BARELY a week into his Sunderland career and Alfred N’Diaye is being credited with galvanising the Black Cats and being a big influence on back-to-back league victories.
The £3.8million signing from Turkish side Bursaspor made his debut as a second-half substitute in the home win over West Ham, and his full debut at the weekend, playing the full 90 minutes at Wigan.
But while he was impressive in both outings, boss Martin O’Neill believes the simple fact of his signing has helped concentrate the minds of the rest of the squad.
“Since he has arrived, I honestly do feel that the competition for places in certain areas of the pitch has improved and that has had a useful knock-on effect on the rest of the team,” said the Sunderland manager.
“I think when a new player arrives, it can give other players a bit of a jolt because suddenly they are worried about losing their places for the next few weeks and it can give an extra sense of focus.”
There’s also probably the positive lift that players get when they see the squad is being strengthened and, on first impressions, that’s certainly what the 6ft 2in French Under-21 international has done for Sunderland.
“He’s a strong lad, really strong,” acknowledged O’Neill.
“And it’s not just that, he’s got ability too, he’s got vitality.
“He wants to improve and, when he gets to grips with the league, I think he’ll be a decent asset.
“He is very strong, but that is good for us because we’ve been short of a bit of physical presence on the pitch in the 13 months I have been here.
“And I think that when you do get bigger players in, they take care of duties that allow the smaller players to play.”
The good news is that although N’Diaye has made a good first impression, his new manager is confident that he will get better and better.
“I think there’s room for quite a bit of improvement,” said O’Neill.
“He’s only 22 years of age, remember.
“Once or twice, in his haste to play the quick ball, it went astray, but things like that will be fine.
“It was a terrific debut for him and, although his job was primarily to be in the centre, he found himself all over the pitch.
“I think that was his enthusiasm, but then that is no bad thing either.”