ALFRED N’DIAYE, fresh from scoring on his Hull City debut, admits to having been here before.
Not just in the sense of having already played in England, with his impressive instant impact at Hull City being very similar to his debut in the Premier League four years ago with Sunderland.
After moving to Wearside from Bursaspor in a £3.75m deal, N’Diaye’s first three appearances yielded seven points for Martin O’Neill’s relegation-threatened side.
Two months later, he had a starring role as Sunderland, by now under the charge of Paolo Di Canio, inflicted a memorable 3-0 defeat on bitter rivals Newcastle United at St James’ Park. A long and successful stay in English football seemed in store for the then 23-year-old.
Reality, however, was very different with N’Diaye playing just five more times for the Black Cats before being twice shipped out on loan and then eventually sold to Real Betis.
Failing to build on that impressive start at Sunderland left N’Diaye frustrated. It is also a big motivating factor as he tries to crack English football second time around.
“I feel I am a better player than four years ago and I want to show this in Hull,” said one of seven signings made by Marco Silva during January in his attempt to keep City in the top flight.
“Compared to when I was last in the Premier League, I have more experience. I have had three years in Spain and this is a technical league.
“It means I am a better player technically, much better than before. Tactically, too. I feel more ready for the Premier League.
“At Sunderland, I did enjoy it. At first, I played all the games and I did well. But I did not stay a long time, just six months. Now, I am 26 and believe I can continue improving in the Premier League.”
First impressions for Tigers fans were certainly positive a week ago in the victory over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Along with the predatory finish on the stroke of half-time that put Silva’s men ahead, his physical presence in the centre of the field played a big part in City’s dominance.
Jordan Henderson and Emre Can were rarely given a second to think, never mind do anything constructive with the ball.
N’Diaye also won every 50-50 challenge and was intelligent in possession whenever Hull were able to wrestle the ball from Liverpool’s grasp.
In fact, perhaps the biggest compliment that could be paid the debutant was that his all-round display was very much reminiscent of Jake Livermore at his best before being sold to West Bromwich Albion for £10m to provide the funds Silva needed to start remodelling his squad.
Today will bring another big test for N’Diaye and his new team-mates as Hull head to Arsenal. The Tigers have a half decent record at the Emirates, having one and drawn two of their eight previous visits.
The Gunners, though, will be desperate to make a statement of their own after a disappointing couple of weeks for Arsene Wenger’s men.
The Frenchman will be absent from the touchline after being hit with a four-game ban for his altercation with fourth official Anthony Taylor in last month’s 2-1 win over Burnley.
Silva knows all about how frustrating this can be for a manager, having served his own ban when starting out in coaching at Estoril. When asked about the reasons behind his own stint in the stand, the Portuguese was unusually coy.
“I don’t remember what it was for,” he said with a big smile before adding: “It is not good for the players (to have the coach away from the dugout) but it is worse for the coach.
“You prepare all week but then you have to watch from the stands.”
Silva’s task is to capitalise on Wenger being absent from his usual touchline habitat but it will not be easy against a side smarting from those recent back-to-back defeats against Chelsea and Watford.
France-born N’Diaye, however, is relishing the chance to take on a side led by someone he admires hugely.
“Wenger is a great manager,” said City’s loanee. “He is very famous in France. We know how he likes to play football with technical players.
“He has been at Arsenal 20 years, in one of the biggest jobs in the world. We know sometimes in England that the press say he needs more (Premier League) titles but in France he has a good reputation.
“I think he is a good coach in a difficult league. For example, I think it is harder to win the Premier League than the Champions League.
“That is because in the Premier League you have 38 hard games. In Champions League, with some luck you can have an easier route to the final and win it. It is harder to win the league here.”
Wenger seems unlikely to end a 13-year wait for a fourth title as Arsenal manager this term following the recent slump in form. City’s ambitions are much lower with safety being their only target and N’Diaye believes Silva is the man to make that happen.
“He is a tactical coach,” added the former Sunderland midfielder. “For him, the tactical (side) is very important. He wants our team to be like a block. This is good for us because in the Premier League Hull are up against good teams and it is important to be strong. He is a good coach.
“I have not known him for long but he has talked with me (a lot) and tried to help me. He shows the whole of the team videos to help us get better.”
As for his own ambitions beyond the end of his loan spell in May, N’Diaye insists the only focus is Hull’s survival push. He added: “My future, I don’t know. For the moment, I am on loan at Hull for four months.
“After that, I need to speak to Villarreal and Hull. But, for the moment, the most important thing is to play well at Hull and stay in the Premier League.”