On this day in 2008, Sunderland took to the Stadium of Light as Roy Keane’s team took on Marco Van Basten’s Ajax in a pre-season friendly. New signings Teemu Tainio, Pascal Chimbonda, and El Hadji Diouf all started, while Steed Malbranque made his bow from the bench.
Ajax, under the leadership of Marco Van Basten, included in their line up Maarten Stekelenburg, Luis Suarez and Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who netted the only goal of the game.
The signings of Chimbona and Diouf, in particular, seemed curious ones for Keane to make. Maybe he wanted to inject some character into the dressing room, maybe he fancied a challenge. Either way, they didn’t work - in January, amid rumours of serious dressing room unrest, Chimbonda returned to Spurs and Diouf to Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn.
They’d both outlasted Keane, however, who walked out in November after a disagreement with new chairman Ellis Short, a mere seven games after leading Sunderland to our first home derby victory against Newcastle since 1980.
Ricky Sbragia was appointed manager in his place, despite serious interest from Allardyce, who was out of work.
Yet another ‘what if’ moment in Sunderland’s history.