Emmanuel Eboue can boost Sunderland in relegation fight
Sunderland are about to discover whether new signing Emmanuel Eboue is as equipped to join a desperate battle for survival as he has previously been when competing for teams at the other end of a league table.
Eboue, 31, played for Arsenal for eight seasons and, after moving to Galatasaray in 2011, belonged to a side that won a clutch of trophies, including three Super Lig titles during his stay in Turkey.
In a nine-year international career, he won 79 caps for the Ivory Coast. Fighting for a place in a side that, season after season, flirts with relegation from the Premier League promises to be a wholly different experience.
Eboue has been a free agent since leaving the Turkish club in the summer and has now signed a short-term deal keeping him at the Stadium of Light until the end of this season. It remains to be seen whether a successful run in the team would lead to the possibility of a contract extension, wherever Sunderland end up playing next season.
His first competitive outing for the club saw him join the Under 21s in a narrow home defeat to Leicester City at the end of February. One supporter among just 300 present reported that he "started slowly and focused on defending in a desperately poor first half," pushing forward in the second and showing clear signs that "he has been a quality player and possibly still is."
Manager Sam Allardyce is under no illusions about the defensive deficiencies that have dogged Sunderland all season. And nowhere has his team been weaker than at full-back. On the left, Patrick van Aanholt can be excellent going forward but less convincing in defence, while on the right, Eboue's natural position, both Billy Jones and DeAndre Yedlin have struggled -- though the latter has improved significantly, helping to explain why United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann sees him as a bright prospect.
It is just possible, despite his record of injuries, that Eboue retains enough strength for top-flight football as well as possessing considerable talent. His attitude seems impeccable, expressing real desire to help Sunderland's battle against the drop.
He must now prepare to play his part in a gruelling slog in which four sides -- Aston Villa, Norwich City, Newcastle United and Sunderland -- increasingly appear to be competing for one place of safety.
The Wearsiders currently occupy that fourth bottom slot and will still be there on Monday night, despite having no game this weekend, unless either Norwich or Newcastle win tough ties at Manchester City or Leicester, respectively.
"I've trained with the team for almost one month and from my first day I've felt very good," Eboue told the official Sunderland website.
"I've also known the club for a long time and I know Jermain [Defoe], John [O'Shea] and Catts [Lee Cattermole], as well as the French players, so it is like a family here."
He admitted life would be difficult for the club in the final run-in but promised he and his new teammates would "fight hard to move up the table."
Helping Sunderland secure safety may not quite feel the same as chasing titles or playing Champions League football. But at a time when fallout from off-field issues have damaged the club's public image and the supporting public's morale, Eboue would earn undying gratitude if he made even a small contribution to ensuring a 10th succession Premier League season.