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Roker Report meets... Former Sunderland and France right back Pascal Chimbonda!

Former Sunderland right back Pascal Chimbonda - a divisive figure during his time on Wearside - sat down with Roker Report to talk about why he’s back in the North East playing for Washington, how it was he originally ended up at our club, his thoughts on Roy Keane, THAT derby win and whether he has any regrets.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

RR: Hi Pascal! First and foremost, thanks for sitting down with Roker Report to talk over your time at the club. I believe you’re turning out for Washington FC these days - how is it, being back in the north east?

PS: Yeah, it’s not a big change for me. It’s good.

I was in France before, I was playing for AC Arles-Avignon for a while. The move came because I knew the manager from Washington, James Clark, and he asked if I would come and help him with the young players at the club, with my experience. It’s good to come and play football still. I still love playing football.

RR: Taking it back to the day you joined Sunderland now. How fast did the move come about? I remember we made a bid for four Tottenham players. Did you all get pulled into a room at the same time when the news was delivered? How weird was it?

PC: I didn’t want to leave Spurs because I was happy and enjoying my football. They brought in a new right back and moved me to the left hand side, which wasn’t my usual position - I wasn’t 100% comfortable. But it’s football, you play where the manager needs you to be - sometimes you want to play in your own position though.

We were in Spain in pre-season and the manager Juande Ramos told us there was a bid on the table for four players. He told me to go and speak to the club and see if I thought it was a good fit. We (the four players) didn’t go down together, we travelled to Sunderland separately.

RR: In the end three of you came to Wearside. How did Roy Keane sell the move to you and what were your reasons for joining the club?

PC: Sunderland hadn’t long been promoted, so I didn’t know too much about the club but I knew Roy Keane. He was a huge character; as a player he never gave up when he was at Manchester United. I liked him - he always gave one hundred percent.

We had a meeting and it went very well. He took me around the training ground. The thing I liked most about him is we spoke man to man. He told me the truth. He told me what was what; what he wanted from me. He’s a big character and sometimes as a player you need that.

We all had our meetings separate because the deal wasn’t for all four players, they were each separate, and before I knew if the others were joining I gave Roy my word I would come. I told him I wanted to be at Sunderland. Steed Malbranque and Teemu (Tainio) came later, but Younes Kaboul decided to stay.

RR: You got to experience the Wear-Tyne derby pretty early on. The atmosphere was electric that day and is still one of the best in my memory as a fan. What are your memories of that derby day? How does it compare to other big games you’ve played in throughout your career?

PC: You can’t lose that game. Sunderland versus Newcastle... you have to be prepared to fight because if you lose it, you can’t go out in the city. You want to win it because you want to go out and be proud.

The stadium was full; you could see them queuing up. That sort of atmosphere you know you won’t get to experience again in your career.

I like playing in a derby game when you’re winning! It was a good day, we fought together and we knew each other. I knew El-Hadji, Teemu and so on. It was a good mix with the British players and we knew what winning the game meant. You have to play that derby at more than 200% - with the fans at Sunderland it’s like having twelve men. As a footballer, those are the games you dream about.

I signed for Sunderland for three years, but I only got six months - but I did really enjoyed my time at Sunderland. The fans are unbelievable, the stadium is massive. I want to see Sunderland do well, always.

Fulham v Sunderland - Premier League
“Roy lifted the club. He brought them back to the Premiership and I feel that since he left it’s never been the same”
Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images

RR: After the derby we went on a horrible run of bad results, losing seven of the eight games that came afterwards. Roy Keane walked out shortly after losing at home to Bolton. Could you all tell he was going to leave? What was his demeanour like in the run up to his resignation?

PC: I don’t know why he left. The chairman came in and told us that he’d left and that was that. His character - he wanted everything to be perfect, he doesn’t like not winning. I am like him, I have that same mindset. Roy is a winner that is used to winning all the time, and I think it affected him.

I really respected Roy. When I play on the pitch, I want to give everything, I wanted to play for the forty-eight thousand people. Because of that, I felt like Roy was a man who was just like me. I think though that some players feared him a little bit. If they made a mistake, I think they worried how he would react, but they shouldn’t have - it’s football, you make mistakes.

When he was at the club, everyone would fight to get into the team, there was always the pressure to be in the first eleven. It was good.

RR: Some people say that Roy brought in too many big characters that were similar to him. Do you think that had an effect?

PC: (Laughs) Yes, people do say that. He brought in good players alongside some very good players he already at the club. We had a good team, we had Yorke, Ferdinand, Kenwyne. We clicked in that game verses Newcastle, but we should have done a better job after that. We should have done better.

Steed was another great player, he was quiet but gave it all on the pitch.

RR: Since that period the whole club has gradually become a mess. We’ve been stuck in a rut. Why do you think we’ve suffered so badly since that period? Why did the team spirit drop?

PC: Roy lifted the club. He brought them back to the Premiership and I feel that since he left it’s never been the same for them. They’ve been struggling for five to six seasons. I really don’t know why, because they have had good players.

For example, they have a player who was very good in France for Lorient - Lamine Kone, but he doesn’t play well at Sunderland. He was good for a short while, but he has been poor. He’s a big guy and he’s a good player. Maybe it’s tough since Younes has left because they both speak French, whereas O’Shea speaks only English. Sometimes it’s better to have two players who speak the same language. I know he’s been in England for two years or so, but it still helps.

It’s really hard as a player sometimes when you’re losing lots of games then the manager goes because that manager may have been the one who brought you to the club, then a new one comes in and he might not like you. It’s tough, because then sometimes you have players who don’t perform due to this and it’s always the manager who gets sacked, not the players.

RR: Coinciding with our poor run in form was moves out of the club for yourself and El-Hadji Diouf. Was the move your decision or did you feel a little pushed out of the club?

PC: When Roy Keane left, Ricky (Sbragia) took over and we did well for a really small period. Ricky was someone who was good, because he was very open with everyone. If you didn’t play, he’d tell you why. If you were on the bench, he’d tell you why. If you played crap, he’d tell you. That’s good. We are human, we need tough love from a manager.

Me and Ricky had a misunderstanding. I had played at Manchester United and got a kick on my foot late on. We lost 1-0 and we played really well. I couldn’t train the next day, I could run but I couldn’t kick the ball - I didn’t think it was so bad at the time so I didn’t go for treatment straight away, but when I couldn’t kick the ball I went to Ricky to tell him. I didn’t think it would be so bad the next day, but it was and he was unhappy I hadn’t told him and gone for treatment straight away. It was my fault, because I should have but I didn’t think it was as bad as it was. By Friday, it was healed but he put the team up and he had benched me, he had also dropped Dioufy even though he was our man of the match against Manchester United.

I asked if we could speak after training. I asked him why I wasn’t playing and he said it was because I didn’t go for treatment straight away. I am a man, I wouldn’t lie about my feet, it was healed and I had told him - I was ready to play, but he said “no, you’re on the bench”.

I told him because of this I didn’t feel I was mentally 100% to be on the bench, so it was better for him to choose a young player and shortly after that my agent told me Spurs wanted me to come back.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League
Pascal shows his delight at securing the win over Middlesbrough with Michael Chopra and Daryl Murphy.
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

RR: Finally, if you had the chance to do it all again, would you change anything about your career and time at SAFC?

PC: I’d change a lot of things. This is why I’m doing my coaching badges, I want to give back what football has given to me. The way I left Wigan, I would change that. In regards to Sunderland, I wish I’d had more than six months - I felt I could have done more at Sunderland. I enjoyed my time there, but I do wish it had been longer. I hope Sunderland do great, it’s tough now for them, but I want them to succeed.

Do they have a manager yet?

RR: We’re looking at Paul Heckingbottom apparently.

PC: Ah, Heckingbottom is young but he’s done well at Barnsley, but Sunderland is a big, big club. I think they need a big personality.

RR: Like Roy Keane?

PC: (Laughs) Yes. I played under Allardyce at Blackburn too. Big Sam knows how to manage. Sunderland need this, a big character who gets the club.