If Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce needed his players to back him up when he was voicing his concerns over the hectic festive period and the naivety of the Premier League schedule that hosts a full round of mid-week fixtures after the third round of the FA Cup, then Yann M’Vila got the memo.
“It’s diabolical. We’re flogging the lads. There are more and more injuries every year but it’s completely ignored by the Premier League. It’s unbelievable,” he said and it was perhaps no surprise to read last week that M’Vila believes he is in need of a rest.
“Don’t give me stick when I change the side at Arsenal” said his manager, referring to Sunderland’s FA Cup engagement in London and although Allardyce could have named a weaker side for the 3-1 defeat at the Emirates, he did ring some changes to personnel. M’Vila however was yet again not spared, playing the last 30 minutes as he replaced Lee Cattermole.
The French midfielder has started every game for Sunderland since missing the opening day defeat at Leicester which came just two days after joining on a season-long loan from Rubin Kazan. He has missed just 34 minutes of football since starting against Norwich a week later, the club who provided the same opposition for an under-21 game in which M’Vila marked his first appearance in England by getting sent-off for head-butting Jamar Loza a few days earlier.
That incident gave an early view into the disciplinary issues that have dogged the recent years of M’Vila’s career, limiting him to just 12 appearances at Inter Milan last-term as manager Roberto Mancini terminated his loan spell early as he ran out of patience with the midfielder.
His exit from Kazan was preceded by a fallout with manager Rinat Bilyaletdinov who said M’Vila had “cockroaches in his mind”, coming after M’Vila went AWOL from Rubin’s winter-break training camp in Turkey, and when a mooted move to Dynamo Moscow fell through in the summer he trashed his apartment in the Russian capital before fleeing the country.
All this meant he had not been named in a match-day squad since January 6th of last year before Dick Advocaat offered him a chance to salvage his career in the north-east of England. Those lack of games in recent seasons have probably exacerbated the burnout he is now feeling.
“It’s the first time I’ve played over the Christmas period and I have to admit it’s difficult, because remember, before I came here I hadn’t played very much”, M’Vila said.
Questionable discipline and off-field controversy
M’Vila arrived at the Stadium of Light with a history that involved allegedly punching a 17-year old boy outside his home, being robbed by two prostitutes after he and a friend spent a night with them and his role in breaking a curfew in October 2012 when with France’s under-21s that saw him banned from the national side for 18 months, a period that included the 2014 World Cup.
To add a player with M’Vila’s questionable disciplinary record to a squad that already contained referee-notebook regular Lee Cattermole and Adam Johnson, who is still awaiting trial for child-sex charges, and was gearing up for a fourth straight relegation battle, was a calculated gamble by Advocaat who had not forgotten the vast talent the midfielder showed prior to his international ban.
Though he has not featured for them since, M’Vila had 22 senior caps for Les Blues by the age of 22 after representing France at all youth levels and was also named in Ligue 1’s Team of the Year for 2011, a season that saw him nominated for France’s Young Player of the Year which he was beaten to by Mamadou Sakho.
M’Vila would also feature in France’s Euro 2012 campaign.
Comparisons to French greats
There were comparisons to Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele before his career imploded and Advocaat challenged himself with attempting to pick up the pieces.
“He’s a good player, a controller and a quick, clever passer,” said the Dutchman who warned the midfielder over his behavioural problems before he quit as Sunderland’s coach at the start of October after the draw with West Ham, a game that M’Vila marked his class with two assists.
His successor has also signed up to M’Vila’s undoubted qualities and to his credit the Frenchman, after his violent start to life in England, has picked up just one booking, coming in a solid display in the win at Crystal Palace, since his debut.
Moments of recklessness have come like the last minute penalty he gave Southampton which they converted into a 0-1 win at the beginning of November, but he holds the highest amount of tackles in the squad, with 86, and leading in interceptions with 51, a figure that posts him sixth-highest in the Premier League.
Vital player to Sunderland
With Bayern Munich defender Jan Kirchhoff signed and the manager said to be eyeing up a few more additions to his defence in this January transfer window, Allardyce will be aware that M’Vila’s midfield solidity and tenacity is vital if Sunderland, with the highest amount of goals conceded in the league at the moment with 39, are to stop shipping goals and move themselves away from the relegation fight.
He is also handy with the ball, creating more chances than anybody else in the Sunderland squad with 28 and making almost 400 more passes than his nearest competitor in the side, left-back Patrick Van Aaaholt. With a pass completion rate of 83.4% he is Sunderland’s best retainer of the ball of those who have made 10 or more appearances.
Both Advocaat and Allardyce have failed to settle on a system for Sunderland to use regularly this term and between them they have used nine different formations across 20 league games. M’Vila is the consistent piece in that jigsaw however, appearing invariably alongside Cattermole or together with one of the five other partners he has been given in midfield so far this season.
Now M’Vila has seemingly ridded himself of the indiscipline that had dramatically stalled his progress in recent years, his class is beginning to toll once again, this time at the benefit of Sunderland and he will be pivotal in the Black Cats’ hopes of pulling off yet another great escape act.
“It’s true that I’ve begun to feel a bit tired over recent games, but the manager gave us a few days off,” he said last week, before eyeing another set of fixtures that packs three games into 10 days. Allardyce his planning on taking his team on a relaxing break in Dubai in February and M’Vila will be eyeing that up as one of the few members of Sunderland’s squad that deserves the luxury.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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