Peter Crouch was a ‘nearly man’ when it came to turning out for Sunderland. He was linked on numerous occasions over the years – initially as a potential replacement for Niall Quinn when Peter Reid was still in charge.
A move seemed on the cards during Roy Keane’s management – however the allure of Harry Redknapp and Pompey was too great.
On this day 12 years ago, however, it seemed as though the deal would finally go through, as Crouch again travelled to the north east, this time for talks with new Sunderland manager Steve Bruce.
After a convincing 4-0 win over Darlington at their new Arena – which saw Richardson, McShane, O’Donovan and an OG netting for Sunderland – Bruce was cautiously optimistic about landing the 6’7” striker.
He told The Northern Echo:
It was good to see him up here – let’s keep our fingers crossed.
I believe there’s some competition for him but we’re hopeful because he’s the type of player who would signal our intention of where we want to be.
We’ll see what develops in the next 24 to 48 hours. I’m always an optimist and I hope we get him. We’ve done our best, the club have backed me and if we pull it off, it will be a terrific signing.
It was believed we were in a head-to-head race with Fulham for Crouch as Bruce looked to get his transfer activity kick-started. At this stage, only Frazier Campbell and Paulo da Silva had signed for the club – Darren Bent, Lorik Cana, Lee Cattermole, Michael Turner and John Mensah had yet to join. A point of reassurance for those panicking over a relative lack of transfer activity this pre-season!
One man on his way out of the club was Dean Whitehead. Sunderland had accepted a bid of £3m rising £5m, and a few days later Whitehead joined former SAFC players Liam Lawrence, Thomas Sorensen, Rory Delap and Danny Higginbotham in the Potteries.
For whatever reason, Bruce had immediately decided to sell Whitehead – a bid from Roy Keane’s Ipswich had been accepted just days into his reign, and while Whitehead had rejected the chance to drop down into the Championship, he leapt at the opportunity to join Stoke.
I have had a good time there, met some fantastic people, and played with some fantastic players, many of whom I will stay in touch with.
It was hard to leave, but I think the time was right for me to change and have a fresh start.
Of course, it was third time unlucky for Sunderland and Crouch. While a deal did seem to be on the cards, a late offer from Spurs – and Harry Redknapp – came in, and the opportunity for Crouch to return to the club where he started his professional career was too good to turn down. He was also teaming up again with former Portsmouth strike partner Jermain Defoe, who’d rejoined Spurs in the January after just 12 months on the south coast.
I still think it’s a real shame that Crouch never ended up at Sunderland – he’s the type of player and person who’d have done really well here, but
Of course, Crouch’s arrival at White Hart Lane pushed a certain Darren Bent closer to the exit door. His departure was likely, regardless, after Redknapp’s disparaging comments regarding Sandra being able to score a chance that Bent missed the season before, but there was still stiff competition for his signature.
As the signings of Bent, Cattermole, Cana, Turner and Mensah proved, sometimes a bit of patience is needed to get the players you really want to sign.