Summer Madness: the good, bad and ugly of Sunderland’s foreign legion (part one)

Jake experiments with colour
Jake experiments with colour

During the lull between seasons, where we peer through the mucky glass of the transfer window via the various speculations of the media,“Summer Madness”is the feature where we re-print articles from earlier times. Two years ago Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson took a look at some of the overseas players who came to Sunderland AFC with varying degrees of success. Here is the first of the three part series, with the others to follow over the next few days, and rounded off by a promised update to include some of the legion of imports alluded to in the introduction.

July 2013

With the summer influx of foreign players into the club, it is easy to assume that we have exciting times ahead, watching a team full of talent from all corners of the globe. Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson has seen it all before, albeit not in such numbers. He recalls some of the overseas imports from Black Cats’ history, some good, some not so good and some bizarre.

I was too young to ever see South African Don Kichenbrand in red and white. The Chilean Robledo brothers and the ex German POW the late Bert Trautmann, were names I only knew from my brother’s old football annuals. In fact there were hardly any players from outside the British Isles playing in English football when I was growing up. John Charles, Jimmy Greaves and Dennis Law had all plied their trade in Italy in the 60s but the only overseas players in my own country that I was aware of were: Albert Johanneson at Leeds and the Dane, Preben “Benny” Arentoft who played up the road at St James’ Park, having spent an inordinate amount of time at Morton in the Scottish league.

In those pre Common Market days there was I believe legislation prohibiting the employment of foreign players who did not meet stringent criteria. It wasn’t until the 1978 World Cup and the subsequent signing of the Argentinean World Cup Winners, Ricky Villa and Ozzie Ardiles by Spurs that the gates finally opened.

Theoretically the forthcoming season could see a Sunderland side containing no players from the Home Countries or the Republic of Ireland. This got me thinking of some of our previous overseas signings, who played in red and white with varying degrees of success. Feel free to add to the list. In part one, I choose my best starting XI with the bad and the bizarre to follow.


In goal I have to choose between:

Thomas Sorenson who succeeded cult hero Lionel Perez between the sticks and was part of the exciting Peter Reid side which threatened to break into the top tier of Premier League teams and Simon Mignolet who we saw develop from a hesitant young keeper, too keen to punch and too reticent to dominate the box, into one of the best in the League. Without his crucial saves we would have gone down last season. A shame he had to go but his sale to Liverpool has allowed the new management team the resources to develop the whole squad.

In the end I’ll plump for Sorensen, purely because he played almost twice as many games for The Lads.

The fullback spots go to:

The Pole, Dariuz Kubiki who having made 124 consecutive starts for the club was inexplicably dropped, just one short of George Mulhall’s record, to make way for Gareth Hall! Julio Arca who like Mickey Gray, was tireless in midfield and a dependable attacking full back gets my vote for the left back berth.

In the centre of defence I have plumped for Joachim Bjorkland and Stanislav Varga. Swedish international Bjorkland always looked calm and cultured, although his presence couldn’t prevent the team suffering relegation in 2003. He was however part of the side which reached the FA Cup semi final the following year.

Varga earns his place purely on the quality of his debut performance against Arsenal at the Stadium of Light. Four days later he suffered an injury at Maine Road and although he was in and out of the side during the 2000/01 season he was allowed to go out on loan to West Brom, before being released. He had a second spell at the club under Roy Keane.

Source: US Soccer
Source: US Soccer

The midfield four presented me with a few selection headaches but in the end I have gone with Bolo Zenden, Stefan Schwarz, Claudio Reyna and Steed Malbranque. Racking up more than 200 Sunderland appearances and winning over 260 international caps between them, these four quality midfielders had a combination of skill and steel, although none of them were prolific goalscorers during their times at the Stadium of Light. Interestingly Steed Malbranque never played at full international level and such was the privacy of the man that several of his team mates sent him messages of support when it was rumoured his son was suffering from cancer – a son he didn’t have.

Sess by Jake
Sess by Jake

Up front I’ve gone for Kenwyne Jones and Stephane Sessegnon. Before being crocked by David James whilst playing for his native Trinidad and Tobago, Jones always struck me as a hard working, old fashioned centre forward with an eye for goal and a trademark celebration. One hundred and one games and twenty eight goals in the red and white of Sunderland earns him his place. There’s no doubting Sess’s ability. Though he can be profligate in front of goal he has also scored some superb goals. Hopefully he’ll stay and produce the quality of performance that we know he is capable of in the new season. (Now of course we know he didn’t – MD)

Next time I’ll look back at some of the poorer players that have come from overseas and one or two oddities too.

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3 thoughts on “Summer Madness: the good, bad and ugly of Sunderland’s foreign legion (part one)”

  1. Do think Emerson (the Rock) Thome was better centre back than both mentioned as was John Mensah, Varga had a great debut then never reproduced that display again, although Gyan and Bendtner were both maveticks their class was undeniable. Tommy was the best keeper we ever had and will take some beating. I liked Marangoni but the English game did not suit his languid style but he did do well after he left us

    • Weird – I was listening to Big Country when I was updating the intro – the Stuart Adamson band not the film score.

      Love that bagpipe inspired guitar sound – RIP Stuart.

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