THE STYLE of football, language and even the food, were cultural barriers that Alfred N’Diaye needed to overcome after arriving at the Stadium of Light in the January transfer window.
It is only now, four months or so on, that N’Diaye has begun to conquer those hurdles and display the attributes which prompted Sunderland to splash out almost £4million to prise the midfielder away from Turkish outfit Bursaspor.
But within three months of N’Diaye’s arrival, there was also a cultural shock in the dug-out.
Martin O’Neill was the mild-mannered, deep-thinking manager who had tracked the former France Under-21 international and eventually signed him.
In his place, came the explosive Paolo Di Canio – a figure unique in N’Diaye’s previous experiences of managers.
“My first coach in France was a little bit similar, but not really the same!” said N’Diaye.
“He is very passionate.
“The fans like to see that and they loved the way he celebrated when we won the derby. I enjoyed working with Martin O’Neill and he was the man who brought me here from Turkey.
“But now there has been a change.
“Paolo Di Canio has a different mentality, but I am enjoying working with him also.
“He wants us to work hard and win – that is his philosophy – and the players like that.
“They are very different, but it is the same with players. Some players are a little bit crazy, others are a little bit shy.
“But whether it is coaches or players, whatever the mentality the important thing is that you get results.”
Di Canio’s opposite number in the dug-out against Southampton today is also a fresh recruit to the Premier League managers’ society.
Mauricio Pochettino was appointed at St Mary’s in January, as a shock successor to Nigel Adkins, yet has led the Saints to the verge of safety after wins over Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Reading.
Pochettino is a familiar figure to Paris Saint-Germain supporter N’Diaye after the Argentine made 70 appearances for the French outfit.
“I like PSG – they are my favourite team in France,” said N’Diaye.
“I remember him when he played there and I liked him.
“He was a very good centre-back and he played with Gabriel Heinze.
“Everyone in France liked him because he was a good player, an elegant player.
“I think he is a good coach too, because I have seen Southampton play maybe three or four times and they played well, and played good football.
“They have beaten some good teams.”
Southampton stand in Sunderland’s way of securing their Premier League status, with a victory taking the Black Cats six points above third bottom Wigan, with a superior goal difference.
Although Wigan will need to get something at Arsenal on Tuesday night, even if Sunderland lose today, N’Diaye believes it is crucial Di Canio’s men secure their own destiny before the final-day clash at Spurs.
N’Diaye added: “If we beat Southampton, we will go above them and we will stay above Newcastle and Norwich.
“And our goal difference means that it will be almost impossible for Wigan to catch us.
“So it is important we win to take the pressure off the last game at Tottenham.
“We want to be safe before then because Spurs are a very good team – one of the best teams in the UK – and they are still trying to get into a Champions League place.
“So the last game could be very important for them and we don’t want to go there needing to win.
“It’s much better if we win against Southampton.”
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