Ki Sung Yueng, Danny Rose, Fabio Borini. What do they have in common? They’re all loan players i’ve fallen for, who’ve later gone on to break my heart (until Fabio saw sense, anyway). I’ve even allowed myself to become infatuated with the more enigmatic temporary signings, such as Djibril Cisse and Nicklas Bendtner, but their relationship with us was always going to be a one that burnt out pretty quickly. I’d sworn to myself that i’d never let another loan player get under my skin, that was before Yann M’Vila walked in though.
M’Vila embodies everything i love in a Sunderland player. He’s committed, enthusiastic, skilful and a bit crazy. When he first signed for Sunderland he had a great reputation on the pitch but a very questionable on off it. By the age of 22, Yann had already gained 22 full international caps for the French national side and even made the preliminary squad for the 2010 World Cup. Playing regularly for Rennes, he looked like he had a glittering career ahead of him but things started to take a turn. In November 2012, the Frenchman received a two year ban from the national side after going on an unsolicited night out in Paris, with a group of players that included Antoine Griezmann (now of Atletico Madrid) while on Under 21 duty.
At club level, things were equally as rocky. During the January transfer window of 2013, M’Vila was sold to Ruben Kazan but didn’t enjoy the best of times in Russia. After going missing and not reporting for a winter training camp during the 2013-14 season, things started to fall apart for M’Vila at his new club. Inter Milan offered him a lifeline by taking him on loan for the entirety of the 2014-15 season but it was to be another failure as the loan was terminated in January, after he made a mere 8 appearances.
It was expected that M’Vila would return to Russia and sign for Dynamo Moscow, after he spent a period training with the club. In typical M’Vila style, things took another dramatic turn though. Dynamo accused M’vila of “ransacking” the accommodation that the club had provided for him during his stay in Moscow. This lead to him fleeing his home to stay with fellow Frenchman William Vainqueur, bringing with him an axe for protection as he feared that Dynamo were sending people after him. Whether he’s brought that axe with him to Sunderland is unknown.
It was after the fall out in Moscow that Sunderland and M’Vila came together. Sunderland were desperate for another central midfielder, as the beginning of the Premier League season drew nearer, and M’Vila was now desperate to prove that he wasn’t a basket case and that he had the ability to become a top level midfielder. A loan deal was struck with many thinking it would merely be a move where M’Vila comes to Sunderland to prove himself and put himself in the shop window. Arsenal and Tottenham had been heavily linked with him and both would be eager to see if he’d matured.
During his time on Wearside, he certainly looks like becoming the player he promised to be. After getting sent off for a headbutt whilst playing for Sunderland’s Under 21 side, many supporters groaned at the thought of another failed scouting mission and M’Vila himself probably thought he was in for another failed attempt at redemption. He hasn’t been the hothead that many may have thought though and has arguably been our best player this season.
The stats back up how big M’Vila’s influence has been. With the joint highest average tackles per game (3.2) and highest average interceptions per game (2.8) it shows how much protection he’s offered to the defence. For a supposed defensive midfielder, he’s made a good contribution going forward as well. M’Vila may only have one Sunderland goal to his name, scoring a well executed free kick away to Aston Villa, but he has three assists (second highest in the side) and makes an average of 1.2 key passes per game (third highest). It underlines the big contribution that he’s made since his arrival as he displays the attributes of a midfielder who contributes at both ends of the pitch, which Sunderland have been desperate for, for years.
If anyone was still worried about him being a bit of a “radgie” then only one yellow card, no sendings off and a minuscule fouls average of 0.6 per games should ease those worries. The only display of M’Vila losing his head, so far this season, was when he dived into badly timed against Southampton which lead to him giving away a penalty and cost Sunderland the game.
Before the Southampton game, Yann just turned in some excellent performances during the draw at home to West Ham and in the derby victory over Newcastle. He recovered from his mistake against The Saints by putting in instrumental performances in back to back wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke City, making that mistake look like a mere blip. During the heavy fixture congestion between December and January, M’Vila spoke about how tired such a quick run of games had left him but he never relented, despite some criticisms over a dip in form. There may have been some games where he wasn’t up to his usual standard but he still committed everything he had to every game, despite his tired legs.
Since Sunderland started playing Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Yann M’Vila as a midfield three, it’s lead not just to better performances from Sunderland but a return to the usual high standard we’ve been used to from M’Vila. It makes you think that when M’Vila is on song it goes hand in hand with a good performance from Sunderland overall, which is no surprise given that he operates in a key area.
It’s not just on the pitch where the midfielder has impressed though, he’s made a good connection with the supporters. When we beat Newcastle 3-0, you could see in his celebrations that he understood what it meant as he cheered down a TV cameras lens. After the aforementioned wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke City he threw his shirt into the crowd and, after the Stoke win, saluted the South Stand in the style that is often seen from German clubs such as Borussia Dortmund (or when Liverpool drew at home with West Brom that time). We saw him connecting with the supporters again after the recent win over Manchester United. M’Vila lead to players that remained on the pitch, into the centre circle to acknowledge the support in all areas of the Stadium of Light. Throwing his arms into the air, you could see how delighted he was with the win and how fired up he was from the atmosphere in the stadium.
M’Vila has proved to Sunderland, and himself, that he’s capable at this level but what will become of him in the summer? In recent interviews, he’s expressed how he’d like to continue his stint on Wearside but he’s hardly going to say anything different, is he? A cynic could even suggest that it’s just to make sure that the big boys get their act together and come knocking for him, as he certainly looks like he could be playing in the top six. Maybe though, just maybe, he loves it here. Maybe he likes being the “big fish in the small pond” so to speak.
I want to believe you when you say you want to stay, Yann. I really do. Like i say, i’ve been hurt before. Us Sunderland supporters just can’t help falling in love though.