A week is a long time in politics as Harold Wilson once said; and in sitting waiting for the Oxford game and Sunderland returning from their away game travels like an excited child counting down for Christmas, I had a lot of sympathy with that phrase. We have seen rapid change at the football club over the summer, so much so that a week was a very long time at the football club. 72 days is over 10 weeks. That’s 10 long weeks where the club Papy Djilobodji walked away from has transitioned from gloom and despondency to hope and glory. The 72-day figure is, however, slightly misleading.
What is clear is that 72 days before Papy graced the training ground with his presence the new breed of Sunderland were building something a bit special. The early signs of a cohesive squad were being nurtured by Jack Ross. Papy though had been gone from the shores of Wearside since August in the previous year. While the club spiralled into seeming oblivion in the Championship he was plying his trade in the much more temperate climes of eastern France. Not that many of us were too disappointed with that.
His short career at Sunderland had been peppered with errors, inconsistency and the odd reckless red card. Papy Djilobodji became an epitome of our demise. He had an opportunity to put that right, to prove his value as a player, but he went to Dijon. That decision was probably as much down to the club as the player as they looked to cut the excess of profligate spending on average players left over from their Premier League demise, however it was reported that we were still paying half his wages while he had his French sojourn.
At the start of this summer Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven challenged us as supporters to sign up to their ambition. To trust them. We were asked to put aside our doubts and the scars of previous years and turn up. 30,000 of us have been able to do that despite how badly our club has treated us in recent seasons. Papy however could not believe. In his absence we have reconnected and witnessed a team which has come together which looks more full of spirit than Shane McGowan in the wee hours in Dublin.
72 days after that journey for togetherness began, Papy returned. It must have been very difficult for him to walk into that training ground for the first time; a physical antithesis of what had been built. There is talk that his presence could be corrosive to the team’s cohesion. I hope that in actual fact the cohesion of the new players is so strong that it will instead be Papy who is isolated and the odd one out.
Djilobodji’s future is uncertain. Reports suggest a sacking might be in the offing. That is fraught with potential legal challenges of which I am certain the owners are aware. The options for the club are simple though. We manage to offload him to a Portuguese club, we rip up his contract and cut our losses, we reintroduce him to the team and tell him to play his part, or we sack him. I think that long summer and subsequent 72 days mean a re-introduction is too far gone. His attitude thus far has been entirely opposite to the ethos of the new ownership. His long sulk at odds with the realisation that this club belongs to the fans.
At least he has bothered to show up though. N’Dong is happy to be as far away as possible according to his Instagram account. Good. Keep it that way Didier. Sackings for both of them may show the backbone that the fans are baying for, but a long legal battle may make it a distraction when there are more important things to be done. It makes more sense to rip up the contracts, shake hands and tell them never to darken our door again. A compromise of sorts which allows both parties to continue with their new lives. The players can continue to display their arrogance elsewhere, the club can continue building that blueprint embarked upon more than 72 days ago.