Papy Djilobodji spent last summer being generally laughed at and was waved au revoir with a 'don't come back' when he departed the Stadium of Light for Ligue 1 in August. Now the Senegalese defender is preparing to spend this summer at the World Cup. How the hell did that happen?
Sunderland defender Papy Djilobodji has been cautiously telling the media in France that he's ready to play for Senegal at this summer's World Cup after earning a recall from the international wilderness in the build up to Russia 2018.
Not a soul on Wearside shed a tear when the 29-year-old left Sunderland last August to sign on loan for FCO Dijon. After a dire season in the Premier League, Djilobodji was held up as the embodiment of the Black Cats appalling transfer track record as supporters pondered who on earth would hand Chelsea a cool £8m in return for the defender.
In a succession of low points whilst at Sunderland, Papy's plummet from grace seemed complete when he turned out at Eppleton last August in an U23 game against Tottenham and - to put it blunty - showed himself up in a shocking, chaotic, comedic performance.
Looking back, some pondered that such a display was surely a fit of pique from a player looking to force through an exit from the Stadium of Light, but that may have been to underestimate the centre back's potential for self-imposed disaster.
Sent off for a lunge he didn't need to make, in the 89th minute, as Sunderland coasted to a rare 3-0 win over Hull in November 2016, Papy was then banned for violent conduct the following January. It was hardly the first time Djilobodji had done a stupid thing.
In March 2015, Papy had caused consternation in Germany by performing a throat-slitting gesture at an opponent in a game in which he turned out for Werder Bremen against Mainz. He received a three-match ban on that occasion and was forced to issue an apology.
But if ever there was proof of how a career can be rehabilitated by escaping Sunderland, Djilobodji is it. Now back in the Senegal set-up after a three-year absence, the Black Cats-owned centre back has been daring to dream he'll make the plane for Russia. 'Our' Papy has been explaining to Dijon's official website what his international coach Aliou Cisse has told him about his chances:
Djilobodji won't be the only Sunderland man to be at the global competition of course. Wahbi Khazri and Bryan Oviedo are also expected to be in Russia, though all three could well have been sold by the time the World Cup kicks off on 14th June.
"What he expects of me is to set a good example, help the country as it has already done in qualifying for the World Cup. It does not mean that I will be at the World Cup. There is still a lot of time. But we have to work physically and mentally. The world tournament is in my head since a long time, since I was small. I did not have to wait for this qualification to say it."
The summer transfer window will be open earlier than ever - in mid-May - to accommodate the decision to close it sooner than previous years - before the season starts. Regardless of which league Sunderland are in next term, few would bet on the registrations of the Black Cats' potential World Cup-bound trio remaining at the Stadium of Light come June.