Just six months after arriving on Wearside, Alfie N’Diaye is seemingly set to move back to Turkey as Süper Lig’s Eskişehirspor close in on the central midfielder. Paolo Di Canio was spoilt for choice last season in centre midfield, albeit a choice between particularly average performing players. Focusing purely on N’Diaye as a player – should Sunderland be trying harder to keep a hold of the former France Under 21 player?
Let’s start with statistics. As a more defence minded midfielder, N’Diaye does make a few challenges. This part of his game does not make for particularly fond reading as he averaged nearly two fouls every three tackles last season. As you would expect, his offensive contributions are fairly minimal and ineffective with no goals or assists to his name after sixteen appearances. His passing does read more favourably with a success rate of nearly 81%. So perhaps statistically he has not done a great deal to earn more effort in retaining his services. Those stats were taken from the excellent Who Scored.
Most of the time, statistics do not tell the whole story – and that is certainly the case here. One thing that struck me most about N’Diaye was not his skill. I could throw the near cringe worthy defence of him that he gives 100% which, whilst admirable, really should be the minimum we expect of footballers. I was more impressed with the positivity he brought to our play. Often, whilst others sat back, it would be big Alfie dragging us forward collectively as a team. That is quite important, especially in such a negative side and should be underrated. When seeing his name on the team sheet, you felt a warm sense that there would be no huge blunders and that maybe we would try to attack the opposition – something fellow midfielders David Vaughan, Jack Colback or Craig Gardner rarely offered. His partnership with Sebastian Larsson, particularly after Di Canio’s arrival, was beginning to blossom – and suddenly central midfield was not the enormous problem it was midway through the campaign. He is like a big, reassuring hug.
The arrival of Champions League experience through Cabral has potentially put the mockers on N’Diaye retaining a first team spot. Whilst Di Canio has expressed his admiration of Bayern Munich’s style of play, N’Diaye is no Schweinsteiger and if this is the style we are heading towards – perhaps N’Diaye is a round peg for the square hole.
The decision to sell such a young player, after just six months, who has shown glimpses of class and certain (if not spectacular) potential stinks a little bit. Surrounding a player like N’Diaye with the higher calibre of player we are busy piling into the club, and indeed in his own position, surely can only drive him forward. With many of our midfield options rumoured with moves away from the club, we could find ourselves very scarce in that position. Colback, Gardner, Larsson and Cattermole have all been linked with moves away, if they leave along with N’Diaye that leaves us needing at least two or even three midfielders to bulk up the squad.
So what about the player’s desire to leave? There has been nothing concrete to suggest why this potential transfer has come about, but to me there are only two realistic options. Either Di Canio has told him he is not part of his plans – or N’Diaye simply does not like it here. Why else would a player move to a poorer Turkish team than the one he joined from?
Alfie certainly splits the Sunderland fans. We have read plenty of support and plenty of criticism of him over the six months he has been here. I personally will be sad to see him go and think it is a poor decision. Though I think I should finish by pointing out that he has extremely replaceable, I do not think there is too much cause for concern in terms of the talent in our squad. And I, N'Diaye, will always love you.
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