Younes Kaboul > Papy Djilobodji
Younes Kaboul was actually a great signing, even though it took him a while to get going. After Big Sam arrived, Kaboul - alongside Lamine Kone - was a beast.
Big, strong, decently fast and with a great positional sense; not to mention a natural leader, he was even decent with the ball at his feet. He should have been O’Shea’s natural successor in the heart of the defence.
And so by the summer of 2016 things felt positive.
We had a manager we loved, a really solid centre-back pairing, and players of the calibre of Khazri, Kirchhoff, M’Vila and Defoe in the squad. Plus with Big Sam now conducting the transfers, I was sure more quality was due to arrive.
But we all know what actually happened, so it needs no great explanation here.
Big Sam went off for the England job and we got stuck with DavidMoyes. The Sunderland hierarchy then allowed Younes to leave without even a whimper, and for a miserly £3 million. His replacement - who cost over twice that much at £8 million - was Papy Djilobodji.
Papy’s height is basically the only comparison we can draw to Kaboul. He was gangly and looked likely to fall over his own legs every time he ran.
His positional sense was so poor that I’m still surprised he found his way onto the pitch, let alone stayed on it without losing his way. He couldn’t pass, wasn’t particularly dominant in the air, wasn’t quick... he had no redeeming features.
Trading a player like Kaboul for one like Papy Djilobodji is undoubtedly one of the reasons our 2016/17 season was so catastrophic.
Poom/Myhre > Kelvin Davis
Mart Poom and Thomas Myhre. Two experienced international goalkeepers who, despite being unspectacular, were very reliable ‘keepers.
Mart Poom in particular stands out as being an excellent keeper for the then ‘First Division’. He played pretty much every game of the 2003/04 season but found his opportunities limited the following season due to injury. As such, Myhre took his place for large swathes of the season and proved himself a worthy understudy as Sunderland gained promotion.
Naturally, that summer a whole host of new players were required as we looked to overhaul our squad. Both Poom and Myhre left on free transfers to Arsenal and Charlton respectively. Sunderland turned to Ipswich’s Kelvin Davis to be their new number one.
To be fair to Davis, he went on to have a very decent career after Sunderland, starring in the Premier League and the Championship for ten years with Southampton until his retirement.
But his one season here was far from great. The memories are painful; an inability to save anything below waist-level; constantly being rooted to his line for crosses and even one-on-ones; being lobbed from forty yards... I could go on but it really is too painful.
Both Poom and Myhre had garnered really decent Premier League experience, with the former having five years with Derby under his belt. To let these two leave and replace them with Kelvin Davis was an error that I’m sure still haunts Mick McCarthy.
Steed Malbranque > An array of average midfield plodders
Steed might be my favourite ever Sunderland player. Brought in by Roy Keane from Spurs in the summer of 2008, he was a next-level signing.
Never before had I seen such class in a Sunderland shirt. He could do just about everything except score goals, but with his passing, his close control, his creativity and his work-rate he could be forgiven for that.
What’s more he often operated in the centre and as such was probably the last genuinely creative, attacking centre-midfielder I can remember if we are to class the likes of Sessegnon as a forward.
Behind Darren Bent and later Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck, Malbranque, in my opinion, was instrumental to our success.
In the summer of 2011 Steed left, as did Welbeck and Gyan. Bent had left earlier that year.
Suddenly Sunderland had gaping holes in their squad. As we saw in part one, we failed to replace our forwards, but to make matters worse we also failed to replace Steed.
In came a whole host of average midfield plodders, none of which had the skill, flair or creativity of Steed. Craig Gardner arrived from Birmingham for a fee of £6 million, while his teammate Sebastian Larsson also came in on a free transfer. David Vaughan joined later, also on a free transfer from Blackpool, as Steve Bruce looked to pick off the bones of the relegated teams.
None of these players were awful. In fact, all three of them had their uses. Larsson had a great set-piece in him (for about a season at least), while Gardner and Vaughan chipped in with some memorable scorchers from distance.
None of them were close to the standard of Malbranque.
For comparison: Steed notched an assist every 6.5 games. Only Seb Larsson’s record is close to that with an assist every 8.8 games, but bear in mind he was our corner-taker for long periods so it’s doubtful too many of those came from open play. Gardner on the other hand only managed an assist every 25 games, whilst Vaughan’s record was even worse.
The fact that Steed featured prominently in an impressive Lyon side after he left Sunderland for France says a lot. He still had a lot to give when we let him go and, due to the fact his replacements were all rather average, in my opinion we missed him just as much as we did our departed forwards.
Manager Special! Big Sam Allardyce > David Moyes
I couldn’t write an article about Sunderland’s downgrades without mentioning this one - the downgrade of all downgrades!
Allardyce and Moyes have been reoccurring themes throughout this two-part feature.
Sam was jovial, bright and positive. When we listen to podcasts from our former players and employees they all say Sam was one thing - empowering. He instilled belief and confidence in the individual like no other manager I can recall. He was even able instill it in our fan-base, which had become completely accustomed to doom and gloom.
In Khazri, Kirchhoff and Kone he had brought in three players who completely changed our season. If he could achieve that in January imagine what he could have achieved over the summer. There was a buzz around the city. There was a reason to believe again.
The next thing we know, Sam’s gone.
In his place is a dour, rather boring-sounding man telling us that we are in big danger of relegation. The buzz fizzled out and the doom and gloom quickly returned.
Moyes sold our best defender and upset the other one. He brought in two of the worst players we have ever seen for ridiculous fees. He wasted the rest of his budget woefully on the likes of Donald Love and a bunch of his old mates from Everton who really should have already been retired.
What’s more, he oversaw one of the darkest seasons in our history as we fell from the Premier League without even a whimper. Moyes took us from a position of elation and optimism, which he inherited from Big Sam, and in just a season sucked any ounce of positivity from the club.
That’s why he had to be included on this list.