Prepare the cans - Sunderland must go all out to bring Yann M’Vila home

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The French midfielder has been linked with a sensational return to the Stadium of Light in recent days.

Yann M’Vila is a 33-year-old free agent who has not kicked a football since May, who has not played in England since before the Brexit referendum, and who in no way, shape, or form fits Sunderland’s current recruitment model. Evocations of his majesty are, at least in part, clouded by the rose-tinted hues of nostalgia, and any expectation that he could return to Wearside and replicate the kind of form that made him such a beloved, albeit temporary, adoptive Mackem is, in diplomatic terms, wildly optimistic. Taking all of that into account, yes, of course I want Sunderland to re-sign him.

Trying to determine the worst decision made during the slow unravelling that culminated in the Black Cats suffering successive relegations and staggering through the doldrums of League One - a penniless aristocrat exiled to the gutter - is not an easy thing to do. It’s a little like picking the most damaging Prime Minister of the past decade, or the most excrutiating episode of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke; there are plenty to choose from, and they’re all crap. But certainly, when it comes to Sunderland’s various howlers, few can compare with the voluntary snubbing of a permanent deal for M’Vila in favour of a club record swoop for Didier Ndong. In retrospect, that’s like being offered a taster menu from a Michelin star chef, and instead requesting that somebody kick you in the nether regions.

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Why Sunderland opted against signing the Frenchman seven years ago remains something of an aching mystery; by all accounts, the player was keen, and if you need concrete evidence of just how eager supporters were, look no further than the rabid response to RMC Sport’s report that the Black Cats, alongside West Brom and Atletico Madrid, have enquired about his availability following a departure from Olympiacos earlier this summer. It is testament to M’Vila’s impact in the North East that, after just a single season on loan there, he is still so fervently lusted over the best part of a decade later.

Of course, if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that homecomings are something to be wary of. Who could forget Jermain Defoe’s infamous last dance, for instance - less Torville and Dean’s Bolero, more Cha Cha Slide at a nursing home disco? Sunderland fans were expecting Michael Jordan at the Chicago Bulls, and instead were left cradling Michael Jordan at the Scottsdale Scorpions.

But despite the foreboding nature of past experiements, and the facetiousness with which I sauntered into this article, there is genuinely a strong argument to be made for M’Vila representing a canny acquisition. This is a player who boasts 22 caps for France and who, just last season, was playing in the Europa League. He might not be the irresistible force he was for large swathes of his previous loan stint, but then again, he doesn’t have to be. He just needs to be good enough for the Championship.

And then there is the question of his age. At 33, M’Vila would be at least a decade older than the vast majority of Sunderland’s freakishly young squad. Tony Mowbray’s is the only side in the second tier who arrive at away matches looking like they’ve just turned up to compete in a regional Spelling Bee. In that respect, M’Vila is by no means a typical Sunderland signing. But it is sensible - wise, even - to temper such precocious youth with a dash of experience here and there. The ballast provided by the likes of Luke O’Nien and Cory Evans, when fit, has been as significant in the Black Cats’ recent ascension as the kindergarten wizardry of Jack Clarke, Trai Hume, Dan Neil, et al. M’Vila, were he to join, would be another greying feather in the Mackem’s figurative cap.

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But ultimately, that uncertainty underpins this entire discussion. When considering the prospect of M’Vila returning to Sunderland, we are still very much traipsing through the dank swamps of ‘if’ rather than gazing out over the sunlit expanses of ‘when’. This is by no means a guaranteed happening. Unfortunately. After all, they say it is the hope that kills you.

If, by some minor miracle, Kristjaan Speakman were able to lure M’Vila back to the Stadium of Light in the coming weeks and months, however, I think it would be the skull-splitting intensity of the celebratory hungover, rather than the weight of anticipation, that actually finished me off. Yann might be coming back and he might not. I’ll get the cans in the fridge, just in case...

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