"... I want to play football. I don't want to sit on the bench. I don't want to sit around and pick up money. I want to play and contribute to the team."
Danny Graham said that. No not while he has been at Sunderland, but on 30th December 2012. Back then, the Gateshead born centre forward was on 19 goals in 55 Premier League games for Swansea City; days away from his Wearside recruitment, where he could play regular football again. He wouldn't be some bench warmer for Sunderland, sitting around picking up money...
It could have been a different career for Daniel Anthony William Graham since 2003. Then 17 years old, the talented Chester-le-Street Town prospect joined Middlesbrough FC to develop with U18 coach, and former Black Cats midfielder, Mark Proctor. After 2 years of prolific progress, the striker was already on a senior Smoggies contract.
Graham's competent fan-funded, on-loan form for Darlington FC was a productive experience to Boro head honcho Steve McClaren. It was enough to offer the centre forward valuable experiences in European competition; as one of two promising youths subbed on against Sporting Lisbon. The other: Adam Johnson.
Upon offering Graham a renewed contract in March 2005, McClaren endorsed the striker as a "natural goal scorer". However Graham failed up that good favour in his 05/06 campaign; scoring none in 3 Premier League and 17 Championship fixtures, for Middlesbrough and loans at Derby County and Leeds United respectively. Boro had him on the transfer list by June.
Another uneventful loan to Simon Grayson's Blackpool FC in July 2006 followed 10 minutes of game time on Teesside in the 06/07 season. Yet it was his final loan, in December 2006, to League One's Carlisle United that sparked Graham's long-awaited nascent in goal scoring form. He went 11 appearances for Neil McDonald's team, scoring 7 goals and providing 2 assists.
The striker returned to Brunton Park on a free transfer in June 2007. He would score 29 goals in 89 matches for the Cumbrians across League One and both national cup competitions, from 2007 to 2009. At 23 years old, there was still enough promise in the relatively unknown striker to justify a Championship Division recall, to Vicarage Road with Malky Mackay's Watford FC.
From 2009 to 2011, Graham was excellent. A far more developed centre forward, he went 41 goals in 98 fixtures; topping his club's goal tally in 2010, and the league's in 2011. Peerless; Graham was revered by Hornets fans for his challenging, defence-squeezing desire as a lone striker. He was voted Watford's player of the year in 2011, and no doubt he'd be welcomed back there today.
Graham had earned the opportunity in July 2011 to test himself in the Premier League with Brendan Rogers' newly-promoted Swansea City. For £3.4m the striker, now 25, netted a praiseworthy return of 14 goals in all competitions in the 11/12 campaign. His match-winning strikes against Liverpool and Arsenal enhanced his status as a valuable, Premier League-calibre centre forward.
His second season, in 12/13, was less triumphant. New head coach Michael Laudrup recruited midfield goal motor Miguel Pérez "Michu" Cuesta to front the Swans' attack; a decision that subsequently restricted Graham's game time. Though Premier League clubs dabbled with curiosity over the striker, Graham - with all sincerity - adamantly declared his allegiance to Swansea City.
And so it became transfer rigmarole when Martin O'Neill sought to recruit the striker as Steven Fletcher's coequal. Sunderland and Swansea City both denied any deal, while Graham himself refused to switch from a club that was booked in for a cup final. He didn't want to leave, and many Sunderland fans didn't want him; being a confessed Mag. It was already an inadvisable transfer.
Then an old interview went viral, and Graham's (then, at least) loyalty in the 132-year Tyne-Wear skirmish unravelled. This was no rumour you heard from your half-brothers' best mates' pet cats' fleas - his contempt of Sunderland was there, in print. So when Swansea City played the Stadium of Light on 29 January, Graham's reception was eminently sour. It was Steve Bruce's fabricated reality.
Not that supporters didn't back him upon his arrival. The home crowd applauded his work ethic regularly. His industrious effort in the O3 Arena ass-kicking was especially worthwhile. Since his recruitment, fan favour only wavered when the striker's goalless match run entered double figures. His half-season on Wearside ended with no goals in 13, though not for the wont of trying.
In those four months, Graham racked up 68% shot accuracy, to Fletcher's 72%. In total, he hit 16 shots; 11 were on target, 5 off target, 3 blocked. He was substandard aerially, winning 2 headed duals of his 6 per-game average, yet he also provided 6 potential assists, of which 2 were converted.
The forward didn't appear in the Sunderland first team squad again until August 2014; being benched in 5 of the first 11 fixtures this season. Most recently he appeared for 13 minutes against Liverpool and in the final 15 minutes versus Tottenham Hotspur. Ironically, Graham struck two shots on target at White Hart Lane, whereas Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe managed none.
That said; is now the time to grant Graham that second chance he never got? No one else is scoring. Or should the club get rid of a striker who is just walking money? He's only profitable until June 2016 - two transfer windows away. As it was in January 2013, he still splits opinions.
In his defence, Danny Graham's career record is 111 goals in 369 games - that's not a dreadful ratio. He'd scored in 31% of games for Swansea City so, even as squad cover for Fletcher; he was a logical acquisition in 2013. Even if £5.1m was iffy money for a 27-year old on the downward curve in market value, Graham's record was a doubt-dampener. O'Neill never saw a goal drought coming.
Then again, he'd had several before. Even in better times at Carlisle United and Watford. He suffered a double drought bought for the Cumbrians; in 07/08 (17 games), and 08/09 (18 games). Later, with the Hornets; he failed to score in 09/10 (for 12 games), and 10/11 (7 games). His Swansea City record corresponded likewise; in 11/12 (10 games), and again in 12/13 (11 games). Maybe it's some freakish coincidence that his goalless streak at Sunderland started from day one.
He's had another since, too. Sunderland loaned Graham to Hull City in July 2013. He went 13 matches before scoring. Unfortunately, the luckless striker has since warranted the clichéd ‘Championship Player' tag after his homecoming form for Middlesbrough returned six goals in 18 matches. He also scored 1 in 5 for Kenny Jackett's Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2014.
While the striker rediscovered good form in the Championship, Sunderland has struggled with a futile strike force. It still is - for now. That Graham has not been utilised as a fresh alternative for the Black Cats in 19 months is a strong indicator that this ‘second chance' isn't coming. Maybe.
Despite talk of the Gateshead native being some ‘enemy within' satisfied on the work-shy profit bench, Graham is surely frustrated on Wearside. As a footballer, Danny Graham - at Sunderland - has become everything he sought to avoid at Swansea City: he isn't playing football, he is sitting on the bench, he is sitting around picking up money, and - unless that changes - he isn't contributing to the team. Even if he wants to be.
"...I'd stay as far away from Sunderland as I could," he once said. He probably should have.