RR: Unbelievably it’s been nine years now since you arrived at Sunderland - what are your memories of the time when the move came about? What did Roy Keane say to convince you Sunderland was the right place at the time?
AR: It was a little bit strange. It was due to happen earlier in the January window but to be honest the manager (Alan Pardew) didn’t want to sell me - the club needed the money, so there was haggling on the price. I was actually injured at the time and truth be told, I was just concentrating on getting fit.
The move seemed to drag out a little, to be honest. I think Charlton were about fifth at the time, Sunderland were third bottom - so there was the doubt of was it the right thing to do. But once the fee was agreed, I went up and had a medical and I spoke to Roy, saw the facilities and knew it was the right thing to do.
Roy said he knew I was injured, he knew my situation so he’d give me a few weeks to get up to speed. It just felt like the right thing to do. Roy was really good with me.
RR: You set up a goal on your debut with a fantastic pass to Daryl Murphy, and the fans seemed to take to you instantly. What was it like going from playing in the Championship for Charlton to playing in front of 40k+ crowds at the Stadium of Light?
AR: I must admit the passion of the fans was the first thing that grabbed me.
It’s funny, I’m always shocked people even remember that pass, because the actual goal was that good! It was a really good day against Wigan - we got out of the bottom three that day.
When Roy brought me in he said he wanted me to bring creativity. I got on the ball quite a bit in that game, it was good to start off with an assist. I always felt I was the kind of player who would try a pass and take the risks.
RR: Your last-minute volley at home against West Ham was obviously massive at the time and for many supporters it is probably their fondest memory of your time at the club. What are your memories of scoring that goal, and being able to celebrate it in front of the jubilant home support?
AR: Yeah. It was fantastic. We were going through a period where we were playing alright, but we were quite getting what we deserved. We were confident going into the game and we really should have been a couple of goals up by that point.
I think that is where Sunderland fans show their quality though, the way they will push you on to win. They weren’t going to be content with a 1-1 draw at home. It was a perfect ball for me. I remember seeing it come over, I just got my technique right and hit it and in it went.
It was the start of a good run too; we went and beat Fulham the week after I think. The atmosphere that day was fantastic. We all felt we were good enough to stay up, but that win gave us the belief that we were going to.
RR: We had a solid first season under Roy Keane in the Premier League and it felt like we’d made some next-level signings in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately though players like Pascal Chimbonda and El Hadji-Diouf never seemed to fit in and didn't last very long - there are a number of controversial stories out there about their short time at Sunderland! What was it like playing and training with those lads?
AR: There were a few of the lads that came in that were signings I was surprised Roy made. Cisse wasn’t as bad as the others.
They were horrendous people to have around the place (Chimbonda and Diouf). They just didn’t buy into what the club wanted to do, they didn’t buy into going out with the team.
They would always turn up late to training, turn up late to meetings. There was more arguing and fighting in training that season, eventually that reflects on the pitch you know, which it where it matters.
The atmosphere after we signed them just wasn’t good. You can’t just blame it on just those two, but they definitely didn’t help or contribute to the club, or make it any better. I think it was what contributed to Roy Keane and Sunderland parting ways.
RR: Shortly afterwards, of course, Roy walked away from the club after an internal disagreement. There’s a piece in Dwight Yorke’s book about him absolutely losing it in the dressing room during and after a League Cup game against Northampton. Did Roy’s demeanour change much around that period? Did the players know he’d walk?
AR: Like I was saying, I was surprised he made those signings.
I’ve played with Roy as a player, I’ve also played under him and I was really surprised he made those signings in the first place. You know, when things go wrong, it's harder to get out of that rut. Whereas the season before, every single lad at the club you knew would be there for you on a Saturday afternoon - we all had each other’s back.
That season it was different though, and again, that atmosphere contributed to poor performances. The cycle of poor performances leads to the manager being questioned by the board and ultimately, Roy didn’t like that and left.
I think, for me, from the signings, that’s where it went wrong for Roy and the club.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two - playing under Bruce, staying up at Newcastle's expense, Darren Bent, leaving for pastures new and retirement!