Nine years ago to this day, Roy Keane beat off interest from Aston Villa to bring Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon to the Stadium of Light for a British transfer record fee of nine million pounds.
Writing in his book, Keane said that Gordon "was the big name. Craig was the only player I've seen being applauded off the training pitch, in all my career - by his own team-mates," he added. "It was after his first training session. Nobody could score against him. We needed a number one goalkeeper; we were in the Premiership - 'Aim high.' He was amazing."
Despite the promise and undoubted potential, the Scotsman endured a mixed time in the North East, making just 95 appearances in five years, with a succession of injuries restricting his impact.
Gordon played 34 times during his debut Premier League season, helping Keane’s men to a respectable 15th placed finish. But then disaster struck.
In October 2008, Gordon picked up the first of a series of injuries during his time on Wearside after damaging his knee, which saw him fall behind the late Marton Fulop in the pecking order. After winning back his place at the start of the 2009/10 season, a collision with Jermain Defoe saw Gordon fracture his arm, an injury which kept him out for three months.
Despite the setback, he returned against Portsmouth in January 2010, and enjoyed what many consider to be his best run of form in red and white as a series of impressive performances helped Sunderland to 13th place. Against Manchester City in particular, Gordon produced a stunning performance, making what Marc Vesty of BBC Sport described as "five top-class saves from the feet of [the] Scotland goalkeeper." Steve Bruce admitted in his post-match interview that "the keeper has kept us in it in the second half."
Gordon had surgery on his arm in the summer of 2010, only to fracture it again days later in training. He returned against Spurs in September, enjoying a run of fifteen starts in sixteen game, including a 1-0 win over Bolton which saw the Scotsman make an incredible save from Zat Knight, later voted the best save in the twenty year history of the Premier League.
With signs of the stopper getting back to his best, injury struck again, this time in the form of a knee tendon. After being deemed fit enough to sit on the bench, it was announced that Gordon would undergo surgery on his knee tendon and anterior cruciate ligament. He would play just one more time for the first team before being released in 2012.
After two years out, Gordon made a triumphant return to Scottish football, winning a domestic double in his debut season at Celtic, along with a second SFWA Footballer of the Year award. Against England in November 2014, Gordon earned his first Scottish cap in four years, before making his first start in almost five years against Northern Ireland in March 2015.
Gordon’s positioning and commanding of his area came under question at times, but there’s no doubting that the Scotsman was a superb shot stopper capable of making world class saves. A series of unfortunate injuries meant that we never really got to see Gordon at his best in a Sunderland shirt, although I’m sure most will be pleased to see him playing competitive football once again, even if it’s not in the red and white.