This morning is was confirmed by Eredivisie giants PSV Eindhoven that they had signed recently released Sunderland goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter on a free transfer, who leaves the club upon the expiration of his contract after a rollercoaster two years on Wearside.
And whilst my first thought upon hearing the news was one of bemusement, I’ve sat back and thought about it properly and really can’t help but reflect back on Ruiter’s time on Wearside with a tinge of sadness.
The first time I watched Robbin play for the lads was in pre-season back in 2017, when he arrived at the club as a trialist on the back of his release from long-time employers FC Utrecht.
Nobody had heard of him or had any idea whether this fella was any good, which is why everyone in attendance at Bradford’s Valley Parade that day was pleasantly surprise by Ruiter’s match-winning performance, something he capped off at the end of the game when he entered the crowd to hug his girlfriend as he soaked in the adulation from the onlooking supporters.
And then, in the game immediately after, Ruiter was handed another chance to prove himself down at Glanford Park in a drab draw against Scunthorpe where the Dutchman’s excellent display - again, another match-winning one as he made a save right at the death which saved us from a relatively embarrassing defeat - was the only thing for Sunderland fans to get excited about.
Ruiter was handed a two-year contract on the back of his performances and was immediately inserted into the squad to compete with recently-signed Jason Steele, another man who arrived at the club in the summer looking for a fresh start.
I won’t torture you by making you re-live what came after that in any great detail, as we’re all very much aware that Sunderland’s goalkeeping situation over the course of the season was a huge factor in why we struggled and were ultimately relegated, but the fact is that Ruiter found himself embroiled in a situation whereby none of the three first-team goalkeepers were able to hold down a place in the team or avoid making costly mistakes in hugely important league games.
Yet, throughout all of that I remained behind Ruiter, partly at least. I felt that whilst Sunderland clearly had a problem in the goalkeeping department, he was the best of the three ‘keepers we had and had he remained fit in that run towards the end of the season we might actually have staved off relegation by the skin of our teeth.
Lee Camp was quite obviously the least able of the three men and was shown far too much faith by Chris Coleman - perhaps because he was his signing - and by the time Jason Steele was afforded yet another chance, Ruiter was sat out on the sidelines with a severely dislocated finger that ended his season.
He was again fit enough to compete for the number one shirt once pre-season had rolled around, but Jack Ross had already set his sights on signing his own man and when Jon McLaughlin arrived it was clear that Ruiter would have to settle for a spot on the bench.
It’d be fair to suggest that circumstances were not kind to Ruiter, who was essentially thrust into an unavoidable situation before succumbing to a season-ending injury which led to the club signing someone else to take his shirt.
Had Sunderland actually had a semi-competent squad in place last season, Ruiter’s experiences here could have been so different.
Whilst - to me at least - it’s clear that Jason Steele and Lee Camp simply were not good enough, I don’t believe it’s fair to tar Ruiter with the same brush.
He’s a half decent player who had some rotten luck, played through injury and just happened to be the man between the sticks at a time when Sunderland’s defence was as vulnerable and weak as I’ve ever seen it in all my years as a supporter.
I saw enough from him when he first arrived here to suggest that he was a good enough goalkeeper when playing with confidence, something which was ultimately stripped from him when the team’s form nosedived off a cliff.
He’s had a really unfortunate two years but hasn’t once spoken out of line or badmouth the club or the fans when it would have been so easy to do so, at a time when he received a fair amount of abuse for his performances. He’s treated our club with respect at a time when so many of his teammates didn’t. He’s been professional, committed and last season was perfectly able backup to our best player.
I won’t pretend that I’m not shocked he got such a tremendous move to such a massive club on the back of his period at Sunderland, but nonetheless he leaves and returns back to his homeland with my best wishes.