Sunderland’s fans were yet to clap eyes on Alfred N’Diaye when they decided he had come from Bursaspor to hear the Roker Roar but, as Stuart Rayner learns, they may have been on to something
TURKISH football fans are renowned for their fanaticism. Stories abound about the ear-splitting noise when Galatasaray, Besiktas or Fenerbahçe play, and the lengths fans go to in support of their team.
So to leave the Süper Lig and be instantly won over by a new set of supporters is some achievement. Yet it is the “craziness” of English football which Alfred N’Diaye is so excited to be part of.
N’Diaye has waited half a season to fulfil his “dream” of playing in what he calls “the best league in the world”. He has come with high hopes, but his first impressions seem to have already met them.
It is hardly surprising the powerful midfielder is already so fond of Sunderland’s fans, because the feeling is clearly mutual.
The 22-year-old was yet to kick a ball for the club before his name was echoing around the Stadium of Light terraces. The instant impact N’Diaye has made on the field has only seen his cult hero status snowball.
His first touch as a Sunderland player almost resulted in a goal against West Ham United, a sublime left-footed cross in his full debut at Wigan Athletic did, headed in by Steven Fletcher. Throw in a header over the bar, the odd thundering tackle and a style which is tiring just to watch, and the Parisian ticks a lot of boxes on the terraces.
Coming to hear the Roker Roar might not be the main reason he left Bursaspor, no matter what his ditty suggests, but it has certainly left a big impression on him.
“The fans helped me because they sang for me,” he says, his quiet voice and lisp out of keeping with an imposing physical frame and bruising playing style.
“It’s nice, I like that. The fans are very good so I’m very happy. After the game (at Wigan) I told my brother they sang for me. It was great. I couldn’t believe it.
“I didn’t have any songs (at his previous clubs), I listened and it’s very nice. My friend and my brother came to the West Ham game (where he made his debut from the bench) and they couldn’t believe the fans were singing my name. I don’t understand all the words of the song, but my brother told me.
“I only came a few days before the West Ham game so for them to already have a song about me is nice.”
You would think after 18 months in the harem scare ‘em world of Turkish football, someone brought up in the more sedate surroundings of the French game might be looking for a quieter life. Far from it.
“Turkish fans love football, but I think it’s the same here, because fans are crazy, the atmosphere is crazy and when I go in the city everybody talks about Newcastle or Sunderland,” N’Diaye says. “Everybody likes football here, which is great.
“I can’t wait for Sunderland to play Newcastle because I’m told it’s one of the best atmospheres of any match in England.”
N’Diaye has already found a house in Darras Hall, which could become a French enclave if all Newcastle’s recent signings decide to relocate to the traditional home of North East Premier League footballers.
“I’m happy playing for Sunderland and happy to live here,” he says. “It’s near to friends, which is better for me, and the city is nice. I haven’t seen too much of Sunderland, but I’ve seen Newcastle. It’s nice and it’s a good place.
“Two weeks ago I found a house and next week I will move in. I am adjusting to life here well. My brother has lived in London for five years and now he’s helping me with everything, which is nice.”
England, then, holds few mysteries for N’Diaye, who grew up on a television diet of Premier League football. Many a French player has hopped across the channel in the last 20 years with great success, but the former Nancy product believes going via Bursaspor has left him better prepared.
“I have watched Premier League games on television so I know some of the players – not everyone, but some of them,” he explains.
“It’s similar to the Turkish league. They play fast and hard there, but it’s more fast here. In France it is more tactical, but I prefer this kind of football in England. For me, it’s better.” To see N’Diaye so comfortable in his surroundings is good news for Sunderland’s other January signing, Kader Mangane.
Born in Senegal, where N’Diaye’s parents come from, the on-loan central defender is looked up to by his younger team-mate. But with his easy grasp of English – our translator sits redundant for long periods – it seems N’Diaye will be playing the role of “big brother” now.
“I knew Kader before I came,” says N’Diaye. “I played against him when we were both in France. I spoke to him before I came. He’s like my big brother, he’s a good man.
“He came at the same time as me and that’s very good for both of us. He will help me settle in and I will do the same for him.”
With so many French footballers trying to settle in the North East this winter, few will start from as strong a position.
With thanks to Theo Merz