Didier Ndong on Sunderland's survival push, adapting to the Premier League and learning the language

Didier Ndong was thrust into the deadline day spotlight when Sunderland made him their record signing.

Thursday, 8th December 2016, 9:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 12:32 pm

A club record £13.6million fee was spent on the 22-year-old midfielder, who was thrown straight into the Premier League deep end at the Stadium of Light.

He made his debut as a second-half sub in the 3-0 humbling by Everton in front of the Sky cameras, the game already over by the time he entered the action.

Ndong has been an ever-present ever since, having to adapt to the intensity of the top flight quickly.

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Injuries to Jan Kirchhoff, now fit again, and Lee Cattermole left a gaping hole in the Sunderland midfield, one Ndong has helped to fill.

Not that Ndong lacks confidence. Cool, calm and confident in his own ability as he speaks to the press at the Academy of Light.

“People like Kirchhoff and Cattermole are very good players who have played a lot of games in the Premier League,” Ndong told the Echo.

“But when the manager asked me to come here, it was because he had seen me playing and thought I could do a good job.

“I have a lot of respect for the players who were out, but when you are recruited, you are recruited to play.

“I have played 67 matches in the French championship and there is a lot of competition over there, so you have to play at a high standard all the time.

“That is what the manager sees in you, and that is why they want you to play in the matches.”

It was a tough start for Ndong and his new team-mates with Sunderland going 10 league games without tasting victory.

He knew what he was getting involved in, though, with Ndong one of 10 new summer signings, along with new manager David Moyes.

Ndong said: “Do I feel the pressure when I see that my team is not winning? Not really, in terms of Sunderland, because I knew what I was getting into.

“I knew the manager had just changed and there had been quite a few transfers, so I knew it was going to be difficult, but I was never worried.

“There are people like John O’Shea, Jermain Defoe and Steven Pienaar with experience of playing for some of the top, top teams in the Premier League.

“That’s why we were able to stay cool. We have made a comeback, but what really shows where the difference lies is the professionalism in terms of being able to keep it up for a long run.

“We know we are not going to be able to win all the games, but I think keeping cool and carrying on is the way to go.”

There has certainly been a sea change in the mood since Sunderland beat Bournemouth, Hull City and Leicester City in the last month.

“The atmosphere has changed, but that is football. When things are going well, everything is good. When you are not winning, everything is different,” added Ndong.

“That is just football, it is normal. It is a competitive sport, so it is all about winning.

“We did not have a great start, but things are definitely getting better.”

French-speaking Ndong is having English lessons in a bid to overcome the language barrier and Lamine Kone, who played with Ndong at Lorient before joining Sunderland, has been helping him settle in.

“I think the only difficulty is the English language,” added Ndong.

“That has probably been the hardest part of being over here.

“I hope to be able to speak English properly in six or seven months’ time since I’m practising with a teacher.

“I don’t have a problem with listening to the manager because he does not speak too fast and I am able to understand.

“It’s the same when John O’Shea speaks to me – my comprehension of what he says is good.

“It is good to have Lamine, but it is not just him.

“There is also Adnan [Januzaj] and Jason [Denayer] who can speak French very well too.

“They are able to give me a bit of a hand with the translation, but generally I do not have an issue because I am able to understand things OK.”