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The good, the bad and the ugly of Sunderland’s deadline deals, free transfers and panic buys

It wouldn’t be Sunderland without considerable disquiet over the lack of transfer action in the corridors of SR5 during pre-season. Ian Bendelow looks back at some of the deals of seasons gone by which went well, and some not so well...

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Pre-season is traditionally the time when the moaning proportion of the Sunderland fan base, which admittedly only forms a small, relatively insignificant part of a dark corner of social media (if you think that I’m referring to you I can confirm, yes I am) stop whinging about what the players are doing on the pitch, and start moaning about what’s happening off it.

They do, however, have a point.

Yawning gaps in the team seem to be an annual occurrence once pre-season friendlies begin. Central midfielder at left back? Check. Youth player on the wing? Check. Previously exiled striker starting up top? Check.

After all, it is a frightening prospect to see your squad shorn of a clutch of players who you have proudly proclaimed to be “sh*t anyway”.

As the transfer window rolls on, we see more should-have-beens, the-ones-that-got-away and oh-so-nearlies, causing the section of our supporters who normally reside in their parents’ basement to have a collective aneurysm.

However, the inescapable reality is we far too often are left to rummage around in the bargain basement for last-minute panic buys, interminably looking to plug the leaks in our squad with leftover bits of Blu-Tack. Either that or our owners are forced to pay way over the odds for total duds.

It’s not all bad though, and some do stick out for good reasons, as well as bad...

Steven Pienaar & Joleon Lescott

This list would be impossible to compile without giving David Moyes a damn good shoeing. It’s worth lumping both of these characters in together because they had very much a buy one, get one free feel to it. Or should that be buy none, get both free, and stick them on wages that make you feel like you are crying battery acid.

Let’s start with Lescott. When someone’s time at a club is remembered for his warm-ups rather than exploits on the pitch, you know it hasn’t gone well.

When he moved to Wearside, he forgot to pack his legs, seemingly leaving them on a Greek beach after departing AEK Athens, where he also succeeded in detaching his knee cartilage while cycling in his apartment. His knees were already a combination of broken glass and builder’s rubble, so it begs the question who signed off on his medical? Dr Nick Riviera?

Ultimately Lescott made more appearances down the fish counter at Seaburn Morrisons than for us; six months later he left the club and was never seen again.

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The fact a picture of Lescott exists in a Sunderland shirt is surprising in itself
Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As for Steven Pienaar, he performed slightly better than Lescott, in the sense he actually made it onto the pitch more, turning out 15 times for the Lads.

It remains, however, that his most notable contribution on a Stadium of Light pitch was to be the victim of a Phil Bardsley leg-breaker while appearing for Everton in 2008.

In short, Martin Bain and Moyes might as well have chucked a million quid down the drain.

Incomprehensible, foolish, outrageous behaviour from two men who should have known much, much better.

Fabio Borini

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Fabio Borini was somewhat of a unicorn sighting in the pantheon of Sunderland signings because he was quite poor at every other club except us. Usually it is the polar opposite.

A summer where you would think we sat with our thumbs up our arses exploded into life as Dick Advocaat blinked and signed Borini for £10m on the final day of the transfer window. It brought to a conclusion what was described as “one of the Premier League’s longest and most continuous courtships” by the Guardian; it has since only been surpassed by Amanda Staveley’s close, personal friendship with Richard Master’s voicemail.

Granted, his finest work in a red and white shirt was in his first loan spell at the Stadium of Light. That 20-yarder against Newcastle? Or similarly that penalty he stuck past the barcodes? (I can still see him smiling now as he stepped up to take it – be still my beating heart) or how about that penalty at Stamford Bridge?

Newcastle United v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

However, his second spell produced crucial goals against Norwich and Chelsea (again) under Sam Allardyce meant that the man from Bentivoglio will always be welcome at the dinner tables of Wearside.

The man had ice in his veins and a special place in our hearts.

Callum McFadzean

Like frantic parents running around the Metro Centre on Christmas evening shouting “what the f*ck are we going to get the kids?!” an injury to Denver Hume – a man who spent the last year apparently in a romantic tryst with the treatment table – meant that Callum McFadzean was drafted in; thus he became our Metro Centre moment. Sadly it was less Nandos, and more Big Lukes.

McFadzean really is that VHS from the 50p bargain bin at Blockbusters: the Mr Never-has-a-preseason because he’s always without a club when July comes around.

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Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

Therefore in October 2020, he completed his move to Wearside.

His performances are still seared on the memory of many Sunderland fans given how recent they were, so it’s not worth listing all of McFadz’s issues. A couple of half-decent performances were marred by a complete lack of positional sense, inability to track his marker, and such was his shonky distribution, I doubt he could pass the tomato sauce at the dinner table.

Don’t get me wrong, we all want players to do well, but this one was a bit like stitching a pigeon to a rat and expecting it to fly; a horrible, pointless experiment.

James McFadden

Remember him? He may have a name that sounds like he once appeared on The X Factor, and that’s where you recognise him from: but no, he did actually play for Sunderland.

A colossal 44 minutes in a red and white shirt was the grand total of his Sunderland career, to be precise.

It’s taken me longer to write this piece.

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Blink and you’ll have missed it
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Chris Waddle

A slight outlier in comparison with the rest, because the signing of Felling’s finest was made before the transfer window of today was introduced.

It was March 1997, the old transfer deadline was quickly approaching, and with seven games left we were hovering above the relegation zone with a tough-ish run in.

Reidy and Sacko decided it was time to act, so they put down their cans of Budweiser and got on the phone to Chris Kamara, who was manager of Bradford City at the time.

Sunderland FC Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

A few persuasive words later and Waddler was on his way north for a mere £90,000; considering the Bantams were in the relegation zone in the second tier, the decision by Kammy was – and I make no apologies for this – unbelievable.

Imagine the collective fume from some of our “fans” if Twitter had existed back then... signing a 36-year old from the depths of the second division as our saviour. You’ve got to laugh at the thought.

Sadly, as we know, two wins and two draws from the final matches were not enough to save us; though the man with a wand for a left foot will always have a place in Wearside folklore for that free kick against Everton.


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