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TOP FIVE: Modern-day footballers whose careers peaked when they were at Sunderland

There aren’t many footballers whose careers peaked at Sunderland. But these are five players who we should look to as shining examples that we can get transfers right.... sometimes. Very rarely. 

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

We are terrible at transfers. Really, really awful. Martin Bain is often castigated as the harbinger of deadline-day doom but, in truth, our shocking transfer business pre-dates him by at least a decade.

There are countless examples of players who we have let leave our club – most of them at a loss – who have then gone on to excel at their next club and the club after that and the club after that. We have a history of letting players leave for peanuts who then go on to impress elsewhere.

From Conor Hourihane to Craig Gordon, from Ricky Alvarez and Sebastian Coates to the more recent examples of Emmanuele Giaccherini and Wahbi Khazri, we have a habit of throwing players to the wayside far too quickly.

Aston Villa v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Conor Hourihane
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Indeed, this is partly the reason we find ourselves in such a financial mess – buying players at premium prices and selling them on at discount prices just a season or two later. Shock horror - this is not a good business model for a football club.

However, as deadline day approaches, let’s take a look at the five players who bucked this trend and whose careers actually got worse after moving on from Wearside.


Kevin Phillips

What to say about Super Kev that you don’t already know? He was quite simply phenomenal for us, scoring 130 goals in just 235 games. He still holds the staggering record to be the only Englishman to have ever won the European Golden Boot.

From a personal point of view, he made me fall in love with football. But we represented the apex of his twenty year career.

He was moved on from Watford to us without fuss. When he left the red and white of Sunderland, he swapped it for the red and white of Southampton – but he also swapped a better than 1 in 2 strike rate for a 1 in 3 strike rate. After he left Southampton for Aston Villa, he spent most of his career in the Championship. The goals never dried up but he never hit the heights he hit at Sunderland again.

We miss you, Super Kev.

Kevin Phillips of Sunderland Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Simon Mignolet

He may have moved on to a bigger club who regularly challenge for trophies but, purely in terms of performance, no-one can argue that Mignolet is performing at the same level as he did when on Wearside.

In fact, he seems to have become a shell of the ‘keeper who Joe Hart praised as the “best goalkeeper in the league” in 2012 and who won our Player of the Year the season before he left.

His confidence seems absolutely shattered and, to add insult to injury, he’s now been replaced in the Liverpool goal by Loris Karius, a man who has a 90s Shoreditch haircut and crisp packets for hands.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Kieran Richardson

Jesus loved him and we did too - it’s just a shame that Manchester United, Aston Villa, Cardiff, and Fulham didn’t.

Admittedly he was well liked by the West Brom fans for his role in their Great Escape season, 2004-05, scoring 3 goals in 12 games from midfield. But then he chose to reject their advances that summer in order to try to break into Manchester United’s starting eleven.

That didn’t really happen, so he came to us. For a man who has played for so many clubs, it is perhaps surprising that nearly half of all his 337 professional appearances came in the red and white of Sunderland.

He was a valuable asset while he was here, praised by manager after manager for being able to fill in several different positions from left back across to right wing - the highlight of his Sunderland career being the firecracker of a freekick that sealed derby day delight against the Mags back in 2008.

His career petered out after leaving Wearside, becoming a bit part player for Aston Villa, then Fulham, then Cardiff. He may well “belong to Jesus” but the best part of his career definitely belonged to us.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Darren Bent

There is always a tangible sense of bitterness whenever a Lads fan discusses Darren Bent. This was a player who gave us so much – but who left in acrimonious circumstances to join Aston Villa halfway through the 2011/12 season.

Bent made his name at Ipswich and Charlton before making his big money move to Spurs to stamp his mark on the Premier League. His time at Spurs was a failure, with ‘Arry Redknapp once famously quoted as saying about a Bent finish: “my missus could have scored that one”.

At Sunderland, he was given the opportunity to put things right. He did that and more, scoring at a strike rate of better than 1 goal every 2 games.

When Bent left Sunderland, he never even got close to scoring at the same rate again. Despite moving to Villa for a whopping £24M, his strike rate dropped to below 1 goal every 3 games and then below 1 goal every 4 games at Fulham, Brighton, and Derby.

He looks nailed on to sign for Burton Albion this weekend but they are signing a player who has become a pale reflection of the prolific goalscorer who excelled at Sunderland.

Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Stephane Sessegnon

Our miniature magician, the son of Messi and Pele, played at some illustrious clubs over the course of his career including PSG, Montpellier, and of course Sunderland.

18 goals in 93 games may not scream prolific goalscorer but Sessegnon was so much more than a goalscorer for us. He shouldered the creative burden of the team with finesse, flair and impeccable technique – qualities we have seen very little of since Sessegnon moved on to West Brom in 2013.

While 18 goals doesn’t sound like a lot, it is actually ten more than he managed at the Baggies for whom he played only one fewer game.

2011/12 was the best season of Sessegnon’s career – he scored some breath-taking goals, terrorised the Man City defence in their own backyard, and rightly won our Player of the Season award.

Sunderland v Fulham - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images