Sunderland trio shine in Serie A & Ligue 1

Could AC Milan’s Fabio Borini, Dijon’s Papy Djilobodji and Rennes’ Wahbi Khazri have helped guide crisis club Sunderland to Championship survival this season?

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(Photo credit: John Jones)

Sunderland have had a calamitous couple of seasons. 

Firstly, former manager David Moyes relieved the Wearside club of their Premier League status after ten years of stale mediocrity. Incredibly, though, the decline has not stopped.

Sunderland look likely to be playing their football in League One next season, for only the second time in the club’s 139 year history, with back-to-back relegations all but mathematically confirmed.

The club, now a laughing stock amongst football fans due to poor attendances and abject results, own three footballers playing in two of Europe’s top leagues, adding insult to injury for Mackems.

Without further adieu, here are Sunderland’s forgotten trio…

Fabio Borini – AC Milan

Out-on-loan striker Fabio Borini has proved his worth to European giants AC Milan in recent times. The Italian fired Gennaro Gattuso’s men into the last 16 of the Europa League as his side ran out 1-0 winners against Bulgarian champions PFC Ludogorets at the San Siro last month

The 26-year-old has struggled to nail down a starting position since Gattuso was named as manager of the Rossoneri in late November, but he has done plenty to impress his new boss having recently having scored in Serie A against S.P.A.L. Borini also netted two goals in a Europa League tie with Ludogorets before his side were eventually knocked out by Arsenal.

Fans of the Black Cats will be frustrated to see a player – who could have contributed to avoiding this season’s calamitous fall to bottom of the Championship – do so well for a high profile team plying their trade in the upper echelons of European football.

Papy Djilobodji – Dijon

At the Stadium of Light, Papy Djilobodji – signed from Premier League giants Chelsea for a fee believed to be at around £8 million – was part of a turgid David Moyes side who struggled to complete any of football’s fundamental’s effectively. The team were pitifully relegated to the Championship after a long, depressing season of struggle.

The Senegal international looked seriously out of his depth in his short stint in the cold North East, often proving too easy to turn, with his rash tackling leading many to describe Djilobodji as a liability. 

In the Premier League, Djilobodji was, more often than not, a red card waiting to happen.

However, since heading off to join up with French side Dijon on loan last summer, the former Werder Bremen player of the season has transformed his fortunes and turned his career around.

He’s regularly churned out stellar defensive displays – even forcing his way back into the Senegal setup, having been previously discounted by manager Aliou Cissé.

According to Senegalese football outlet foot221, 29-year-old Djilobodji has “seized his chance in the last two friendlies,” leaving a “good image” with his international gaffer.

In the press after Senegal’s recent fixtures against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Uzbekistan, Cissé was reportedly delighted with Sunderland’s loanee. He evaluated Djilobodji as a player of “quality” who possesses “talent”, further describing him as doing “very good things” whilst in the colours of Les Lions de la Téranga.

Though Djilobodji was undoubtedly awful whilst at Sunderland, it’d be fair to say the goals they’ve conceded throughout this season suggests that he could have been useful to Sunderland boss Chris Coleman, particularly as part of a back three.

The complete lack of athleticism in our current squad has been a large part of why we’ve struggled to beat even average teams, and aside from Paddy McNair and Lamine Kone, you’d be hard pushed to suggest just who else we have that is adept at handling themselves in physical situations.

Given Sunderland’s defensive woes against Sheffield Wednesday – and throughout this season – it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that Chris Coleman could have utilised Djilobodji’s strengths in the Championship this season had he been afforded the opportunity to do so.

Sunderland’s shambolic defensive unit has lead to the Lads conceding eighteen goals from set pieces this season – the joint highest in the Championship. Standing at 6’4″, Djilobodji may have provided some much-needed height and physicality to side that have leaked 72 league goals during the current campaign.

Wahbi Khazri – Rennes

Wahbi Khazri has continuingly turned in stellar performances whilst out on loan at Rennes in Ligue 1.

The 27-year-old has enjoyed a sublime season for the French side so far, netting 11 goals in 23 appearances in all competitions for the French side – including audacious efforts against top quality opposition in Olympique Marseillais and Olympique Lyon.

The former Bordeaux man has also shone at international level, against Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas no less, prompting the Guardian’s Paul Doyle to wax lyrical over the attacking midfielder’s talents:

Khazri scored the game’s only goal and generally revelled in the central striking role that he has recently been assigned by his country’s manager, Nabil Maâloul. 

A midfielder for most of his career, Khazri has flourished as a lone attacker since joining Rennes on loan from Sunderland last summer. His clever movement and tidy interplay with Tunisia’s fleet of technically deft midfielders made him a constant menace.

Khazri’s fine form has seen him earn praise from many quarters of the French media in recent weeks. Ex-Marseille manager Franck Passi spoke at great length on French TV about his desire for his former club to sign Khazri at the end of the current season, whilst respected outlet L’Equipe singled out the man signed by Sam Allardyce for recognition.

With no purchase option upon the completion of Khazri’s deal, it is entirely possible he could end up returning to the Stadium of Light in the summer – for a short time at least.

But, the question we should be asking is why was a player with such obvious quality and goal-scoring ability allowed to leave on loan in the first place? 

If chairman Ellis Short and chief executive Martin Bain were genuine in their ambition to propel Sunderland back into the Premier League, then surely a player so influential in a top European league could have been convinced to stay and help the fight in the Championship.

In their piece, L’equipe also reveal that Sunderland heavily subsidises Khazri’s wages – which begs another infuriating question – if Khazri remains on the payroll, then why loan him out at all?

Do you think this trio could have saved Sunderland from the drop? Let us know by commenting below.

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