Cats Eye View: Why Didier Ndong would be the hardest player for Sunderland to replace

Didier Ndong in action against Leeds
Didier Ndong in action against Leeds
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Didier Ndong was one of the few players to have emerged from last season’s relegation with any credit.

Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe the others but they have since moved on to pastures new.

Didier Ndong in action for Sunderland.

Didier Ndong in action for Sunderland.

Ndong, who Sunderland forked out a club record £13.6million for, remains on Wearside and has hit the ground running this season – in every sense of the word.

The 23-year-old had no experience of British football when he arrived from Lorient.

Inevitably it took him time to find his feet in the Premier League, were the pressure is intense and unforgiving.

After a shaky start, in which David Moyes likened his early form to a rollercoaster given it was so up and down, Ndong did settle and became an integral player in a struggling side.

Promise and potental in abundance, he was given English lessons to help him settle quickly.

Ndong rarely grabs the headlines but his influence on this Sunderland side shouldn’t be underestimated. Granted we’re only five games in but the Gabon international has played every single minute so far.

He has taken to the second tier seamlessly.

Always looking for the ball, he gives Sunderland options, athleticism and legs in the centre of midfield.

Skipper Lee Cattermole brings the bite, the leadership, the competitive edge and the pair compliment each other. Against Leeds, Ndong was one of the few positives.

His passing can still frustrate and he could have done more to help prevent the second goal but his willingness to want the ball and get Sunderland moving always catches the eye.

He’s fond of a tackle too and intercepting play – he averages 4.5 tackles a game and 3.5 interceptions.

The demanding schedule hasn’t seemed to have affected Ndong, who can run all day.

As Simon Grayson has stressed, Sunderland are vulnerable to bids for their star players before August 31. Lamine Kone has been widely expected to leave but as yet there have been no bids for him or Wahbi Khazri.

Interest from Lyon in Ndong emerged last week and even though he isn’t their number one target, it should be a cause for concern.

Of the saleable assets, Ndong would be the biggest miss from this Sunderland side.

Khazri shone in the relegation battle under Sam Allardyce but hasn’t been able to hit the same heights since, though he will argue he hasn’t been given the opportunity.

With Aiden McGeady in his position, Khazri faces an extended run on the bench in the league and while on his day Kone is one of the best defenders in the Championship, his form has been erratic and well-connected Grayson will have suitable replacements lined up should he depart.

Ndong, meanwhile, is young enough to be at Sunderland for years to come – hopefully with the club back in the top flight.

His potential is clear, if he can iron out the flaws in his game and add goals then Sunderland could have a real player on their hands.

The heavy schedule of games clearly took its toll on Sunderland against Leeds but it won’t get much easier and the squad has to get used to playing three games a week for a sizeable chunk of the campaign.

Ndong will be a key player for Sunderland this season in a relentless Championship.