Only a modest degree of promise stemmed from Emmanuel Eboue’s arrival at the Academy of Light for a week-long trial last month.
Eboue was a couple of pounds overweight after being inactive since leaving Galatasaray at the end of last season and hadn’t even completed 90 minutes for more than a year.
Club insiders insisted Eboue was just training with Sunderland at that stage, rather than necessarily being in line for a possible short-term deal, and it wasn’t particularly strange for Sam Allardyce to agree for a free agent to join the club on trial.
At least three – including Nigerian international Chinedu Obasi – had previously arrived at the academy since Allardyce’s arrival last October.
But Allardyce was impressed both with Eboue’s CV and particularly his character. “Great lad,” said the Sunderland manager with a smile when he commented on the ex-Arsenal right-back.
The big reservation was (and continues to be) his fitness and the mini pre-season which he endured while the first-team squad was in Dubai was always going to be the acid test for his prospects of a Premier League return.
Eboue clearly ticked the boxes on the check-list of Sunderland’s medical team. He was lean and in good shape when he featured for the Under-21s against Leicester City earlier this week, with Allardyce claiming he was “50-60% fitter”.
However, it was immediately noticeable at Eppleton CW that Eboue understandably has plenty of rust still to knock off. He’ll need a couple more outings, either for the U21s or in behind-closed-doors friendlies, before he’s ready for competitive action.
Eboue, though, has the pedigree to boost Sunderland in a position which had been a concern for Allardyce throughout the January transfer window.
Despite having Billy Jones, DeAndre Yedlin and Adam Matthews on the books, Allardyce clearly has his reservations over the three full-backs – leading him to make enquiries for Arsenal’s Mathieu Debuchy and Lorient’s Lamine Gossama.
After Jones made a string of notable errors, Yedlin has come in and done alright in the last couple of games, yet Eboue clearly has an edge in experience and organisational abilities to the on-loan Spurs man.
Bosman signings outside of the transfer windows are not necessarily a waste of space either.
Yes, there have been some like James McFadden – signed by Martin O’Neill in 2012-13 – who offer absolutely nothing and clearly aren’t up to Premier League standard anymore.
But Anthony Reveillere proved to be one of Sunderland’s best signings last season after easing an Autumn defensive crisis – six months after leaving Napoli.
Reveillere’s experience and understanding of the game shone during his 16 starts in red and white, and he immediately became a first-choice full-back for Gus Poyet.
Dick Advocaat’s U-turn over extending Reveillere’s contract last summer, in favour of a more-attack minded right-back, was one of the Dutchman’s worst decisions.
If Eboue can make a similar impact to the French international, then he could well make a positive contribution towards Sunderland’s survival bid.