The quip that being involved with Sunderland puts a certain strain on the heart may be a common enough remark amongst those who frequent the Stadium of Light, but for a former Black Cats player that was a harsh reality when he turned out for a season on Wearside.
Lorik Cana has been speaking to the French press about the Myocarditis he was diagnosed with at around the time he joined Sunderland from Olympique Marseille in 2009, a condition which would later lead to his retirement from football.
The defender-cum-midfielder was the first player of Albanian origin to make an appearance in the Premier League when he signed for Steve Bruce’s Black Cats for a fee of around £5m.
Impressing on his debut in a 1-0 win over Bolton, the 6ft 1in centre-back looked to be an astute signing and was quickly appointed as captain by Bruce. After the initial hype though, Cana would depart for Galatasaray at the end of his first season, citing a desire to play Champions League football and be closer to his family.
But his time on Wearside was complicated by finding out he had the incurable heart condition, as he told L’Equipe:
I suffer from Myocarditis. A hereditary disease? No, it’s a result of a contracted virus. I had a big fever and despite everything the virus has attacked the myocardium and caused inflammation.
After a check we saw it was more serious than we thought. Even though I felt good, I was checked every three months and the doctor could not give me the assurance that I could regain my physical fullness.
Cana officially retired from football earlier this year after being released by FC Nantes in the summer of 2016. The condition had impacted on him in an increasingly debilitating fashion as the years progressed following his initial diagnosis on Wearside:
It happened when I was playing for Sunderland. I did not feel much, I had no pain but the last two years I had more trouble recovering. I felt able to play thirty, forty games a season but it was harder to get back. I had episodes of arrhythmia and the cardiologist told me it was better not to continue. I think I could have played another two or three years. I had a healthy lifestyle but I am a father and after discussing it with family and friends I decided to stop.
After leaving the Stadium of Light, Cana spent a season in Turkey before signing for Lazio. He turned out over 80 times in Serie A before returning to France with Nantes to spend a term in Ligue 1.
Cana always spoke highly of Sunderland and he is another to make the hall of what-might-have-beens at the Stadium of Light.
The Albanian looked some player when he first arrived on Wearside but as his performances tailed off in the latter part of 2009-10 there weren’t too many tears shed when he left for the bright lights - and big pay cheque - of Istanbul.
A suspect knee meant Bruce was happy to recoup his money on the big spoiler, though the fact he went on to play over 160 games after he left Sunderland suggests that wasn’t too much of an issue.