Malcolm Dawson poses the question: is this the sorriest squad in the history of Sunderland imports? One possible riposte: it would be far easier to select a truly awful team of homegrown players who have turned out for us over the years, easier still if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland qualified as homegrown. See whether you agree with Malcolm’s choice or feel he has been harsh on some and overlooked others …
When Sunderland fans debate the strengths and weaknesses of Steve Bruce, one aspect of his management career which never fails to divide opinion is his success in bringing overseas players into his sides.
Many point to the players he signed who have succeeded in English football, others to those so-called cut price players who have ultimately proved expensive flops.
Bruce himself concedes that some of his better buys, such as Charles N’Zogbia and Maynor Figueroa took time to adapt to English conditions. Some settled in immediately, whilst others sunk without trace.
Those currently calling for a reappraisal of his time at Sunderland point to the players he has brought in on permanent and part-time deals and question his success in this area: Angeleri, Da Silva, Riveros hardly ever on the team sheet; Mensa – injury prone; Muntari – unfit and costly; Elmohamady – limited ability.
This got me off on a train of thought, hardly original but one which passed a few idle moments. What did I consider to be the worst team of imports Sunderland AFC has signed since the advent of the Premier League?
I set myself a few criteria. Firstly, they had to be permanent signings, not loan players. Secondly they would not be young players brought in with a view to future development such as Jean-Paul Mvoto but heralded as the finished article. Next, I would consider value for money, initial outlay, wages and money recouped balanced against the contribution to the cause.
Here is my team, playing 4-4-2 with a bench of seven subs.
1 Edmund Zoetebier
Signed from FC Volendaam in 1997, the big Dutchman never started a league match – his only two appearances coming in the League Cup. Cost £225,000.
2 Marcos Angeleri
What to say? Signed for £2million, this Argentine international was reportedly injured in pre-season against Sporting Lisbon. El Gordo (the fat one) has just three first team appearances to his name, coming off the bench at Old Trafford on Boxing Day and failing to impress on his start v Notts County in the FA Cup.
3 Jan Eriksson
Despite 35 caps for his native Sweden, Eriksson made but a single appearance in 1998. Against Villa not only did he get booked but it was also his deflection which sent Savo Milosovec’s shot past a hapless Lionel Perez in a 1-0 defeat.
4 Thomas Helmer
Huge name, signed on a free, who was reputedly the highest earner during his time on Wearside. After only making the squad twice, once as a sub, he was loaned out to Hertha Berlin and never played again in the red and white of Sunderland.
5 Kim Heiselberg
Who? Signed in 1997 for £125,000 the Dane never played a single match for The Lads. After a return to his homeland he had a glittering career at Swindon Town where he managed one League and half a League Cup game.
6 Nicholas Medina
In the wake of the success that was Julio, Peter Reid signed Medina for £3.5 million. Another much heralded signing who never played a League game, he started an FA Cup tie at Bolton before being substituted, meaning in transfer fees alone he cost £50,000 per minute!
7 Arnau Riera
A native of Mallorca, Arnau made his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Southend, a team he was later to join on loan. His second start lasted all of three minutes as he was sent off for illegal use of an elbow at Gigg Lane, where the team lost 0-2 to Bury in the League Cup. His two game Southend career was followed by a loan spell at Falkirk and when Blackpool didn’t want him he was released in 2009.
8 Tom Peeters
Under 21 international and former Young Belgian Player of the Year, Tom Peeters signed for £250,000 in July 2000. During his three years at the club he is best remembered as “the forgotten man”, although that sobriquet could be applied to so many listed here. He scored lots of goals at places like Consett and West Auckland, but only played for the 1st XI once – 3-0 League Cup win at home to Luton Town.
9 Carsten Fredgaard
If you were at the SSoL and saw Tom Peeters in his only appearance, then you also had the dubious pleasure of seeing young Danish “sensation” Carsten Fredgaard. Costing the club £1.5 million, “Chocolate Fireguard” had an impressive goal scoring record in the Danish League and I was in the crowd at Walsall to see him score twice in a 5-0 second leg League Cup tie. Apart from that he starred with Tom Peeters in the aforementioned Luton Town match and his one League appearance was as a substitute in a 0-4 reversal at Chelsea on the opening day of the season when he replaced the legend Kevin Ball after 63 minutes. Loan spells at West Brom and Bolton did nothing to improve his lot at Sunderland and he was released in 2003.
10 Milton (Tyson) Nunez
The classic anecdote about the diminutive Honduran was that Peter Reid signed him by mistake, thinking he was a different Nunez! My memory tells me I saw him several times but the records state that he made only one substitute appearance playing the last 15 minutes in the 2-1 defeat of Wimbledon at the Stadium of Light in April 2000. Funny thing memory. I remember thinking the term “headless chicken” could have been thought up with him in mind! Hardly a snip at £2.5 million.
11 Rade Prica
Roy Keane signed the Swede for £2 million in 2008. Of my starting XI he featured most often with six appearances and one goal to his name. A bargain!
GK Jurgen Macho – difficult choice this between Macho Man, Myhre and Marton Fulop. In the end I gave it to Macho for his stick insect legs. If Kelvin Davis had been an Aussie is would have been so much easier!
12 Paulo Da Silva – a Steve Bruce signing who started off well but in his later days appeared shaky in defence. Had a good World Cup for Paraguay but his departure for Real Zaragosa in January was unsurprising.
14 Baki Mercimek – hailed as the next Jaap Stamm, the Turkish qualified Dutchman never played a first team game for Sunderland.
15 Lilian Laslandes – Laslandes was signed by Peter Reid who seemed to want him to play in the Niall Quinn role, a task to which he was patently unsuited. Cost £3.6 million and with wages to match his 12 League games brought no goals. He did score in the League Cup against Sheffield Wednesday but was eventually released on a free in 2003.
16 Tore Andre Flo – how much did Flo cost? £8 million? The club reckon £6.75 million. Whatever, he started only 23 League games and of these was substituted 12 times. A total of 33 appearances and 4 goals in a season that brought relegation.
17 Tobias Hysen – cost Niall Quinn £1.7 million but Keane preferred Ross Wallace. Managed four goals in 26 appearances.
18 El Hadji Diouf – controversial signing who left in controversial circumstances. Gangsta Diouf cost £2.6 million and never scored for the Lads.
Jack Pelter – New Zealand international given a contract after impressing in friendlies. Released soon after.
Pascal Chimbonda – Pacy fullback who never settled and was almost as influential as Diouf. Thirteen appearances.
Stanislav Varga – On his debut v Arsenal looked a real find. An injury sustained at Man Citeeh in his second match restricted his appearances though he eventually played 21 times in his first stint. Brought back in 2006 he failed to match the quality of his early days.
Bernt Haas – A Swiss full back best known for his obvious nickname of Burnt Arse. Went to West Brom.
Patrice Carteron – may have made the subs’ bench except for the fact he was a loanee and for his one and only goal!
* Malcolm Dawson, a regular contributor to Salut! Sunderland, is the chairman of the Heart of England branch of the Sunderland AC Supporters’ Association (president: Kevin Ball) and wrote the above article for its newsletter, Turnips Are Big And Purple.