clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Roker Round Table: Pick one great ex-Sunderland player to slot into Coleman's XI; name your man!

New, comments

This week the Roker Round Table asks the writers to have a bit of imagination and name one former Sunderland player who they think would slot in nicely to the current team.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Barclays Premier League Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Gav - @Gav1879

My choice is, admittedly, slightly left-field but I’m going for Alex Rae.

What I feel Sunderland’s current midfield lacks is drive, tenacity and goals, and though Rae was hardly prolific he wasn’t shy about having a shot either. Rae also knew when to put his boot in when needed, too.

There are probably other better examples of midfielders that have lined up in red and white down the years, but when I think back to players that were just very well-rounded, Rae is one of the first names that springs to mind.

Not only was Alex a handy scorer of goals, but his range of passing was superb, and he exuded leadership qualities that the majority of our current tribe couldn’t possibly emulate.

For me, Rae’s impact in that famous Peter Reid side of the late 90s and early 2000s is often underrated and with the fight against relegation certainly very real, we could do with a midfielder currently that has all of the attributes that the Scotsman once brought to our side.

Alex Rae

Connor Bromley - @ConnorBromley

What do Sunderland need? A proper good defender. Jonny Evans is exactly the man to fill the defensive void we have at Sunderland at the moment.

The Northern Irishman played 35 games for Sunderland over two spells and was bloody brilliant in the majority of them. Since he left he played nearly 200 games at Manchester United, won three Premier League titles and won 59 caps for Northern Ireland, and is now West Brom captain after moving on from Old Trafford.

The best thing about Evans is that he is a top class defender who has the leadership skills required to guide this current Sunderland team full of jobbers to the illustrious heights of mid-table mediocrity. Plus he loves the Lads - always a bonus.

James Copley - @JamesCopley73

Look no further than Sunderland’s greatest ever player - Raich Carter. We might not have seen him play in the flesh but the reports of his style tell us that the man was beyond mesmerising.

Carter played with supreme style during a period when football wasn't as accommodating towards pure skill as it is now.

Bearing in mind Carter was 5'8 and still managed to excel in an era where strength and height were valued above flair. Think of those heavy balls, clunky boots and bad pitches combined with kicking and hacking more readily permitted in the 30s.

Carter’s free flowing style would flourish in the modern game with attackers allowed so much protection and pitches like bowling greens.

The bloke scored 118 goals in 245 appearances for the lads and helped Sunderland win the FA Cup and the League Championship.

But most importantly of all - he was born and raised in Hendon!

Carter hoists the FA Cup aloft at Wembley
Getty Images

Chris Camm - @Christophecamm

A man who actually spoke to Roker Report recently, and even expressed a desire to come back, the one and only - Asamoah Gyan.

Babyjet managed 10 goals in 34 league appearances for the lads including goals on his debut, against Chelsea in that famous 3-0 win and a 94th-minute equaliser against the mags. But perhaps more memorable than his goals was the dance that came with it, especially that one where Bolo Zenden tried to join in and looked like yer da at a wedding. It was his character and attitude that really made him such a memorable player.

In his interview with us, Gyan said the Sunderland fans made him feel special and that he is “always available for Sunderland”. Well Asamoah, you’re welcome back anytime. Come back and help get the SoL bouncing again.

Stoke City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Chris Sparks - @ChrisSavedLatin

Sunderland have been extremely fortunate over the years to have some fantastic goalkeepers in between the sticks at the Stadium of Light, which is why it’s all the more alarming to find two inept clowns battling for the number one slot at present.

It’s hard to choose between the handful of top-class goalkeepers we’ve had over the years, heading way back to Jimmy Montgomery all the way to our latest stalwart local lad Jordan Pickford. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know anything about Jimmy Montgomery’s style of play other than that heroic and legendary double save in the cup final so due to my own ignorance I shall rule out the local legend.

In my time going to watch the lads play one goalkeeper always stood out to me over the years and that was Simon Mignolet. Despite having a mixed spell at Liverpool since leaving us, the Belgian’s impact on Wearside cannot be underestimated. He kept Craig Gordon and Kieren Westwood out the team throughout his spell, with the Belgian managing to keep a clean sheet in 30 of his 90 league games for the Black Cats - a record that Jason Steele and Robbin Ruiter could only dream of at present.

Arsenal v Sunderland - Premier League

Mark Carrick - @Carrima

I look at the squad Coleman has inherited and there are glaring gaps just about everywhere.

Oh, to have kept Pickford for another year. Perhaps the same could be said for Defoe, although Grabban is doing a good impression of him, at present. How about a solid centre half, like Charlie Hurley, or a solid right back like Dariusz Kubicki?

In the end, I think my choice was simple. Sunderland need someone to effectively link our wandering midfield with our single point of attack. Someone who can score goals from deep and support the loan man up-front. Our very own Lampard or Scholes? We used to have one of those - Gary Rowell.

I’ll admit, he was my hero growing up and I remember that feeling of sheer devastation when Len Ashurst sent him to Norwich on a free. What a talent he was!

The scorer of 102 goals and our record post-war goalscorer until SKP rocked up, Rowell could play as a deep-lying striker or midfielder. A local lad who played for the shirt, Rowell was instrumental in a 4-1 rout against our lovely neighbours, scoring a hattrick in their own back-yard.

Perhaps injuries put paid to a more glittering career, but in the current side, someone who could bind us together as a more cohesive unit is a gap worth filling. Rowell could definitely do that.

James Nickels - @JamesNickels

I stewed over this for quite some time. At first I thought about the need for a fresh goalkeeper in the side after Robbin Ruiter and Jason Steele’s own troubles between the sticks, and my mind cast towards Jimmy Thorpe or Johnny Mapson. However, with Ruiter’s assured performance at Molineux and with a record of two clean sheets from his last three - I decided against it.

Lewis Grabban has scored goals, but doesn’t really work hard off the ball, while James Vaughan is a warrior on the pitch wearing his heart on his sleeve, but just doesn’t have the same quality in front of goal. We’d need someone like Vic Halom, a combination of the two and FA Cup winner, but this is far from our most pressing issue.

We desperately, desperately need a central defender. An imposing leader, who is a threat from our own corners and stands tall while defending the oppositions’ set pieces. A man with as much intelligence off the ball as he does ability on it. I can’t look any further than the greatest match in our history, the F.A. Cup Final victory over Leeds United at Wembley and the monumental presence at the back which secured it; Dave Watson.

A converted centre-forward by manager Bob Stokoe earlier in the season, Watson was initially brought to the club by Alan Brown for £100,000 in 1970. A huge fee for struggling second-division Sunderland, yet the Nottinghamshire-born central defender repaid every single penny and more in his five years at the club before moving on to Manchester City for £175,000 and Jeff Clarke in-return.

Watson, however, was an imperious defender. I believe the three most important facets to defending are concentration, anticipation and perception. A footballer’s mind is always his strongest weapon while the body is merely a conduit for this, and Watson is arguably the smartest defender the club has ever signed. He also just happened to have the physical and technical ability to go with his superb reading of the game. He was strong, tall and quick across the ground, while having good ability on the ball to play it forwards and was dangerous in the air, scoring 27 goals in 177 appearances for the club.

Dave Watson
Watson in his England days

Despite Stokoe’s famous run across the hallowed turf resulting in him embracing Jimmy Montgomery, in his post-match interviews he first heaped praise upon Watson. His man of the match display has been criminally forgotten amidst memories of Stokoe’s run, Monty’s double save and Porterfield’s goal.

The beanpole-defender subdued the dangerous strike partnership of Mick Jones and Allan Clarke, dominating the former in the air while also proving his technical ability by rivalling the elusive Clarke in terms of both skill on the ball and pace along the ground.

Watson’s performance was one of complete maturity and naturally had many admirers taking note. ‘He was outstanding’ Stokoe proudly proclaimed afterwards. ‘Like a rock in the middle of our defence’.

There is no doubt in my mind he’d fit perfectly into the middle of our defensive three right now, and is one of many old-school players who would almost certainly thrive amidst the modern standards expected of a defender.

Jake Hannah - @jake_hannah

Looking at our current crop of inadequate players, this decision wasn’t the easiest. We’ve had significant problems in most areas of the pitch this season, leaving us in a difficult position towards the lower reaches of the Championship. The shambolic performance of Robbin Ruiter against Millwall springs to mind initially, but his recent performances have been somewhat more solid.

The defensive problems continue with a mixture of experience and youth often viewed as the formula for success; however, an effective balance hasn’t yet been found, or rather stumbled upon. Further forward, our main source of goals has come from a player who has spent time on the injury table for lengthy periods of his career, and could well be off in January. But at least we’ve got a goalscorer for the time being.

It really is in midfield where we struggle to impose ourselves on games, with Cattermole and Gibson having produced too many sub-standard performances already this season.

Middlesbrough midfielder and former Black Cat Grant Leadbitter is my pick of former players who I’d draft into our team without any problems. Our team is crying out for a player to get stuck in (sensibly) in the middle of the park and I feel Leadbitter can bring that bit of fight over a 90 minute match - something we are lacking so far this term.

Although he may not be the most glamorous of ex-players, he would never step foot on the pitch accepting that a defeat was a possibility. All we ask of our players is to give 100% and he certainly did that in his time at the club. Maybe that was the naivety of the youth product at the time, but his determination wouldn’t go amiss in this struggling campaign.

West Ham United v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Jake Trelease - @jakeytrelease

There are players who I would’ve loved to see play in the red and white shirt. Growing up in the era of seventh place finishes, it’s hard not to look back at some of the players from that time as if they were Gods. In February 2001, Sunderland briefly sat in second place in the Premier League and Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn, Don Hutchison, and Tommy Sørensen were the heroes of the show.

Do kids still look up to the Sunderland team in the same way I once looked up to Bernt Haas? I once got his autograph outside the Stadium in 2002 and the man seemed to have genuine presence, though maybe not so much on the pitch. Things have changed a lot since then and as we sit 23rd in the Championship I sometimes wonder if kids still look up to players like Darron Gibson with their innocent, rose-tinted eyes and still see hope and feel admiration. Anyway, I digress.

For the sake of this article I will step back from my own nostalgia and nominate Len Shackleton as the man I wish I could see play. Most of us have been told the stories by our Grandas about Shack. The ways he would stop with the ball mid-game to pull up his shorts or play ‘passies’ with the corner flag.

He was one of the first footballing mavericks when he signed for Sunderland for a then British Transfer record at £20,050 in 1947. Shack was a headache for England selectors and revered by both teammates and opponents for his sometimes obstinate or selfish approach to the game. It’s only because he knew how good he was.

His third season saw Sunderland finish in third place in the First Division, narrowly missing out on the title to Portsmouth by a solitary point. This was an era when Sunderland were dubbed the ‘Bank of England’ team due to their sheer willingness to spend big. All before corruption and on-the-pitch failure put an end to the golden years. A time long before relegation to the 3rd division, Bob Murray, Super Kev, Ellis Short, 6 in a row and home defeats to Reading.

Paddy Hollis - @PaddyHollis123

The player I would most like to see back in a Sunderland shirt would have to be sexy Spaniard Marcos Alonso. Now plying his trade for some London club, Alonso was a key part of the great escape and league cup run under Gus Poyet.

He was an incredibly cool customer playing at left back, both in defence and attack. If that wasn’t good enough for you, he also had the best hair ever. Unlike with most of our other defenders at any given point, Alonso made you feel safe when he was on the ball. When he joined Fabio Borini for the celebration at St James’ you could just see the passion in his face - it was a beautiful sight.

Unfortunately, as is the case with Sunderland, all the good things soon come to an end. We weren’t willing to open the cheque book for Alonso, but imagine if we did?

Sunderland v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Graham - @AsylumDoors

So if rumours are to be believed, Coleman wants a target man and our top scorer Lewis Grabban looks set to be recalled by Bournemouth so they can sell him. So I’m going to go for a striker, a legend and a hero of mine - Niall Quinn.

If you want a target man, there’s simply no one who could do it better than big Quinny. Just have a look at his highlight reel and you’ll see he wasn’t just a big beanpole, he could score a bullet header, bring it down on his chest and swivel, volley, lob, chip - he was the best player I’ve ever seen at the club and I love him.