Sunderland legend and our former chairman Niall Quinn has revealed in a new book, entitled 'Up There' and written by local author Michael Walker, that we were close to bringing in current Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal to the club back in 2009, when we found ourselves looking for a permanent manager after interim boss Ricky Sbragia had managed to successfully guide us to safety after the departure of Roy Keane.
Van Gaal, at the time, was the coach of dutch side AZ Alkmaar and had just led the Cheese Farmers to an impressive Dutch title win but was looking to move away from his homeland and Quinn has revealed that he held talks with King Louis before eventually settling on Steve Bruce. Yep.
"We’d always had Steve Bruce on the list. Maybe some would say we’d delusions of grandeur, but we had good feedback from Louis van Gaal. I spoke to him personally a couple of times on the phone at home. One time his wife answered and told me: ‘Keep working on him, I want to go to England’.
That was adventurous, but Ellis was all set to back it if it came off. That was after Ricky. Roberto Mancini’s people got in touch with us at that time too. He’d been having English lessons. It was interesting. We opted for Steve and he got us a top-10 finish. He understood basic things like needing goalscorers – we had Danny Welbeck for a while."
In other news, Costel Pantilimon has had his say in today's Chronicle on how potential signings shouldn't judge the club on the way previous seasons have gone.
The giant stopper, who could start tonight in Portugal against Spanish side Recreativo De Huelva, said:
"The results from last year did not worry me. I know at this moment we have a good manager and good players.It did not scare me or anything like that.
I remember the games against Sunderland with Man City last season. We lost the game here, drew at home and we had a difficult game in the Capital One Cup final after they scored the first goal. I came here to help this team. I know about this project and the ideas of the manager. I am sure we are going to do good things. I trust what has happened here. We can do more than what happened last year.I have found there are great people here. Since the moment I came here, it has been easy to adapt. I think it will be the same for the other new players. When you have a good team and good staff, it is easy to settle. I know Adam from City. I talked with him. He is a good guy and also a good player."
Gus Poyet gave plenty of game time to our younger players in our opening three pre-season ties against Darlington FC, Carlisle United and Hartlepool United and they impressed both the fans and the club staff massively with their application and work rate - both the wins in our latter two games can be attributed to the youngsters that entered the fray later in the match as all of the goals were scored when we had a team made up entirely of our under 21's squad.
This didn't go unnoticed with the players and Steven Fletcher spoke to The Chronicle to give praise to the players that did their best to impress in our pre-season openers. Fletcher said:
"The transfer window is open for a lot longer yet. There’s plenty of time for the gaffer to do what he can do, but some of the younger lads have really shown what they can do so far. There’s young players here who've not really had a chance yet who have been doing well. There’s players who are here for the future."
While we're on the subject of our younger players - Hartlepool gaffer and former Sunderland defender Colin Cooper has confirmed to SportMail he's interested in bringing back centre half Scott Harrison for a loan spell at 'Pools following on from his successful spell there at the end of last season, where he drew praise from SkySports presenter Jeff Stelling amongst others.
"The two lads Scott and, in particular Christian (Burgess, Middlesbrough defender), both did a great job for this football club. Christian is a great lad and really enjoyed his time here but whether he comes back is really up to Middlesbrough. But we have made no bones about the fact that we’d love to have Christian back and Scott would be more than welcome too.
From our point of view, though, the ball is in the parent clubs court. We have made lots of phone calls and inquiries about the possibility of players. You have a certain list and if you get two or three you’ve done well and we will continue to try. I fully understand the supporters saying ‘are we signing anybody?’ The fact is I want to sign players that I know are good enough to go straight into the team.
That is the hard bit but we will continue to try."
I can see merit in sending Harrison back to Hartlepool - his manager there wasn't a bad defender in his day and I imagine there is much he can learn from him. Aside from that, he'd be gaining invaluable experience of playing in the Football League and, alongside former Middlesbrough captain Matthew Bates, Harrison would have an opportunity to hone his skills and come back to Sunderland as a better player.
The issue, of course, is that Hartlepool play in the fourth tier and if Harrison has any chance of making it as a senior player at Sunderland he needs to be tested at a much higher level. We'll see how this one pans out.