The 2000s began with Peter Reid’s vibrant side sitting in the top three of the Premier League, a period of sustained success was expected with two consecutive seventh place finishes being achieved.
The demand for tickets was such that the stadium was extended by 6,000 - even then everyone of the 48,000 seats was sold. But the long hoped-for stability didn’t arrive, and success was short lived when we crashed out of the Premier League in 2003 with a record low number of points.
We then regrouped with minimal funding and reached an FA Cup semi-final - we reached the play offs and eventually won promotion back to the top flight in 2005 against all the odds under Mick McCarthy. The following season was a miserable affair, however, and we broke our own record low points target and went down again.
Then came the return of Niall Quinn as Chairman and the appointment of Roy Keane, two men that lifted spirits and restored our pride. Keane arrived and brought a presence - he made the players and fans feel invincible and we stormed back to the Premier League and stayed for the rest of the decade, firstly under Keane and then Steve Bruce. By the close of the 2000s we had a talented squad, we were well funded - it felt like we were in the Premier League for keeps.
So, who was the player of this most turbulent of times?
Who was our player of the 2000s?
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After the 1997/98 season and narrowly missing out in promotion it was clear that we needed a quality goalkeeper to replace the hapless Lionel Perez. Peter Reid identified Thomas Sorensen - a young man from Denmark - as that man. From the first moment he stepped onto the Stadium of Light pitch Sorensen had a presence that marked him out as a great signing.
Such was our dominance in his first season, Sorensen was a virtual spectator in goal. But for the Premier League years of 1999/00 to 2002/03, Sorensen demonstrated that he was a goalkeeper of undoubted quality. His positional sense, safe handling and physicality provided great insurance and comfort to a team intent on attack.
Who can also forget him saving an Alan Shearer penalty in front of the Gallowgate end in 2000/01? This was the second of two consecutive 2-1 victories up there. Sorensen was the rightful heir to Peter Schmeichel for his country and was a top-class goalkeeper in this era.
It was clear that Sorensen loved his time up here and it was a sad day when he left to join Aston Villa in 2003 after relegation and 197 appearances for the lads.
Julio Arca signed for Sunderland from Argentinos Juniors in the late summer of 2000 for £3.5million, and in his first match he scored a header against West Ham in front of the South Stand - for his whole time at the club he was undoubtedly a crowd favourite.
Arca was still a teenager when he arrived but he had a reputation as a future star. It is probably fair to say that he didn’t quite fulfill his vast potential, but that is not to the underestimate what he did during his Sunderland career.
Arca was principally a left sided midfield player who also played many times at left back - he was full of heart, skill and passion and with his shin pads poking out of the top of his socks he was a bit of a throwback to a previous age in many ways.
Julio wasn’t blessed with lightening pace, but he had flair and skill at a time of functional football. Arca was a shining light in the often-drab Mick McCarthy teams.
In total he played 177 games for Sunderland scoring 23 goals before moving to Middlesbrough where he also enjoyed a successful time. Arca to this date has never returned to his home country, and continues to live in the North East.
Mick McCarthy had built a reputation for discovering lower league players who were playing at levels below their ability - and you could say that Dean Whitehead was a typical Mick McCarthy signing when he arrived on Wearside in the summer of 2004.
Whitehead was not exactly a kid when he arrived at Sunderland - he was 22 years old and already captain of Oxford United.
The midfielder immediately settled into McCarthy’s hard-working team and quickly became the leader of the side as we battled to promotion. The next season in the Premier League was a struggle for everyone at the club, but Whitehead’s steady if unspectacular style - often doing the work of two men in midfield - was nevertheless impressive.
The appointment of Roy Keane put Whitehead’s place in the team in danger, but Keane clearly rated him and he was a mainstay of the thrilling promotion team and became team and club captain. Whitehead may not always have been easy on the high, but he was consistent, professional and got ounce of ability out of his body.
He remained at Sunderland until 2009 until he was then moved on, perhaps unfairly by Steve Bruce to Stoke City where he continued his career. Dean Whitehead was a hard worker and under appreciated but in his 185 appearances he showed leadership and desire and strove to be the best that he could be. He had qualities which are missing in many modern-day footballers.
If Dean Whitehead was a typical Mick McCarthy signing, then Danny Collins was the ultimate Mick McCarthy signing.
Danny Collins was 24 years old and had played for Chester City and Vauxhall Motors before joining Sunderland. McCarthy signed him for £140,000 in late 2004, and at first he was a bit part player during our promotion season.
Following the disastrous fifteen-point season Collins became more involved, but it was after that and with the appointment of Roy Keane where Collins was finally able to establish himself.
The Chester native was originally signed as a central defender, but Keane converted him to left back and he proved to be a solid and reliable player for Sunderland over the next three seasons, barely missing a game between 2006 and 2009.
Collins was a great professional who was admired by Keane and who was shifted out of the club too soon and never properly replaced. He was a proper Sunderland player, making everything of what he had, and he improved every year that he was with us. In total he played 149 games for the Lads before continuing a successful career with Stoke City in the Premier League.
After the workmanlike Mick McCarthy teams, Roy Keane injected energy into the players. They played to their maximum, but many lacked that little bit of magic. Keane knew this and looked, in the summer of 2008, to add quality and flair.
One of the men that he looked to was Tottenham’s Steed Malbranque.
Malbranque was an experienced player in the Premier League, starring for Fulham before moving to Spurs. When Keane secured his signature, it was a real statement of intent.
The Belgian-born French U21 international was a wide midfield player with great control and flair - his touches and turns were the opposite of the runners and workers that we had been watching for much of this decade. Malbranque may have struggled to last 90 minutes, but in the first 60-70 minutes of each match he would run defences ragged, beating full backs at will.
At last we had a footballer who would get you out of your seat, a footballer who could do things with the ball that everyone dreamed of when they were a kid. Steed Malbranque was different to what we were used to, he was brilliant. In total he provided joyous performances 102 times for Sunderland and was almost universally loved by the Stadium of Light crowd at the end the 00s.