Yann M'Vila has endured an interesting career path; after a sparkling early start at Rennes he was earmarked for greatness.
However, an unauthorised night out whilst on international duty with the Under-21s in 2012 resulted in a two-year ban from the French team (Wissam ben Yedder, Antoine Griezmann, Chris Mavinga and M'Baye Niang were also suspended until 2013) and his career began to spiral out of control.
At Rennes, he was the fulcrum of his sides as both domestic and international level. Then manager, Frédéric Antonetti told Le Parisien: "There are few players in Europe as good as he is in that position. Yann is a combination of the great defensive midfielders. He reads the game like Claude Makelele, has the presence of Patrick Vieira and can pass the ball like Yaya Toure."
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M'Vila is not the usual hulking, French defensive midfielder, at only 5'11 he is towered by Vieira, Blaise Matuidi and Alou Diarra. ESPNfc.com in 2011 described him as a 'la nouvelle vague', the new wave in French football alongside Rio Mavuba, Paul Pogba relying upon technique and mobility rather than physicality and brute force. Whilst at Rennes, he was heavily linked with Arsenal, with some claiming Wenger was set to depart with upwards of €20m in order to sign him.
However, it was not one of the great European teams who came calling but Rubin Kazan of the Russian Premier League, signing M'Vila for €12m in January 2013. This signalled the start of his repertoire of negative actions, posing with bundles of money shortly after signing.
He started promisingly for Rubin, despite earning the tag of a mercenary, signing for the money involved. His commitment to Rubin was further questioned when in a winter break in Turkey he went AWOL to France, rather than returning to Kazan with the rest of his teammates.
All in the head
Upon his return, M'Vila did play a few games but was eventually relegated to the reserves by his manager Rinat Bilyaletdinov, a strict enforcer. He was shipped out on loan to Inter Milan in 2014, but failed to make a positive impression in Serie A, once again due to his mental frailties.
M’Vila’s central midfield partner for much of his time with the French under-21’s was then the Manchester United prospect and now Juventus superstar Paul Pogba. Laurent Blanc held M’vila in higher esteem than Pogba, but the former has since overtaken him. Pogba is the supreme footballer in terms of ability, physical prowess and a good mentality.
It is the poor mentality and temperament of M’Vila which has impeded his development greater than any other reason, not his imperious ability.
M’Vila, although technically still contracted and owned by Rubin Kazan trained in pre-season with Dynamo Moscow. He was set to sign on loan for the Muscovites in the summer, with club director Guram Adzhoev saying “according to an agreement reached in principle. M’Vila, from this summer will play for us”.
However, following the departure of Dynamo’s Head Coach Stanislav Cherchesov, President Boris Rotenberg and Adzhoev himself responsible for Dynamo’s removal from the Europa League for breaching Financial Fair Play, the club has been left in disarray.
Following this, the club’s board aim to become fiscally responsible again, re-promoting defensive midfielder Igor Denisov from the reserves instead of pursuing M’Vila.
Sunderland signed M'Vila a fortnight ago on a season-long loan deal from Rubin, with a view to a permanent move. Upon signing, Sporting Director Lee Congerton told the club's official website "Yann is a player who is highly regarded by a number of elite clubs across Europe, playing for France from a young age", with the midfielder himself announcing a long-held desire to play in the Premier League.
M'Vila impressed in his debut for Sunderland, despite a humiliating 3-1 loss at home to fellow expected relegation battlers Norwich City. According to Who Scored, M'Vila was one of Sunderland's better performers on the day with an overall rating of 6.9 as only fellow new-boy Jeremain Lens and goalscorer Duncan Watmore received higher ratings.
Although this may suggest he was merely the best performer of a team which did play very poorly, M'Vila (who played the full 90 minutes) had an overall passing success rate of 95.7% from a respectable 47 passes including merely five long balls, with only two of his passes all game being inaccurate.
He controlled the midfield well, particularly in the first twenty minutes with Cattermole alongside him stuttering, with two personal errors leading directly to Norwich goals and had a pass success rate of only 79%. He completed six tackles in the game, and was only beaten once, effectively nullifying Alexander Tettey throughout the game.
M'Vila created numerous possible chances for Sunderland, including their most promising chance bar Watmore's goal, Seb Larsson's blocked shot. The standard of his debut is epitomised by Dick Advocaat's reaction at the end of the game; refusing to acknowledge every Sunderland player going down the tunnel bar M'Vila, who received a deserved admiring conversation from the Dutchman.
M'Vila does not necessarily fit Sunderland’s needs, with a creative midfielder and a striker to replace the recent departure of Connor Wickham paramount. However, M’Vila does represent a definitive step-up in quality over much of Sunderland’s current midfield options.
Dick Advocaat could line M’Vila up in a box-to-box role, similar to that which Blanc did for France. Although Sunderland possess an already packed defensive midfield area with Lee Cattermole, Jack Rodwell and Liam Bridcutt on their books.
Captain Cattermole will likely see his place in the starting eleven under threat if their performances keep following the same trend. The first thing Advocaat must address however is the French midfielder’s unbalanced temperament.
M'Vila was sent off for head-butting an opponent in an Under-21's match against Norwich, leading to Advocaat to warn M'Vila to avoid provocation from other players but ultimately he described him as a "a player with good vision, a quick pass, a quicker thinker and I think he’s a positive addition to the squad".
The collapse of his transfer to Dynamo led to M’Vila buying an axe for “his own safety” from club officials and trashing his Muscovite flat, possibly the ‘Little General’ is just the tonic for the un-regimented M’Vila