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The Nearly Men (Part 2): The Ones Who Got Away

Roker Report guest Gavin Henderson continues his look at the summer 2013 class of Sunderland could have beens.

Mike Hewitt


The transfer window in the summer of 2013 was perhaps one of the most eventful that we've ever seen at the club. With a huge rebuilding job on their hands and a relatively small budget to play with, Ellis Short enlisted the services of respected former football agent Roberto De Fanti in a bid to revitalise a tiny squad with limited resources.

Opinion on the De Fanti reign is largely split down the middle within our support and it's harrd to deny that whilst we made some absolute howlers with regards to player recruitment we also did some good business and when you consider the sheer amount of players brought in to the football club it would have been an absolute miracle if each and every transfer deal we completed were a resounding success.

We seemed to spend large parts of the summer chasing players that, even after weeks of negotiations, we weren't for one reason or another able to bring them in.

The question is, how did those players do last season after failing to rock up on Wearside? I've taken a look at the most prominent ones, the players most of us were convinced were going to be ours.

Lucas Orban

Part of the plan when attempting to restructure our depleted squad last summer was to have two young left backs in the squad challenging for one starting berth throughout the season. Whilst we persisted hopefully with trying to convince Benjamin Mendy to join our ranks, Di Fanti was also hot on the tail of Tigre full back Lucas Orban, speaking to the player's agent to inform him of our interest before the season had even finished.

Orban, however, made it clear he intended to wait until the season was over in Argentina before making a decision on his future and this allowed other clubs to swoop and divert his attention to themselves, with Bordeaux (who had just sold their first choice left back Benoit Tremoulinas to Dynamo Kiev) nipping ahead of us and convincing the player he was best served playing for them.

As expected, Orban has gone on to become an integral part of the first team for Les Girondins and has established himself as a no nonsense, tough tackling attacking full back.

His impressive performances early in the season led to his call up to the Argentina side for friendlies against Ecuador and Bosnia, making his international debut against the South Americans in a 0-0 draw in the USA. Orban's solid yet unspectacular club form meant he had a slim chance of making the World Cup squad but ultimately his lack of international experience counted against him and he was not selected.

Who knows how this one might have gone. Tough, physical full backs tend to adapt rather well in the Premier League but players coming in from South America tend to take time to adjust to playing and living in England. I guess we'll never know.

Tom Huddlestone

When Paolo Di Canio admitted that he had made it clear to those with the money that he wanted "a man with the keys" and "an English midfielder with real quality", everything seemed to point to Tom Huddlestone, a player out of favour at Spurs with all the necessary qualities to re-vitalise a weak and unimposing Sunderland midfield. Di Canio had made it clear to both the press and the board that Huddlestone was a player that he wanted at the football club.

In keeping with a worrying trend that seemed to be developing over the course of the summer, we didn't show enough intent when attempting to sign the player - taking too long to finalise any potential deal - and the player inevitably slipped through our fingers, signing instead in a reported £5m deal for newly promoted Hull City. Annoying.

Huddlestone went on to have a superb season at his new club - playing in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal, amongst other things - and, in my opinion, probably should have went to the World Cup as part of the 23-man England squad.

The most annoying thing about the failed Huddlestone transfer was that we probably could have had him if we'd have pulled our fingers out. Di Canio claimed in an interview with the Sun in January that "I (he) had spoken to Huddlestone and he wanted to come and, before he signed for Hull, there was 45 days where we could have got him."

Another bollock dropped, you'd have to admit.

Lorenzo Insigne

Perhaps the most ambitious piece of business the club attempted to complete was with a sizeable bid for rising star Lorenzo Insigne, an international forward that is viewed in his home country as the next big thing in Italian football. Despite not initially meeting Napoli's valuation of the player, the player's agent admitted that Sunderland were offering him more money than he was earning at Napoli but the player chose to seek assurances from Rafa Benitez that there was a place for him in the side and, upon being told he was very much a part of the manager's plans, Insigne stayed in Naples and has gone on to have a thoroughly successful season, scoring two goals as his side won the Coppa Italia Final 3-1 against Fiorentina and earning himself a place in the Italian World Cup Squad ahead seasoned pros like our very own Emanuele Giaccherini and Genoa's Alberto Gilardino.

If we'd managed to get this one over the line I suspect it might have been one of the best bits of business done by the club in years. Insigne is sure to go on and have a fantastic career at the top of the game and it's a shame we weren't able to bring in a player of his calibre. We saw an opportunity, a player not happy that he wasn't playing games for his club, but just weren't able to secure his transfer.

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