The Brexit Debate. Today: the not so good Europeans of Sunderland AFC

Malcolm Dawson writes…..with the seemingly never ending issue of Brexit, the prorogation of Parliament and the confusing and contradictory outpourings of the major political parties and politicians I decided to take a sideways look at the whole business of leave or remain by comparing the contributions that EU citizens have made to the cause of Sunderland AFC, in the hope it would simplify my thinking.

Yesterday, I made the case for the Remain campaign and in case you missed it you can find it here (and hopefully this will take you there and not some dodgy Turkish escort site!).

Today I shall be looking at some of those players whose time on Wearside was less effective and give weight to the argument that freedom of movement is not always desirable – unless it means moving them on.

Initially I did think that this was going to be an easier task than choosing a team of individuals who had made a positive impact in the club’s history but realised quite quickly that my self imposed criteria, one of which was that I had had to see them play in a Sunderland shirt had actually restricted my options.

For instance, the first name that sprung to mind was that of Arnau Riera. Signed by Niall Quinn, Arnau made his first appearance from the bench at Southend, a game I didn’t go to, then in a League Cup tie away to Bury, his only start, he got himself sent off after only three minutes. I wasn’t at that one either. Then in came Roy Keane and out went the young graduate of Barcelona who had grown up with Lionel Messi and Xavi, so that was an obvious choice rejected.

But undaunted I have set about trawling the memory banks and come up with the following side, set up in a 4-4-2 system with a full bench of 7 subs.

GK. This was my most problematical selection. There were two obvious candidates. Mika and Keiran Westwood.

Mika’s dodgy holiday on Wearside doesn’t qualify him for the Brexit XI

However, whilst I am pretty sure I saw Mika play for the U23s at the Stadium of Light in a game where he made two howlers, I never saw him play for the senior team so I’ve ruled him out. So Westwood it had to be. After all he had played for the Republic of Ireland, which makes him an EU citizen, until I discovered that he had been born in Liverpool and qualified for Ireland owing to the fact that he liked a pint of Guinness, listened to The Corrs and once read Roddy Doyle’s “Barrytown Trilogy.”

Macho Macho man

So it was back to the drawing board and a bit reluctantly I’ve gone for Jurgen Macho.

The Austrian was a decent enough keeper, though he lacked a bit of beef as they say and had a propensity to punch rather than catch (some would say flap at) high balls. Macho joined us in the year 2000, from First Vienna as back up to Tommy Sorensen and made a total of 7 appearances in his first season, two as a sub. He only played 4 times the next season but in his third and final year, before moving to Chelsea he actually started 15 times and also came off the subs’ bench for a third time in his Sunderland career. Of the EU nationals I’ve seen play in goal for Sunderland (I never saw either of Edwin Zoetebier’s two appearances either) he would have to be my choice between the sticks for the Brexiteers XI.

Back 4:

RB Considering we finally ended up in 14th spot in the Premiership in season 2013/14 (but only after winning five of our last six league games) and we got to Wembley in the League Cup, we had a number of poor signings that pre-season. One of those Valentin Roberge is my selection on the right side of the back 4. Coming on a free from Portuguese side Maratimo, I actually thought he looked quite a classy player whenever I saw him but he didn’t really coupé la moutarde as the French never say. He was quite a cultured player but his style didn’t really seemed suited to the English game and after a mere 13 appearances he went back to his native France on loan to Reims.

CB There was a lot of competition for the back 4 positions but my two centre backs are Thomas Helmer and Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Thomas Helmer – capped 68 times by Germany and a member of the winning side of Euro 96 came to Sunderland in 1999, brought in by Peter Reid to cement our place back in the top flight. He managed all of two games – a 0-0 at home to Arsenal and a 2-1 away win at Elland Road. I was at both of those games but never saw Helmer again. Did Peter Reid not rate him? Was he suffering from homesickness or couldn’t he face the constant singing of the The Dambusters March by opposing fans? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. He came on a free but on massive wages and returned to Germany, on loan to Hertha Berlin, before we’d all linked hands and sung Auld Lang Syne to celebrate the new millennium a year too early.

Do you remember Sotirios Kyrgiakos, the big Greek centre back who came to us on loan from Wolfsburg?

No? Well I do – just. He played a total of four games for us and I know I saw him play but I can’t for the life of me recall who our opponents were. I have vague memories of a lumbering hulk with long hair who looked clumsy on the ball but that’s about it. The main centre back pairing that season was John O’Shea and Titus Bramble with Carlos Cuellar ahead of Kyrgiakos, which perhaps indicates just how much managers Martin O’Neill and Paulo di Canio rated him but like so many on this list he played several times for his country as well as at the highest level in European competitions with Glasgow Rangers. Maybe we just never got to see the real deal.

LB has to be Andreas Dossena. Dossena came to us on a free from Napoli, via a loan spell at Palermo. The Italian could have become a cult figure after making his debut in a 2-1 victory at Sid James’ Park but in only his second game, at Hull City, he was sent off for a needless stamp in the 6th minute of first half stoppage time. Not only was that an act of pure stupidity in itself, being as it was out by the touchline in the opposition’s half with the ref just about to blow for the break, but we were already a goal down thanks to a Carlos Cuellar OG and a man light already courtesy of an idiotic lunging tackle from Barry Lee Cattermole not long before. It was a credit to the nine men still on the pitch that we finished that game without conceding another goal and unlucky in fact not to have got at least a point.

As before the competition is healthy for the midfield berths but my selection lines up like this: Carsten Fredgaard, Jason Denayer, Christian Bassila, Charias Mavrias.


RM Carsten Fredgaard. The young Dane came to us surrounded by hype, following four years at Lyngby Boldklub, who he played for more than 100 times and having scored 29 goals. He had also earned representative honours with the Danish U19 and U21 sides. Would, we thought be seeing a successor to the Laudrup brothers? Well no was the short answer. Fredgaard also earned a full international cap whilst on Wearside meaning that he played almost as many games for Denmark as he did for Sunderland. I saw him at Walsall where he scored twice, but he only ever started three games for us, all in the League Cup and made one appearance from the subs’ bench in the Premiership.

CM Jason Denayer. The Man City registered Belgian came to us on loan following a spell at Galatasary whence he was soon to return. Although nominally a centre back he was mostly used in midfield, where his strength and height could prove to be useful but generally he was inconsistent and just as likely to put the side under pressure as he was to relieve it. Now playing at Olympique Lyonaisse, where he is club captain, he has also made 10 appearances for the Belgian national side who it can’t be said are lacking in talent. Is he another example of a player who couldn’t settle in the North East or was the fact he was playing under David Moyes in a totally demoralised team a bigger factor?

CM Christian Bassila. 6 foot 4 Parisian, Christian Bassila came to us on a free from Strasbourg and made 16 appearances for us in the 15 point season but had a clause in his contract allowing him to leave again with no fee involved. Off he went to Greece having failed to make much of an impact in what was after all a poor Premiership side. He played in a total of three wins, one of which was against Cheltenham Town in the League Cup. Despite being French he was selected for the Congo but having played for the French U21s he didn’t get the necessary clearance in time. He was called up again after FIFA changed the eligibility rules but I haven’t been able to find out if he ever took the pitch. Those who saw him at the Stadium of Light will probably say he rarely did.

One of the three Tow Law keepers Mavrias couldn’t score against.

LM Charalampos Mavrias. I saw him play at Tow Law in a pre-season friendly where he was added to the Chris Waddle Honours Board as an international to have graced the turf at Ironworks Road, although the bloke who does the lettering had a bit of a job fitting his full name on after enjoying a few bevvies in the North Point Hotel. Coming to us from Panathinaikos he was soon to go back there on loan, though he did commute between Greece and Sunderland, having a few goes at breaking into the first team. I saw him play a couple of times in the League Cup against MK Dons and in the FA Cup against Kidderminster Harriers. Did I ever see him play a league game? I’m not 100% sure but I do recall him braving the wind at Tow Law where the three home team ‘keepers put in more memorable performances.

Up front – well who else but Lilian Laslandes

Peter Reid’s preferred replacement for Niall Quin in the new millennium had won several caps for the Les Bleus. Costing over £3 million I was surprised to see that he actually appeared 13 times for the Black Cats – though 8 of them were from the bench. I actually thought on the times I saw him, that the team weren’t playing to his strengths as he was no Niall Quinn and needed the ball played to feet more than actually happened. I saw him score at Hillsborough in a League Cup game which we lost in extra time but after reports of a falling out with Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton, who had both learned a few French swearwords in order to make their feelings clear, he was shipped out to FC Koln then again to SC Bastais.

I’ve included a second Frenchman up front with the pacey David Bellion alongside his compatriot. He played 30 times for us over two seasons but only started 5 league games in the relegation season of 2003 scoring once. Despite this he was courted by Manchester United who eventually persuaded him to go to Old Trafford. There will be those who remember him as a decent player but for me he was another who failed to live up to his potential. He just pips Adnan Januzai who is forced to settle for a place in the dugout.

Subs Bench:

GK Shay Given: I saw Shay Given (on loan from Blackburn Rovers) make his debut for us in a boring 0-0 draw at Filbert Street. This was a game televised live on a Sunday and the Foxes offered local schools free tickets in The Family Stand so I took along a half dozen or so of the school team I was running at the time, which was almost all of the Year 6 pupils in the village primary school where I was working. I was a little concerned about how the crowd around me would react when I celebrated a Sunderland goal but I needn’t have worried and instead I used the time usefully to catch up on some sleep. Given was a decent ‘keeper but he did play most of his career for the Mags so he goes on the bench as the Irish backstop.

Ondrej Celutska: Czech international Celutska came on loan from the Turkish side Trabzonspor in 2013 and was Paulio di Canio’s 10th signing that summer. We were crying out for a right back following Danny Rose’s return to Spurs and Celutska seemed to fit the bill, with a couple of You Tube videos convincing many of a red and white persuasion that he would do the job but he never really did fill Danny Rose’s boots and few tears were shed when he left. He played about a third of our league games at right back with Phil Bardsley playing twice as many, despite di Canio saying Bardo would never turn out for the club again, after he was pictured rolling around on a casino floor covered in £50 notes. Celutska, an unused sub at Wembley when we played Man City, went back to Trabzenspor at the end of the season before going on a free to FC Nurnburg.

Modibo Diakite: French born but having spent much of his life in Italy Diakite arrived from Lazio in June 2013 at the behest of Paulo di Canio. He played 8 times for that Italian but was deemed surplus to requirements when another, Gus Poyet took the reins. Diakite went off back to Italy and Fiorentina in the January window then was finally released on 1st September by (as the saying goes) mutual consent.

El Hadj Ba: Once linked with Spurs El Hadj Ba joined us from French side Le Havre and started only once in an F.A. Cup tie against Carlisle at the SoL. Despite scoring the third goal against the Cumbrians, he only made two other appearances as a substitute before going off to Bastia on loan and eventually being signed by Charlton Athletic, where the young Frenchman made 25 appearances over his two years at The Valley.

Teemu Tainio: The not so Flying Finn signed for us in July 2008 but it took him a full thirteen months to find the back of the net when he managed to grab a goal against Norwich in the League Cup in what was his only appearance in his second season with us, having been in and out of the side the year before. A week after his goal he was loaned out to Birmingham City and at the end of the season released – again by mutual consent.

David Moburg Karlsson: Karlsson just squeezes into my team as I saw him play against MK Dons in the League Cup at the start of the 2013/14 season. Apart from that he never played another game for us being sent out on loan to Kilmarnock where he managed 4 games. £1.5 million well spent? He has since played three times for Sweden.

Anthony Stokes: Dubliner Anthony Stokes was signed by Roy Keane from Arsenal for a fee in the region of £2million. After 36 appearances but only 3 goals Stokes was lent out to Sheffield United then Crystal Palace. During his time on Wearside he was barred from The Glass Spider. He moved to Scotland playing for Hibs and Celtic but he has never been far from controversy and allegations of anti social behaviour. He has recently been banned from contacting his former girlfriend after being found guilty of stalking.

So there you have it. Not a comprehensive list of EU citizens who have been signed by the club – no room for Joachim Bjorklund or Anthony le Tallec for example but then neither have I found a spot for Jordi Gomez or Carlos Cueller.

Of our current squad only Alkmaar born Alim Ozturk, our new Belgian signing Laurens de Bock and fringe player Benji Kimpioka from Knivsta in Sweden are true EU nationals, with Aiden McGeady taking his first breath in Glasgow and only qualifying for Ireland because he has a red setter and the complete set of Father Ted DvDs.

So as things stand, whatever happens come October 31st it would appear that for this season at least, our squad will mainly be made up of players born in the UK plus Lynden Gooch. Am I any clearer on the Brexit debate? What do you think!


If there is any copyright claim on the images used in this report, not answered by “fair comment” please let us know and we will remove or acknowledge as requested.



5 thoughts on “The Brexit Debate. Today: the not so good Europeans of Sunderland AFC”

  1. Of course we are all all EU citizens for the moment. For once I’ll not say what I think about the likelihood that we won’t be for much longer.

    I also thought Given was excellent for us but it was clear throughout his loan that we wouldn’t get him permanently.

    Laslandes was, as Malcolm says, a victim in part of failures in training: he wasn’t Niall Quinn but was good on the ground, so what did our players do? Hoof the ball high as if he was Niall all along. I saw his debut at Fulham and he almost scored what would have been a cracker of a goal, an overhead shot from one move where the ball didn’t just sail over his head.

    Had he scored, the effect on his confidence and on the fans’ impressions of him might have made things so very different.

    It didn’t help, of course, that he later listened to another player who – allegedly – said it didn’t matter how much you drank on a night out on the Toon before trying to drive home.

    Great pair of articles, Malcolm

  2. Aw c’mon Malcolm! Shay Given was better than “decent”! I thought he was very effective for us and we should have signed him. As for his time with the Mags well good for them for spotting his talent. Wait a minute, did I just praise them-up-the-road??!

Comments are closed.

Next Post