In hindsight, during the summer of 2011, the club was in a bit of turmoil. Bent had left, and within seven months both manager Steve Bruce, chairman Niall Quinn and record signing Asamoah Gyan would all have left the Stadium of Light.
However, at this point ten years ago, we were all hopeful that a rebuild would herald the start of a chapter that would see us genuinely competing for European football.
The signing of John O’Shea seemed like a huge coup at the time. It was a huge coup at the time. One of those signings that solidified our place as a genuine Premier League club.
The versatile 30-year-old Ireland player had played almost 400 games for Manchester United, and joined his former teammate, Wes Brown, at the Stadium of Light – Brown had completed his move north east only a few days earlier.
Bruce had originally had a triple bid for O’Shea, Brown and Darron Gibson accepted by Sir Alex, but a move for Gibson eventually fell by the wayside.
On signing, O’Shea said:
Once I’d heard reports about the club and the people here, the ambitions and what the manager was all about, this was the only place I was going to come to.
His new manager Bruce was delighted with the capture.
O’Shea’s wealth of experience and versatility will be great attributes for us.
John has been a solid, consistent part of Manchester United’s squad for well over a decade which goes to show the fantastic pedigree of player we have signed.
He is a wonderful professional both on and off the field.
I’m delighted with the players we’ve been able to secure ahead of the new season.
O’Shea was Sunderland’s eighth pre-season signing, following Brown, Kieren Westwood, Ji, Craig Gardner, Connor Wickham, Ahmed Elmohamady (on a permanent deal) and Seb Larsson through the doors at the Academy of Light.
Out of the lot, there’s only really O’Shea, Brown and Larsson that proved good signings over the longer term.
O’Shea was injured on his first outing for the club, a 1-1 friendly draw against Armenia Bielefeld. His departure just after the half hour with a hamstring injury ruled him out of pre-season, and the first two Premier League games of the season.
His debut came in a 0-0 draw at Swansea, playing right back in a defence that featured former Man Utd colleagues Brown and Phil Bardsley, as well as Anton Ferdinand.
He quickly took Ferdinand’s place in the heart of defence, but the opening few months of the season were difficult for the team, and the defeat at home to Wigan saw Bruce’s departure, and the arrival of Martin O’Neill. It was O’Neill who appointed him club captain, after previous captain Lee Cattermole’s altercation with some parked cars in Newcastle, however O’Neill’s successor Paolo Di Canio didn’t see eye-to-eye with the much-capped international, and it was reputedly O’Shea who led a dressing room revolt against the Italian manager.
O’Shea spent seven seasons at the club, making 256 appearances in total. But while his arrival was supposed to mark the start of a positive era at the club, in reality it was anything but.
Far from challenging for Europe we were caught in a perennial fight against relegation, and in a team that was constantly changing personnel – both the playing and managerial sides – O’Shea was one of the few constants.
His contract expired when we were relegated under Moyes, and he signed a one-year extension with the intention of helping us out of the Championship. Which to some extent he did.
After the departure of Simon Grayson he was, at one stage, odds on to become the next manager of SAFC. In hindsight we wouldn’t have been any worse off – Chris Coleman, for all of the positives his personality brought, was a disaster; although there were plenty of mitigating circumstances. Could O’Shea, with his intimate knowledge of the club and the players done any better? Probably.
Overall, when people look back on O’Shea’s Sunderland career, they tend to fall into one of two camps, Depending on your view, he was either part of the ‘rotten core’ and his constant presence in our demise was part of the problem, or he was a model pro who fought his best for the club and was surrounded by people who, unlike him, didn’t care about the club and didn’t want to be here.
For what it’s worth, I’m in the latter camp.