Mannone: 'It's Another Uneasy Season, But We Will Succeed'
Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone has been speaking to the Italian media and has spoken of the satisfaction of getting his number-one jersey back, whilst remaining fully convinced Premier League survival is certain this season.
Speaking to TuttoMercatoWeb, the 28-year-old - who has been in England all his adult life - says he is more than happy here, but hints at leaving the door firmly propped open if the right offer arrives in the now wide-open transfer window:
I am English-Italian, and in my eleventh season here. I'm in the best league in the world.
Before the transfer window opened there were teams interested in taking me.
Yes there is interest from some clubs for January, but we will see what will happen.
The Italian 'keeper was a strong contender for 'man of the match' in Monday's draw with Liverpool - probably sharing the title with midfielder, Didier Ndong; and choruses of that old favourite - 'Oh Vito Mannonneeee' - could be heard loud and clear echoing around the stadium thanks to a string of outstanding saves as Sunderland rescued a valuable point against Jurgen Klopp's title-contenders.
Admittedly Mannone had a torrid time against tomorrow's visitors Burnley at Turf Moor on New Year's Eve, conceding four and finding himself at sixes-and-sevens as Andre Gray punished mix-ups in Sunderland's back-line. But after a slightly uncertain start against Liverpool, the stopper quickly grew in stature and by the final whistle he was firmly back in the affections of the Stadium of Light faithful.
In truth, Vito Mannone hasn't shirked from expressing his dissatisfaction at losing his place to Jordan Pickford through no fault of his own. After tearing ligaments in his elbow sidelined him for three months, the Italian's former understudy produced some incredible performances to catapult himself into the fringes of the England team and attract attention from some of the Premier League's biggest clubs.
But with supposed interest from second-tier club Aston Villa (who are probably now out of the market for a 'keeper after signing Sam Johnstone from Manchester United) as well as Serie A side Palermo - a team also threatened by relegation - it is clear Mannone sees himself as a Premier League goalkeeper capable of performing in the world's 'best' league:
Without taking anything away from other leagues, for the goalkeeper here it is more difficult.
There is always unpredictability from one player in every team, more goals, less protection from your defence and more physical play - never gonna happen in Italy - where if you were merely surrounded by three or four players during a corner in Serie A that would be given as a foul to you.
And on his future, after cementing himself as Sam Allardyce's numero-uno this time last year - to the point where Big Sam had let his close rival Costel Pantilimon leave in the winter transfer window - Mannone likely remains a little unsettled on Wearside as David Moyes has three senior goalkeepers at the club, plus youngster Max Stryjek, as the Italian philosophically muses on where he might end up:
You never know in the future. I always leave the door open. One day we are here, one day we are there; but I grew up as a child with his dream and never imagined I would be able to pursue this career. I'm on the train and I am travelling happy.
And he has a message for supporters taking a deep breath and preparing themselves for their fifth straight desperate relegation run-in:
For us it hasn't been an easy season. So many changes are never easy to absorb. Nevertheless, we always produce crazy performances in the Premier League, against big clubs. We survived last season when it was unthinkable. We always overturn adversity and we've always done it.
Vito and the Sunderland faithful share a bond based on that perpetual battle - but also built on Wembley, a 'great' Old Trafford night which has gone in the history books and just a few decent derby results.