When Sunderland completed the signing of Didier Ndong in 2016, they thought they were getting one of the brightest up-and-coming midfield talents in Europe.
Linked with a host of other clubs around the continent, the Black Cats fought off the competition to land the Gabon international for a club-record fee of £13.6m.
The combative Ndong went on to make 31 appearances for David Moyes' men, but Sunderland struggled and ended the season bottom, having spent all bar two weeks of the campaign in the relegation zone.
Still, the hope was that Ndong could inspire the Mackems to an immediate return to the top tier of English football.
Err, not quite. His 18th Championship appearance, which saw him sent off in a 4-0 defeat by Cardiff, was also his last for the club.
Ndong hastily engineered a loan move to Premier League Watford, but he failed to play a single game for the Hornets and was soon back at the Stadium of Light.
The Gabonese did not take kindly to this development, but his wages made it difficult for him to secure a move away from a club that was now in League One.
Stuck between a lucrative rock and a hard (poorer-paying) place, Ndong found a way to rile up a fan base that had already been through the mill.
On a luxurious trip to Morocco, the midfielder outraged the Sunderland faithful by posting photos of a hotel swimming pool on social media.
Fearing arrest for breach of contract if he were to return to the UK, Ndong tried to stay away for as long as possible.
Then, in September 2018, Sunderland sacked him. Ndong eventually agreed to pay back €4m in legal compensation when he joined a new club, which proved to be Guingamp.
In Ndong's first season with the French outfit, they were relegated.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe today!
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