Sunderland AFC have signed another new striker! The bad news is he’s already injured. That said, hopefully it won’t be too long before we see him action so in readiness we spoke with French football expert Jeremy Smith to get the inside track.
WMS: Sunderland have signed 18-year-old forward Eliezer Mayenda. What can you tell us about his time at Sochaux and what was his reputation like in France?
JS: Sochaux (who have always had a very good youth set-up) spotted him and brought him in at 14 and he made his first first-team appearance at 16 (replacing Jeremy Menez as their youngest ever player), which indicates that he is very highly thought of within the club.
He made a few substitute appearances and one last season – Sochaux were fighting for promotion until late into the season so on the one hand you could say it’s not surprising they didn’t rely too much on a 16-year-old; on the other it’s to his credit that he still managed to impress enough to be given chances.
He signed a new contract in March this year which also shows that the club were thinking that he has a positive future – whether for them or in terms of sell-on value. It’s hard to talk of reputation in France in general – most Ligue 1 teams struggle with PSG and Marseille for exposure, let alone Ligue 2 clubs, and the fact that he is a Spain, rather than France, youth international means he doesn’t get that little bit of extra press coverage that France’s youth teams receive.
WMS: The deal is reportedly worth just over €1m and includes 25% of a future sale. Have you heard anything about the terms of the deal and do you consider it a fair deal in today’s market?
JS: That’s the terms quoted in L’Equipe (France’s sports daily). It sounds fair to me – French clubs usually try to get a bit over the odds from English clubs, but Sochaux desperately need the money and that is a pretty high future sale percentage – makes sense to bank on the fact that his next move could be for a much higher fee.
WMS: Sochaux are reportedly in some financial difficulties and are required to offload their biggest assets. Was Mayenda considered as such?
JS: They’re in serious trouble and very close to bankruptcy, which would be tragic for one of France’s most historic clubs. Like so many French clubs, their main model recently has been producing young talents to sell on for a profit (Marcus Thuram is an obvious recent one that springs to mind) and Mayenda was definitely one of two to three players who broke through last season as big prospects, either on the pitch or as money-makers.
WMS: It’s fair to say he’s an inexperienced player but what type of forward is he? A typical No9, more of a poacher perhaps or can he play several roles?
JS: As you say – hard to say too much about someone with less than 5 hours’ professional football to his name. But he looks to have a lot of the raw skills you’d want in a striker. Tall and strong, he looks excellent with his back to goal, holding the ball up and either laying it off or turning his man. He plays down the centre but is comfortable drifting wide, mainly to the right, in order to cut in with his stronger left foot.
He is quick and has good close control too. His one first team goal so far showed a few things you’d like to see – anticipation and speed to pounce on a defensive mistake and a very calm, accomplished finish from the edge of the area with his weaker foot. Like many strikers coming from France, his aerial game will need a lot of work.
WMS: Sunderland are lacking centre forwards at the moment with just 19-year-old Hemir fit and available. Once he is over the hamstring injury there may be an expectation from some that Mayenda will immediately compete for a place in the XI. How far away is he from realistically being ready?
JS: That depends on how quickly he acclimatises to a new country, language, culture (footballing as well as general). He has the skills and temperament but he wasn’t yet a regular for a Ligue 2 team – the Championship is a big step up and while he can probably compete for the first team squad, it would be unfair to put too much pressure on him to immediately break through and become a regular goalscorer.
WMS: with the caveat that he hasn’t played much football, what do you think his ultimate potential is?
JS: The fact that he’s a Spanish youth international is already a great sign of his ability. Likewise that he broke into a professional team so young. There are no glaring weaknesses to his game at this stage. So if he can hone all his natural skills and work hard, he can become a very good player. And he certainly has the profile to do well in England. At this stage it’s hard to say more than that.
WMS: Sunderland’s style of play is very attacking with quick interplay between the forward thinking players and, when a striker is fit, we typically play with one centre forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation. How is he likely to fit within this?
JS: With his hold-up ability but also his comfort on the ball, I think he would be able to play up front on his own or wide in the line of three. His one-touch lay offs and spinning of his marker should keep the opposition guessing and keep attacking moves going at speed.
WMS: What would you say are his key attributes and what areas of his game does he still need to work on?
JS: At this stage his strength is a plus, which allows him to outmuscle opponents and to look after himself. He seems very composed on the ball. In terms of areas to work on, I’d say heading and – dare I say it for a striker – even at youth level he wasn’t prolific in terms purely of putting the ball in the back of the net. Hard to judge on a handful of games though.
WMS: How do you think he will adapt to life in the second tier of English football?
JS: So hard to say with so many variables, but I think he has the profile to succeed in the physical environment of English football and the most competitive division in the world (in my opinion). It’s all about how he settles and the support and patience that he is given. He is really still a kid, after all.
WMS: Is this a good signing for Sunderland?
JS: Potentially very much so but see all of the above – I am not sure that too much should be expected of him this season!
You can find Jeremy Smith on Twitter.