Interview: Yann M’Vila on leaving Russia, joining Sunderland and head-butts

Yann M'Vila in action for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID
Yann M'Vila in action for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID
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There’s a point of clarification which Yann M’Vila is keen to make... it wasn’t a head-butt.

As he sips on a protein shake at the Academy of Light, M’Vila is happy to discuss the infamous incident which saw him take an early bath just an hour or so into his Sunderland career.

When the chance came to go to Sunderland, it was easy

Yann M’Vila

M’Vila had been impressing for Sunderland’s Under-21s at Eppleton CW when he reacted furiously to seeing team-mate Tom Beadling being thrown to the ground by teenage Norwich striker Jamar Loza.

The French international – who had completed his loan switch to the Stadium of Light less just four days earlier – raced over to confront the Norwich man and the pair literally went head to head, before a red card was issued to M’Vila.

Given the off-the-field scrutiny which has dogged M’Vila throughout his career, the dismissal prompted plenty of guffawing in his native France over ‘bad boy’ antics continuing.

But while he admits his stupidity in a game which was solely to do with fitness, the impression generated when speaking to the Parisian is that he was simply sticking up for a team-mate in the spirit of togetherness – a facet which hasn’t been necessarily evident in Sunderland’s ranks during their opening two Premier League games.

“I saw my colleague thrown to the floor and it revolted me. I wasn’t going to take it,” said M’Vila in his first press interview since arriving on these shores.

“They said that I head-butted him. No, we went head to head.

“He put his head in, I put my head in, and then there was a red card.

“It was stupid, but it wasn’t a head-butt.”

Off-the-field incidents seemed to dog M’Vila’s two year stay in Russia with Rubin Kazan, prior to joining Sunderland, after a career which had shown such promise during his time in France with Rennes stagnated.

M’Vila was on the verge of agreeing a fresh start with Dynamo Moscow this summer after he had trained with the club during pre-season, while there was also interest from Turkey.

But when Sunderland came calling – after a recommendation from Black Cats assistant Zeljko Petrovic who had watched him during his time in Russia – it was a simple decision for the midfielder.

“I had a good experience in Russia,” he said.

“But the problems came when Dynamo changed their manager and the chairman, and many players decided to go overseas.

“I didn’t sign a contract, and when the chance came to go to Sunderland, it was easy.

“There was a chance to go to Turkey, but it was much more interesting to come here where I thought I would be happier.

“When I spoke to my agent, I didn’t hesitate because it was my dream to play in England.

“I knew that there were some good players here, like Younes Kaboul, who I knew from international duty.

“I didn’t even question it.”

Not even Sunderland’s struggles over the last three seasons gave M’Vila second thoughts.

“I’ve heard that the club have had their difficulties over the last few years,” he said.

“I don’t know why because there’s some very good players here – people like (Jermain) Defoe, Jeremain Lens and Steven Fletcher.

“I think we need to take it step by step to do something better.

“You see the manager and you can see his passion after he was in tears at the end of last season.

“Those are the sort of managers I want to play for.

“They’re better than the diplomats who never show anything.

“This club must aim high and look to get into the top 10 eventually, but that’s not easy.”

Like many overseas imports to the Premier League, M’Vila trots out the clichés about it being the best league in the world etc.

However, he appears to have a genuine enthusiasm about the role of the underdog in English football, where the bigger boys don’t necessarily always get it their own way.

“What I particularly like, is that in other countries, the big teams beat the other smaller teams easily – 4-0, 5-0,” he added.

“Here, it’s much harder for them.

“Even though the big teams are the ones fighting for the title, the small ones still dream of beating them every week.

“That makes it much more interesting as a footballer, because it’s not predictable.

“It’s physical and tough, but that suits me too.”

And has already been seen, M’Vila isn’t going to take any prisoners... even if it wasn’t a head-butt.