Diakite to partner John O’Shea in defence. His technical presence and no-nonsense approach to football does seem to be a perfect compliment to the Irishman. Key to Sunderland’s downfall over the last decade or so has been the inability to effectively begin attacks from defence – something that we know PDC is keen on.
It certainly isn’t nailed on and Diakite is surely favourite to start alongside O’Shea – but don’t be too surprised to see Roberge start the season should he impress in pre-season. I am certainly expecting him to play a bigger part in next season than maybe we originally expected.