Cats Eye View: Why Sunderland must keep hold of Didier Ndong and build the team around him

Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong battles his way past Hull left-back Andy Robertson on Saturday.
Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong battles his way past Hull left-back Andy Robertson on Saturday.
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When Sunderland splashed out £13.6million on the relatively-unknown Didier Ndong last summer, it’s fair to say it led to more than one raised eyebrow.

After a shaky start, Ndong settled into life on Wearside and has arguably been one of the most consistent performers over the past three months, Jordan Pickford aside.

Jermain Defoe finally ended his drought at the weekend, but he has been out-of-sorts since the 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace back in early February.

Ndong, 22, scored his only goal for Sunderland to date in that superb away display at Selhurst Park.

Some fans still don’t think he was worth the money splashed out on him and, for those, the jury remains firmly out.

But there is a growing appreciation in other quarters of what Ndong brings to the party.

He could yet prove a key player in Sunderland’s bid to win promotion from the Championship at the first time of asking next season.

Can Sunderland hold onto him this summer and build the side around him next term?

Sunderland are braced for a mass exodus.

Jermain Defoe, Jordan Pickford, Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini are among those expected to leave to help ease the wage bill and bring in some much-needed cash to reinvest in the squad.

Sunderland, though, will be keen to retain the services of Ndong with those in the corridors of power harbouring high hopes for the midfielder when they captured his signature.

Does his technique need to improve? Yes. He has only scored once and blazed high over the bar in the 2-2 draw against West Ham United last month when Sunderland needed him to score.

Ndong also gives the ball away too easily. But there is no doubt there is a player of huge potential there.

Plus, he doesn’t go missing in games. Ndong has character. He always wants the ball and looks to keep Sunderland moving, evident in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Hull City.

In a one-paced Sunderland team his energy and mobility make him stand out.

At the risk of going over old ground, it makes David Moyes’ decision to drop him for the games against Burnley and Watford even more inexplicable.

The 22-year-old Gabon international was soon back in the side.

Sunderland will need robust players next season, especially with so many Saturday-Tuesday fixtures to contend with in a busy Championship calendar.

Lee Cattermole is likely to remain on Wearside, but his injury record isn’t good, while fellow midfielder Darron Gibson hasn’t pulled up any trees since he arrived from Everton in January.

Jack Rodwell remains a huge disappointment.

Central midfield has been a big issue all season for Moyes, hampered by injuries to key players including Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff.

But Ndong’s injury record has been good since he arrived from Lorient, making 37 appearances for club and country this season, and he has been one of very few plus points this campaign.

Room for improvement? Without a doubt.

But provided they can afford to keep hold of him then Sunderland could do far worse than build their team around him next season.