Why international recall for major flop could offer financial hope to Sunderland this summer
World Cup squads are being finalised and if you are looking for a team that could cause a shock, Senegal look a good bet.
They have a relatively favourable group draw and a solid squad, bolstered by some genuinely world-class talent.
At centre-back is the outstanding Kalidou Koulibaly, quite sensational for Napoli this season, and their frontline will feature the explosive Sadio Mane and Monaco’s Keita Balde.
One of their few problem positions is the left-sided centre-back and. to that end, they have been greatly encouraged by the return of Sunderland’s Papy Djilobodji.
Djilobodji was exiled from the set-up after falling out with former Portsmouth midfielder and current national team boss Aliou Cisse, but has returned for the last two friendlies and slooks set to head for the world’s biggest tournament oin Russia next month.
Sunderland will hope for a string of good showings from the 29-year-old.
When Stewart Donald and his consortium take over the club, one of their first tasks will be to bring down an alarming wage bill, clearing space and funds to build a side capable of winning League One next year.
Some players will easily be moved on.
Wahbi Khazri, for example, will be near the top of any wishlist for Ligue 1 sides who lose their attacking talents this summer.
Should Donald decide to move on any of the club’s younger prospects to cut costs, there will be plenty of takers.
Some names, however, will jump out off the page as having the potential to pose a big problem financially.
These are the players from the Premier League era who saw their wages cut last summer but will not be hit this time around. With Sunderland’s revenue declining rapidly, by staying on Wearside they could eat up the kind of money that could secure three or four top League One players.
Djilobodji sits firmly in that category. After a wretched spell at Watford, Didier Ndong is another.
Last summer, Jeremain Lens and Fabio Borini were loaned out on deals that were relatively favourable to the club. Their wages were covered and the loans were structured in such a way that the prospect of either returning to Wearside was virtually non-existent.
Khazri and Djilobodji were slightly different, moving on loan to Rennes and Dijon respectively as former boss Simon Grayson tried to build around players who wanted to be at the club.
L’Equipe reported earlier this season that the Black Cats were subsidising the pair’s wages to the tune of £30,000 a month.
In offloading Khazri, Sunderland should have few issues. His wages are astronimical for League One, but for a top-six French club recruiting an attacking midfielder, they are manageable.
Djilobodji is a more complicated case.
His time on Wearside has been an unmitigated disaster.
At Premier League level, he was out of his depth, though he was not helped by the collapse in form of Lamine Kone and Patrick van Aanholt either side of him.
More worryingly, he fared little better at a lower level, woeful in a League Cup appearance at Carlisle United last August.
At Dijon, he has been a regular and earned plenty of praise, something which may prove to be Sunderland’s saving grace.
In France, he has a reputation as a reliable, athletic defender, built during five consistent years at Nantes and reinforced in the past season.
After a good stint on loan at Werder Bremen before he moved to Wearside from Chelsea, it seems certain that there will be interest in his services on the continent, where his stock is much higher than in the UK.
Last summer, Besiktas were thought to be considering a move for Djilobodji, after recruiting Sunderland’s Jeremain Lens, before deciding against it.
The question is whether the standard of club interested will have the financial means to take on the kind on the kind of contract that Djilobodji currently holds. Both club and player will know that they may have to make a compromise.
A good World Cup, however, could make all the difference.
Senegal are likely to have a few extra supporters on Wearside.