The summer of 2008 was one of change for Sunderland. For the first time in six years, we were preparing for a second straight season in the top flight. What had been made obvious in the 2007-08 season was that Sunderland needed more fire power. In response to this, Roy Keane signed up two strikers; one of these being Champions League winner Djibril Cisse.
Sunderland had a squad made up of hard-working players who got the job done, but admittedly we were lacking a bit of a character. In Cisse, we would have all the charisma we could ever ask for.
We all had an idea of the ability that the Frenchman would be bringing to Wearside; his goals and flare for Liverpool had made him a popular figure in the Premier League. He was a was a welcome addition to Sunderland, and we wouldn’t need to wait long to see what he could do.
The second match of the campaign saw Sunderland travel to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur. Cisse signed on the Thursday before, and three days later he bagged a late winner to seal a 2-1 win for the Black Cats. Not many players become fan favourites after one game, but he is part of this club.
His outlandish style and haircuts, the colour of which would change on a weekly basis, made him stand out on the pitch wherever you’d be sat in the stadium. Djibril scored 10 goals during the season, including two against Newcastle. The 2-1 victory over the old enemy was intense and enjoyable, and Djibril reacted quickest to stroke Sunderland into the lead. Although the game would be remembered for Kieran Richardson’s thunder free kick to win the match, Cisse’s strike was the best way to start for Sunderland.
By this point, the red-headed Frenchman was becoming more loved with each passing matchday. A goal against Newcastle is enough to earn any player hero status, and Djibril was no exception.
The season was, on the whole, disappointing for Sunderland. Too many defeats to sides on our level resulted in a 16th place finish, lower than our first season back in the top flight. Yet out of the highlights, and they were few and far between, the Frenchman was at the centre of almost every one of them.
We had more prolific strikers before Djibril, and we’ve had more prolific since. Yet rarely in the last 20 years has Sunderland had a striker who entertained so much. We only saw one season of him on Wearside and, despite the relatively mediocre campaign, I don’t think anyone will forget Djibril Cisse and his time as Sunderland’s number nine.
When he departed he left behind more than just a very catchy chant; Djibril was a classy guy who scored goals in six of Sunderland’s nine wins during his time at the club. God only knows how long it will be until we have another striker with even a fraction of the charisma and unpredictability of Djibril Cisse.