With it being an international weekend and Sunderland having an abundance of players away from the club during the time, I started wondering about all the foreigners who've played for us over the years... An idea was born - who would comprise an all-time team of foreigners? Or in fact even if that was possible since we haven't been in the market for foreign players that long in comparison to other teams.
Deciding to be very traditional about all this and not wanting to make things too easy on myself, I chose a traditional 4-4-2 formation, as well as the somewhat limiting rule of "Non-UK/Eire"
If you disagree with some of the selections, or think A.N. Other is rubbish, just you wait until tomorrow when we see Dan Williams reveal the 'Worst Foreign XI'.
For now though, here's who I consider the best of the best...
Goalkeeper - Mart Poom - Estonia
Choosing a keeper was one of the positions where the competition was fierce. Mart & Thomas Sorensen immediately sprung to mind, shortly followed by Thomas Mhyre & Simon Mignolet. For a brief moment I even wondered if Juregn Macho or Lionel Perez were all that bad. Turns out they were, and Mart won an epic four-way-dance-of-death with the front runners. Mart was a fantastic keeper, as described in our recent Cult Heroes article. Dominating in the box, a great shot-stopper and all round nice guy. Not to mention one thing he has over all the other nominees, a goal whilst in a Sunderland shirt.
Right Back - Dariusz Kubicki - Poland
Dariusz didn't have much competition for this spot. Kubicki is one of my all-time favourites, regardless of nationality, so this was always his position. The Pole was solid and dependable, as proven when he went on a mammoth streak of consecutive games before being unceremoniously dumped by Peter Reid in favour Gareth Hall. The ultimate insult to a superb player.
Left Back - Julio Arca - Argentina
Juuullliiiooooooo. A gentleman, and a supremely skillful player. Julio arrived with nobody knowing who he was, he eventually left with everybody knowing his name. The pint-sized midfielder-come-defender had more skills in his box than Stephane Sessegnon on steroids, and could control the game even from left-back. I don't think we've seen a defender as talented since he left.
Central Defence - Joachim Bjorklund - Sweden
When Bjorklund arrived from Rangers for a very low fee of just £1.5m I remember feeling at the time this would turn out to be superb value. I think I was proved right. The tall Swede played with elegance, style and confidence in a backline which was shaky at best. He couldn't stop us being relegated in the 2002/03 season, but he impressed me enough to make it into the team.
Central Defence - Emerson Thome - Brazil
Emerson was possibly the most un-Brazilian of Brazilians, but he was a power-house at the heart of the Sunderland defence. Tall, stocky and a crunching tackle, he had everything required to be a top-notch defender - which he turned out to be for us.
Right Wing - Steed Malbranque - France
Steed makes it via being the best of a bad bunch. Think about foreign right-sided midfielders at SAFC? Not many unless you're forcing someone out of position. Even Ahmed Elmohamady had a decent shot at making it, but until we see some consistency from the Egyptian, he's out of the running. Steed has been alright too, even if some fans aren't too hot on him these days. His ball control is second to none, even if his goalscoring exploits are second to pretty much everyone. Steed still possesses a huge amount of creativity, and is very hard working despite his aging legs.
Left Wing - Stefan Schwarz - Sweden
A great player, wherever he played be it at Arsenal, Benfica or Fiorentina - Schwarz oozed class. Ok, he was a little on the slow side, but in possession he could pick a pass and occasionally fire a hammer into the back of the net. Schwarz forged alot of friendships on Wearside in his retirement, even going on to become the agent of Julio Arca. Suppose he's got to do something while he awaits the first tourist flight into outer space. No, seriously, he has a ticket booked. SAFC had to take out special insurance incase it happened whilst he was at the club.
Central Midfield - Claudio Reyna - USA
Quite obviosuly dubbed "Captain America" by nearly everyone, the USA international midfielder was restored to a more creative midfield position at Sunderland having been forced to suffer in a more defensive role and occasional defender at Rangers, from whom we signed him for nearly £3m. Claudio was a solid midfielder, if a little injury prone. Much like Malbranque, I can recall him ghosting through midfield with the ball almost glued to his feet.
Central Midfield - Bolo Zenden - Holland
l recall when Bolo signed for us, and not being impressed. Washed up, too slow, over the hill, released by Marseille with good reason... How wrong I was. Zenden has been a very very good player for us, and should quite possible still be in the starting XI. The floppy-haired midfielder has been the epitome of professionalism and thats backed up by Niall Quinn & Steve Bruce's recent wishes to keep Bolo around the club for years to come. Bolo - we salute you.
Striker - Asamoah Gyan - Ghana
The Ghanaian has been largely outstanding in an SAFC shirt, with skills as silky as his dance moves, and he's also gathered us several important points with his prowess in front of goal. While might be slightly off form at the moment, the entire team is, so lets not be too harsh. I can see Gyan going down in Sunderland folklore very soon.
Striker - Kenwyne Jones - Trinidad & Tobago
Ah Kenwyne, fantastic on your day... If only your day was more often. That said, it was more often than the likes of Rade Prica or Lilian Laslandes who preceeded Big Ken in attack. Lets not look back at the things Kenwyne didn't do, more to the things he did do. He put himself about well, was constantly a handful for defenders whether he was up for the match or not, and even snagged a few crucial goals. Kenwyne, if I was on my game today I'd salute you. Unfortunately those days are few and far between. I'm sure you understand.