The loss of Lamine Koné would not only be a huge blow to Sunderland just as we were all hoping for a much better start to the season. If the fans’ worst fears are justified, it would also threaten to bring David Moyes’s honeymoon period to an abrupt end …
STOP PRESS UPDATE: Fans spoke to Koné after training today and the player said he had been “promised a new contract”, reinforcing his agent’s comment that none had been offered. When asked if he would like to remain at SAFC, he replied: “Yeah.”
While thanking Sunderland AFC for kindly sending an image of the new, rather impressive away top, I added a postscript: “Seeing who is wearing it makes me want to cry!”
It was only the slightest of exaggerations.
The increasingly likely departure of Lamine Koné – unless all the reports, including those in the local North-eastern press, are completely wrong – would represent an even bigger setback than the impact on our preseason of the FA’s plodding handling of Sam Allardyce’s appointment as England manager.
Here is a mightily impressive centre back who, in the mould of Charlie Hurley and Dave Watson, also gets forward and can score important goals. He cost only £5m when he arrived last January from the French Ligue 1 club Lorient and, in just 15 starts proved himself as capable and complete a defender as we have had since the Roker Park days of that pair of heroes.
The interest shown first by Everton and Leicester and now, reportedly, Chelsea is as gloomy a development as can be imagined at a time when we should belatedly be strengthening the side, not weakening it so grievously.
Koné was signed until 2020. Obviously, there are get-out clauses and relatively few players these days are seriously expected to see out long contracts. We just didn’t bargain on losing such a star after a woefully short spell of service to SAFC.
In theory, a deal taking him to the smaller stadiums of Goodison (capacity 39,572) or Stamford Bridge (41,663), both below our average attendance in a fourth-bottom season, leaves David Moyes with not one but two mountains to climb.
Earlier in the week, I posted this tweet:
— Colin Randall (@salutsunderland) August 9, 2016
While we cannot pretend to know the full story of how this bombshell has landed, propelling its shrapnel into our preseason hopes, it seems by no means sure for Moyes or the club has done anything of the sort.
This is how Richard Mennear puts it in the Shields Gazette:
There had been no indication during the course of pre-season that Koné wanted to leave Wearside, with the defender understood to have been wanting a new deal.
Mennear reminds us of the less than reassuring tone struck by Moyes last week: “I’m always going to keep the best players, but I’m also going to move the club along. At different times things will have to change. We [Everton] had to sell Wayne Rooney, Mikel Arteta, Jack Rodwell, Joleon Lescott, but it didn’t affect the club, the club moved on.”
We’re told he has now lined up two promising Manchester United defenders, Paddy McNair and Donald Love, to boost his back four. I accept these might both be excellent prospects, but the arrival of one or both would not even begin to compensate for the wretched disappointment of losing Koné.
So to the mountains Moyes may have to scale? First, while most fans will still back him 100 per cent as he starts his first season, that will now owe more to blind faith than to reason if it turns out he was happy to raise funds for acquisitions by sacrificing one of his best players (if not the best).
And the second: the men brought in between now and the end off the month must prove him right or he will take the flak (again assuming the negotiations over Koné are not taking place against his own judgement).
Now over to the Salut! Sunderland jury. It would be premature to run a poll since we do not have the full facts, and no deal has yet been done. Our deputy editor Malcolm Dawson even expects Koné may play for us at the Etihad on Saturday (but against us for Everton in our second home game). And Richard Mennear is also reporting, in the Gazette’s sister paper, the Sunderland Echo, that the player’s agent says he is available for selection against Man City on Saturday (adding, ominously: “However, he still awaits the offer of the new contract”).
Have your say. If Sunderland are willing to sell such a key player with four years left on his contract, is that a potentially calamitous gamble – or a shrewd move? I veer towards the first assessment but want to be made to eat my words.