Chris Young: Khazri and Kone could be just the start of a French revolution at Sunderland

Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID
Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID
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There was a time when Newcastle United’s transfer meetings were accompanied to the theme tune from Allo Allo.

“Good moaning,” said officer Graham Carr as he unveiled the blueprint for his latest foray across the Channel into the French market.

Newcastle have broadened the scope of their transfer plans to the rest of Continental Europe and even into the remainder of the Premier League over the last couple of years after notable expensive French flops Remy Cabella and Florian Thauvin.

But Ligue 1 proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Magpies after landing the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko for modest sums.

The interest in acquiring fresh faces from France has been understandable.

Wages in Ligue 1 are a fraction of those on offer in the Premier League. Even if Sunderland are relegated to the Championship at the end of the season and players face a subsequent drop in their salaries, Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone won’t be much worse off than they were at Bordeaux and Lorient.

Unlike Premier League clubs who have seen their coffers bloated by obscene television deals, that money is not sloshing around in France. Clubs outside the bubble of the Champions League need the income stemming from transfer fees.

Considering the difficulties in attracting players to a club lying second bottom of the Premier League for the majority of January, it was no wonder then that Sam Allardyce looked to France during the transfer window.

There were some enquiries for domestic players, including Debuchy and Swansea’s Andre Ayew.

But Allardyce made it clear before the window had even opened that he was predominantly looking at deals for those on the Continent, and that proved to be the case for all of the new boys, other than third-choice keeper Steve Harper.

Will the £14million outlay on Khazri and Kone prove to be the start of a long-term strategy of concentrating on the French market though?

Are Sunderland about to embark on a similar programme of recruitment to their neighbours?

Khazri and Kone were not the only players from Ligue 1 that Allardyce was targeting.

Sunderland made a couple of approaches for Lorient right-back Lamine Gassama, only for the Senegal international to reject the risk of joining a club who could start next season in the Championship.

However, with Gassama’s contract at Lorient – the former employers of Kone – expiring in the summer, it’s potentially an avenue that Sunderland will explore again if they remain a Premier League outfit.

Certainly, Kone and Khazri are not the end of Sunderland’s French hunting.

Sunderland have continued to scout Khazri’s old club Bordeaux over recent weeks, with midfielder Clement Chantome understood to be the target of the Black Cats’ attentions.

Chantome has only three months to run on his contract and it is not impossible that he will extend his stint at Bordeaux.

But Sunderland have watched him on several occasions, even though the 28-year-old has made it clear that he would not have followed Khazri’s lead and joined a club who could be relegated.

If Sunderland survive, they will bank £100million or so from next season’s bumper television deal, yet they are still a club which will have to look for cost-effective solutions in the transfer market.

France undoubtedly offers that.

The danger – as Newcastle have found – is that concentrating on one particular market can create worrying cliques in the dressing room, with question marks over the combative qualities of the French-speaking element at St James’s Park both last season and this.

But the January recruits at Sunderland have boosted the mood in the Black Cats camp, rather than damaged it.

They have provided a freshness and vigour to proceedings and it has rubbed off on players left inevitably bedraggled by months of confinement to the doldrums.

No overseas import is without risk if they haven’t been tested in the Premier League previously.

But Kone and Khazri, in particular, among the four first-teamers brought to the club last month have made such an instant impression that they create a confidence that Allardyce knows what he’s doing in targeting the French market.

After years of scrambling around with a mismatch of strategies in the transfer market, Sunderland may be landing upon a clear one, and it may be a path well-trodden by their fiercest rivals.