13 players... only one proper success. The summer of 2013 saw a grand experiment in importing players from around the world at Sunderland AFC, as new Director of Football, Roberto De Fanti, went on a recruitment drive to furnish fellow Italian, the Mussolini-loving Paolo Di Canio, with a squad that could compete in the Premier League.
The signing of Vito Mannone on a two-year deal for £2 million from Arsenal, where he’d been since arriving in England as a teenager, was the one undoubtably good bit of business done before the start of the 2013/14 campaign. Whereas many of the new recruits were either relative or complete unknowns, Vito had made 15 first team appearances at the Emirates.
Mannone would go on to become a cult hero at the Stadium of Light but, to begin with, it didn't go to plan at all. As he told us on the Roker Rapport podcast a couple of years ago, the strange authoritarian manager wasn’t his biggest fan, preferring Irishman Kieren Westwood between the sticks:
That year I was No.1 throughout the pre-season, I played all the friendlies and was okay but he thinks he can read you mentally and a day or two before the beginning of the season I was going to start the game, the first game. He called me into his office and said, “You’re not going to play because you don’t smile enough.”
I said, ‘This is not possible.’
He said, ‘You’re very angry in training and games.’ I thought it was a good thing because I didn’t want to lose any training games and I was very challenging. Since then we kind of fell out. He was a good coach but his man-to-man managerial skills? I’m not sure.
However, once the Gus Bus got going, it was a different story for Mannone, as the former Italian Under 21 goalkeeper starred in our run to the final of the League Cup in 2014 and the miracle survival in the League. His performances, particularly in Semi Final penalty shoot-out, earned I'm both the Supporters Player of the Year and club Player of the Year award in his first season at the club.
During his next three years on Wearside he would fight it out with Costel Pantilimon and the young Jordan Pickford for his place in the side. He earned a new contract with the Black Cats in 2016, but was transferred to Reading in 2017, and has gone on to play for Minnesota United in the MLS and is now, aged 33, plying his trade with Monaco in Ligue 1. But he still loves Sunderland.