Summer Madness: an updated look at Sunderland’s foreign legionnaires

Jake: 'soar like a bird and stop it gannin' in, Costel'
Jake: ‘sorry Pants, you’re still with us so excluded from Malcolm’s selection’

Malcolm Dawson‘s revived series of reflections, first published in 2013, on the Good, Bad and Ugly among the foreign players he has seen in Sunderland colours has provided a fascinating summer distraction as we await news of more such signings, with maybe the odd Englishman thrown in. Here, our deputy editor updates the story to take account of the men from afar who have joined us – and left us – since the series appeared …

My original articles which focused on Sunderland’s foreign imports was written only two seasons ago yet such is the turnover of players (and managers) that it seems a lot longer.

In bringing the series up to date with players signed since the end of the 2012/13 season, I have concentrated on the overseas talent that has been and gone in that time and left out players who are still officially at the club.

That’s quite a turn around but means that I have ignored Valentin Roberge (yes he’s still one of us), Ricky Alvarez, Charis Mavrias, Patrick van Aanholt, Vito Mannone, Costel Pantilimon, Santiago Vergini, Jordi Gomez, Sebastian Coates and Emanuele Giaccherini.

Of course I could equally have done a piece on home grown players we have seen and waved goodbye – there are plenty of those to fit into all three categories – but it was Roberto de Fanti’s scouring of the international market for players many of us had never heard of (and a total absence of foreign players in the English game when I was growing up) which was the catalyst for the original piece.

So here we go with my first XI of overseas players who have been and gone since July 2013, remembering that in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly ratings, criteria for the Ugly category is anything I want it to be.

In goal, Oscar Ustari – a member of the Argentine team which won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, Ustari also played two games for the full national side, only one fewer than number of times he played for The Lads.

To be fair he, kept clean sheets against Kidderminster and Southampton in the 1-0 F.A. Cup home wins but was also between the sticks for the disaster that occurred at Hull City in the quarter final. Finding it hard to decide which category to put him in as he was only brought in on a short term deal as cover for Don Vito and Kieron Westwood and in two of his three games didn’t concede a goal so I’ll put him in the Good book.

My back four consists of Ondrej Celustka, Mobido Diakite, Carlos Cuellar and Andrea Dossena.

Let’s start with Andrea Dossena. Getting sent off in the first half of any match for the type of assault he launched at former Black Cat David Meyler, is nothing short of stupid. To do it within minutes of your side having already been reduced to ten men and seconds before half time, is suicidal.

This was the game where we conceded an own goal, lost our keeper in the first half, had two men sent off before the break yet still somehow almost conjured a second half result against a side led by a former manager.

Dossena didn’t last long at the club and more recently the ex Liverpool man, now plying his trade at Leyton Orient, was questioned by police about an unpaid for jar of honey from Harrods. Although no charges were brought his performance at Hull City and his memory lapse at the check out, still earns him a place in the Ugly squad.

The own goal alluded to above was turned into his own net by the Spaniard Carlos Cuellar.

Signed on a free from Aston Villa, Cuellar filled in for a couple of seasons (but played only four league games in his second year) before being released and jetting off to East Anglia.

Like Ustari he did enough to make me feel he shouldn’t go in the bad category, but then he wasn’t that good either. Even his own goal wasn’t of the quality of Vergini’s against Southampton so sorry Senor – you are still going in the list of Bad boys.

My memory of Mobido Diakite is of a tall gangling character brought in from Lazio pre-season by the di Canio/de Fanti regime and loaned out back to Italy in January after Poyet took over. He made his debut in the 1-1 draw away at Southampton but managed only eight appearances in total.

Virtually an ever present under PDC, caretaker manager Kevin Ball and Gus Poyet both reverted to the tried and trusted Brown/O’Shea combination. Diakite made only limited appearances after the Italian’s departure and those came following Wes Brown’s sending off at Norwich. My powers of recall aren’t what they were and I didn’t see that much of him but what memories I do have are of a rather clumsy, uncoordinated character. To paraphrase Shania Twain, he didn’t impress me much so joins Cuellar with the Bad boys.

Jake: 'do you reckon it'll produce a brighter wash next season?' ..'
Jake: ‘do you reckon it’ll produce a brighter wash next season?’

Ondrej Celustka on the other hand I quite liked. In recent years we have had no end of loan players in the full back slots, Marcos Alonso and Danny Rose perhaps being the stand outs but the Czech international did a job when he came in on loan from the Turkish side Trabzonspor.

He hit the bar in the 1-0 defeat at home to Fulham and was only booked once during his 27 appearances that season. On the bench at Wembley he wound up at Nurnberg after his loan spell was over. He goes in the Good book.

Moving into midfield, my line up is more Advocaat than Poyet with El Hadji Ba, Ki Sung Yeung, Cabral and Fabio Borini making the starting line up. I would have gone for Alfred N’Diaye, especially as he so nearly scored with his first touch in a red and white shirt, but he was a Martin O’Neill signing who never really had an opportunity at the club. So the recently departed El Hadji Ba takes the first midfield spot alongside Cape Verde international Cabral.

I have seen both these players several times and Cabral especially I thought was unfortunate not to get more playing time. He impressed in his one league appearance on the opening day of the 2013/14 season in the home defeat to Fulham.

My impression was that we had found a hardworking, creative midfielder who would go well with the likes of Colback, Cattermole, Larsson and Gardner. He’d also scored in the pre-season tournament against Spurs and it came as a surprise when he never made another appearance save for the hour he played against MK Dons. This in a game we were about to lose until the turnaround in the last fifteen minutes without which we wouldn’t have had our day out at Wembley.

The other times I saw him were all pre-season and again I thought he looked lively and useful but those who pick the teams obviously didn’t rate him so highly.

For his part, El Hadji Ba looked raw and inexperienced. Again in pre-season games he wasn’t lacking in commitment but his impact on the Sunderland first XI was at best negligible. He did score against Carlisle in the Cup in the only game in which he started. Like several other Di Fanti signings he spent more time out on loan than he did on Wearside. For that reason, despite my impressions of both players they represent a poor return on the club’s outlay and so have to be consigned to the Bad boys list.

Ki Sung Yeung and Fabio Borini on the other hand were crucial for us in the season 2013/14. Both loan players who the majority of supporters would have been happy to see sign permanently and indeed the club did try to secure the services of both players at the end of their time with us.

Borini’s crackerjack against the Mags in the home victory and the opening goal at Wembley means he will always have a place in the history books. This is tempered somewhat by his apparent reluctance to swap Merseyside for Wearside in the long running transfer saga and he disillusioned a lot of the Sunderland faithful by his actions that summer.

No doubt he had good financial reasons for staying put and he may even have thought he was making the correct career decision for footballing reasons but there’s no doubt he would have played a lot more for us than he did for the Reds – being much more suited to the left sided deep lying striker role that Connor Wickham was asked to perform for much of last year.

Jake remembers
Jake remembers

Ki on the other hand, was a quiet but effective and industrious hub in the centre of midfield. It was his club and not the player who scuppered his return and as such hasn’t antagonised Sunderland fans in the way Borini did.

His goal in the League Cup against Chelsea did much to help the club get to Wembley and his winner in the Boxing Day game at Goodison was vital in the season of the “Great Escape Mark 1”. Both Ki and Borini have to go in the Good book.

Up front no surprises that my selections go straight into the Bad boys list. What can I say about Jozy Altidore?

For all his lack of success the crowd never got on his back. Like the proverbial headless chicken he ran around a lot but never really looked like scoring and in fact missed two of the easiest chances to come the way of any forward in a Sunderland shirt.

One right on the stroke of half time against West Ham and another against West Brom in the home game after Poyet’s miracle seemed to sum up his misfortune in front of goal.

He had his plus points, was strong and could hold the ball in build up play but he was never going to find the net on a regular basis. That said, it is easy to forget that it was he who scored the first goal against Milton Keynes that led to the fightback which led to the League Cup final and that he had a perfectly good goal ruled out against Arsenal thanks to a premature ejaculation from referee Martin Atkinson. Sorry Jozy, I appreciated your commitment but a striker’s job is to score – not something you were any good at.

Jozy: poor sod. A journeyman footballer, not a premiership striker
Jozy: poor sod. A journeyman footballer, not a premiership striker

Ignaccio Scocco! Three million quid for a player who came off the bench six times in the league but who actually had a pretty decent debut against the Saints in the 1-0 F.A. Cup win at the SSOL. His only other start was in the quarter final at Hull, where he was less impressive and picked up a yellow card for good measure. Another unsuccessful South American who caused no tears to be shed when he returned to his homeland.

So there we have it – another raft of imports with varying degrees of influence at Sunderland. On the whole it has to be said that the return has hardly justified the outlay. Add to that the injury prone Giaccherini and Alvarez and it is hard to argue that players brought in from abroad in the past few seasons have proved to be value for money. In recent years we have had some decent overseas goalkeepers, but Mignolet was the only successful one brought in from abroad. Mannone and Pantilimon, like Larsson, Gomez and Van Aanholt had played in the UK for several seasons before we signed them.

But it has to be said that many of the home grown players brought in have also failed to ignite the Stadium of Light so as I stated in my introduction – this is not an indictment of our foreign players more perhaps of our recent recruitment policy and just something that was inspired by the changing nature of a game which consisted entirely of players from the British Isles until I’d reached my mid thirties.

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1 thought on “Summer Madness: an updated look at Sunderland’s foreign legionnaires”

  1. No place for Moberg Karlsson in this list but there’s another player we paid good money for who managed but a single appearance for the club. The current dispute over Alvarez, the fact we have had to sign Vergini and DA coming out with a statement that he has no future and the susceptibility to injury of Giaccherini, Rodwell, Alvarez and others leads me to question the efficiency of the recruitment policy of recent years. Add to that Bridcutt and Buckley and I have to hope that Dick’s call for quality not quantity will be heeded. I’m also yet to be convinced that Billy Jones will become a fixture and neither is Gus if the signing of Matthews is anything to go by.

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