Sunderland’s struggles over recent years have seen countless names come and go - the vast majority end up having little impact, consigned to history as disappointing failures.
Donald Love was just another name to add on that list.
Born in Rochdale with Scottish ancestry, Love joined the illustrious Man United school of excellence aged seven in 2002. He rose through the ranks and signed his first professional contract in 2013.
Love played for the Man United development squad but as is common with youngsters he was sent on loan to aid his maturity and gain valuable first team experience. His loan spell with Wigan coincided with Will Grigg’s spell at the DW Stadium. He made eight first team appearances and then was re-called.
His only league appearance for United ironically came against Sunderland. A rare 2-1 win for Sam Allardyce’s Black Cats over Louis Van Gaal’s Red Devils. He featured for United in Europa League matches but was allowed to depart the club in the summer of 2016 and joined Sunderland.
Love and McNair were among the first signings made by new manager David Moyes at the Stadium of Light. Both signed four-year contracts but while McNair would be a stand-out player in the Championship and return a fee when sold, Love’s career never really took off on Wearside.
In the first season he was competing with the likes of Billy Jones and Javier Manquillo for the right-back slot. He made 12 appearances, but inconsistencies meant he didn’t get a run in the team. Fans rallied, but it was evident that he wasn’t going to be a Premier League player. The gap in quality between Love and the top-flight attackers he was coming up against was apparent. When relegated, he was expected to be a regular with Jones and Manquillo leaving.
Despite him scoring his first goal for the club in the EFL club, he performed poorly in another relegation season - this time from the Championship to League One. Love’s effort couldn’t be doubted his speed, positional sense and concentration certainly could. Too often a solid effort would be spoiled by gifting a goal to the opposition or switching off at a crucial moment in the match.
Love’s final year was a non-starter. Dropping into League One, he was playing under his fourth different manager in three seasons. He made four first team appearances before a serious ankle injury side-lined him for the rest of the season. After failure to get promotion and with the club cost-cutting where possible he mutually agreed to cancel his contract in 2019.
He now plies his trade in Shropshire with Shrewsbury Town and will play against Sunderland tonight. He seems to have settled and found a home at a smaller club with less exposure, that may suit him down to the ground.
Not a spell that many fans will remember too fondly... but what a superb name.