The Greatest Team Sunderland Never Had

Christopher Lee

The transfer window seems to e cracking open with all sorts of transfer rumours about players headed to the club. Some deals get much further than others, and others we simply couldn't complete. We've compiled our team of 'nearly men' at Sunderland...

GK: Brad Friedel

"Friedel Gives Up On England" Press-Telegram, 2nd September 1995

They called him "The Quiet American" - long before Ellis Short took the moniker - and he went on to become a top quality Premier League 'keeper, but just not with us. It wasn't through lack of trying mind you.

In 1997 we could and should have signed him. Reportedly terms were agreed, everything was in place, but the Department of Employment decided he hadn't represented his country enough to gain a work permit.

"When I heard the application had at first been turned down I must admit I was in tears" admitted Friedel.

Having reportedly pipped Newcastle and Southampton to his signature, an appeal didn't work either. After a year at Galatasaray, a move to Liverpool eventually came to fruition. The rest is history. We soldiered on with Lionel Perez.

RB: Chris Baird

"Keane Swoops For Saints' Defender" Daily Mail, 7th June 2007.

Chris Baird should have been lining up for us rather than against us at the weekend gone. In 2007 he came so close to signing for us that the Daily Mail proclaimed that he has passed a medical and would be unveiled two days later at a press conference.

But something went awry. Roy Keane can, to put it mildly, be a "difficult" person to work with, and this seemed to be the case as later Baird would deny such a deal was ever in place for his signature. Keane reportedly said that Baird turned us down on the strength of things to do in the local area, he claims it was to work with former international manager Lawrie Sanchez.

Despite us jumping on Keane's side immediately when you look back at it, he probably had a point.

LB: Leighton Baines

"Baines Sunderland Move Is Off" The Telegraph, 26th July 2007

There really was something about Roy Keane wasn't there? In 2007, it seems his "love him or hate him" personality was really coming to the fore as another top full back chose to deny us once everything was agreed.

This time it was current Everton star and now England international Leighton Baines, who in 2007 was on the cusp of leaving Wigan Athletic. Three bids had been denied for his services until a fourth and final bid was accepted, with the player headed to the North East for talks.

All it took was for Everton to match the bid and he was off. Something about being them behind his boyhood team emerged, and a meme among Sunderland fans was born. Since then conflicting reports have emerged about his allegiances to Liverpool and Everton. Whatever the excuse, perhaps with a nicer manager in charge we'd have had him.

CB: Miguel Angel Nadal

"Nadal Linked With Wearside Move" Press Association, 5th June 1999

What a scoop this was going to be... If only there was seemingly a shred of truth within it.

I do recall this being the most talked about thing during that summer though. How Peter Reid wanted to bring the "Beast Of Barcelona" to Sunderland for a £1.5m fee, with his wages in the region of £10k per week not an issue for our cash-rich board at the time.

Despite the good source, the move came to nothing and we ended up with a fairly decent Steve Bould after Liverpool decided to pull out of a deal for the aging defender.

With the move not ever really being touted as close however, I'll admit this one's making up the numbers slightly.

CB: Dorin Goian

"Sunderland Eye Goian Deal" Press Association, 21st July 2007

In our eleven we next have Romanian defender Dorin Goian to compliment Nadal in the center. Unlike the Nadal deal, this one was actually cloes, and could have happened were it not for us apparently messing Steaua Buchrest around over money.

Having had an impressive Euro 2008 tournament, the defender was in demand, with us, Bolton and West Brom all chasing his signature. It was believed that we were in pole position to sign him, with Steaua chairman Gigi Becali suggesting the player should be sold to us or Dynamo Kiev.

For whatever reason the deal did not come to fruition. Later, then Steaua manager Mircea Lucescu told of how the deal did not come to pass;

People at Sunderland are not the ones to trust. I think that's why Goian's transfer didn't go through. We too had talks with them for our Polish player, [Mariusz] Lewandowski, but they wanted to pay the fee in 4-5 years.

Not one's to trust eh? Any coincidence this was also in the Keane-era?

MF: Didier Zokora

"Zokora Tempted By Sunderland Move" Metro, 23rd June 2009

Roy Keane had gone and Steve Bruce had arrived. Everything was going to be fine. We could hopefully get some stability and attract some top quality names to the club. With some significant reinforcement needed in midfield, a move for Ivory Coast international and Spurs bit-part-player Dider Zokora would have been a good one.

Unlike many players around this time, he even actually wanted to play for us according to his agent, Rachel Anderson;

Didier would like to stay in the Premier League and it would we quite a new challenge, coming straight from France to London then to go to the North East - that would be a different challenge.

With the passion you get around Sunderland, it would be a great experience for any player. I would be surprised if he didn't look on it favourably.

Eventually his new challenge would be in Seville, not Seaburn, much to Anderson's surprise. Still though, we ended up with Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana, so that was a 50% success.

MF: Diego Buonanotte

"River Plate Star In Sunderland Sights" Daily Star, 22nd December 2010

Before every Argentine was labelled "the next Messi" they were all labelled "the next Maradona", and Sunderland were reportedly close to signing the latest in the production line of Messi/Maradona's in the form of the five feet and two inches frame of Diego Buonanotte.

Steve Bruce was in the mood for shopping in South and Central America with the additions of Marcos Angeleri, Paulo Da Silva and Christian Riveros. Buonanotte was supposedly next in line to come and help us into the European places.

Rather than make his way to Wearside, he instead crashed his car killing three people and putting himself out of action for several months.

MF: Anders Svensson

"Swede Arrives For Sunderland Talks" The Independent, 22nd November 2000

Under Peter Reid it seemed a signing could come from anywhere, so when it was reported that after agreeing a fee in the region of £2m there were few eyebrows raised.

At the time, the central midfielder/right-winger told local newspaper Aftonbladet;

I hope something can be arranged.

For whatever reason, nothing was arranged. Svensson went on to become a mainstay of the Swedish national side and played over 100 games for Southampton, before returning home to Elfsborg. His boyhood team.

ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

"No Go On Ajax Star Zlatan" Sunderland Echo, 21st August 2002

No really, it's THAT Zlatan. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of one of the all time great goals against England the other day and a man who attracts silverware and trophies like some sort of reverse magpie.

Back in the summer of 2002, Peter Reid was lamenting the retirement of Niall Quinn and desperately in search of another big man to take his place. The candidates? Zlatan Ibrahimovc and Tore Andre Flo. It looks like such an easy decision in retrospect.

Peter Reid recently revealed we were very much in for him;

When he was at Ajax, I went to Amsterdam and offered £7 million for him. It was the second time I had tried to take him to Sunderland - we were also in for him when he was at Malmo.

Imagine what a signing he would have been, everywhere he goes his team wins the league.

And it's not only that too, Zlatan was quoted as giving the idea at least a smidgen of thought as he told reporters at the time;

At the moment I am leaning in the direction of staying at Ajax, but you never know what will happen.

In the end we had to settle very much for second best with Flo. In a desperate attempt to try and make this not look like a terrible decision, Arsene Wenger also declined the opportunity to sign Ibrahimovic. He always makes good decisions right? RIGHT? ...Nah, we should really have pushed the boat out.

ST: Ruud Van Nistelrooy

"Van Not The Man" Press Association, 12th February 2000

Perhaps we may never have needed Zlatan or Flo if we'd signed Herenveen hot-shot Ruud Van Nistelrooy instead. Back in 1997, we were offered the chance to sign him from Herenveen for a fee in the region of £5m - although Peter Reid would only let on about the fact 3 years later;

He's a quality player and someone we were looking to buy three seasons ago when he was still something of an unknown. It was just after we started back in the First Division. At the time he was playing for Heerenveen, and I think he was only 19.

But they quoted us £5 million which at the time was just far too high a price for a player we could not be totally sure would be a success.

Would he be a success in the Premier League? 31 goals and a season later he was off to Manchester United for near to £20m. Sir Alex Ferguson announced his quality was there for everyone to see. Obviously not quite everyone.

ST: Peter Crouch

"We Can Beat Spurs & Fulham To Crouch" Shields Gazette, 20th July 2009

Why is it that it seems since Niall Quinn left we just can't sign a tall striker? Peter Crouch - the tallest of them all - it seemed might just be the man to add an extra dimension to our play.

Like him or loathe him, he does provide options and causes problems for opposing defenders with his frame, and it seemed at one stage as if he was destined to do so for a few years on Wearside.

Steve Bruce was in bullish mood about signing him back in mid-2009, proclaiming that;

We're happy to have agreed a fee with Portsmouth and happy that Peter came up to talk to us about the move.

We've given it our best shot in terms of trying to convince him that Sunderland and the North East is the right place for him, the right club for him at the right time.

And in that sense, we're content that we've done our jobs.

Something could easily happen in the next 24 hours.

And indeed it did happen as he opted for a move to Spurs to once again line up with Harry Redknapp. You win some, you lose some eh?

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