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Opinion: Are any ex-Sunderland players worth bringing back to the Stadium of Light?

Now that Sunderland have jumped up a level there’s an expectancy that we’ll sign a better quality of player - but would any names from the past be on your transfer shortlist? American Mackem Kev offers some suggestions...

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

One transfer day-dream stream of thought has led me to think about the possibility of SAFC reunions. Call me sentimental, but I’ve always loved the thought of a former player returning to the northeast to right his wrongs, restore his legacy or build on previous success.

Granted, this idealisation has never really panned out for returning Black Cats. Most recently Danny Graham, Grant Leadbitter, and Jermaine Defoe have returned for less than convincing homecoming tours at the club.

But that doesn’t keep me from dreaming.

So who are the most likely candidates to make their comeback to the Stadium of Light, either on free transfers or presumably economic transfers this window?


Vito Mannone?

Between the sticks, there’s one man that comes to mind when thinking about returning to SAFC; Vito Mannone. The Italian was with Sunderland from 2013 to 2017 playing 72 games in all competitions and keeping 21 clean sheets.

Most recently, Mannone has been playing in Frace for AS Monaco since 2020 and was even rumored to be mulling the possibility of a return to the Red and White last season.

Then, league one Sunderland had no means to realistically consider the keeper, but now that we’ve taken a step up the pyramid, a move might not be out of the question if all parties were interested.

Vito is the type of player that could be very useful on a championship roster. He’s experienced at the highest levels in Europe, still a very adequate option, and would be a high asset to someone like Anthony Patterson, who still trying to perfect his trade.

Sunderland v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Jimmy Dunne?

In defence, there are a few ex-Sunderland players that may have the potential to run it back in Red and White.

Available on a free is the aging but professional Phil Bardsley. John Egan is one candidate that I would love to see back on Wearside - he has been trending upward since his time as a Sunderland youngster but is probably not within our grasp at this stage. As a key part of the Sheffield United squad that fell short of Premier League football via the playoff, I’m sure they’ll want to keep hold of him if top-flight clubs don’t pry him away first.

The player at the back though that I’d like to see return to the North East most is Jimmy Dunne. His time at Sunderland was a brief loan spell in 2019, and he only made a handful of appearances, but he’s grown, matured, and developed significantly since that time. QPR will more than likely want to keep hold of him as he made 34 starts last campaign, but I’d love to see us convince them to let him go. He’s got all the physical attributes, standing just over 6 ft tall, and he’s starting to put the technical pieces together. At this stage, I believe the marriage would be a much better fit than it was during his last spell at the club.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

George Honeyman?

Behind the striker, several former SAFC players would be available this summer to add to the homecoming tour.

Connor Hourihane would be a useful addition on a free this summer. His former club Aston Villa haven’t included him on their retained list for next season and the midfielder is now looking for a new club. He’s rumored to have Championship interest, and his skill and experience would be welcomed at the Stadium of Light. His heart might also draw him back to his boyhood club.

That said, there’s one player in particular that I’d love to see back at Sunderland - George Honeyman.

The former Sunderland youngster has been at Hull City since 2019 after being part of Sunderland’s catastrophic fall from Premier League to League One in two years. He’s been an important player for Hull, playing 126 matches while contributing 10 goals and 21 assists in that time. He’s also just had an extension triggered in his contract to ensure his stay through next season, but there have been rumors that long-term contract negotiations aren’t progressing at present.

Maybe the door is inching open for a “return home” for Honeyman.

I, for one, would be thrilled to welcome him back.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet One Photo by Steven Hadlow/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Josh Maja?

At the top of the pitch, the options are I bit more limited, albeit just as intriguing.

Martyn Waghorn’s move to Coventry hasn’t worked out, and the striker may be looking for greener pastures this summer. The Sunderland academy graduate from South Shields might be keen on a return homeward, and his experience would surely be a benefit to the continuing growth of Ross Stewart.

The one name that spikes my interest is a potential move for Josh Maja.

Maja is another player that had a tumultuous time at SAFC and endured the miserable collapse of the club to the third tier. He did, however, have a rather fruitful final few months at the club netting 15 goals and adding two assists in the first half of the 2018-19 season.

He’s spent the last three seasons at Bordeaux, never really breaking into the French club’s first team and spending time on loan to Fulham and Stoke. There’s a question of whether or not he could produce at the Championship level, as he hasn’t proven he can to this point, but the talent is there and with the right coaching and opportunity, I have no doubt that there’s a real player in there.

If a reunion is on the cards for Maja, the club might as well bring back his fellow academy graduate and best friend Joel Asoro...

I jest of course, although Asoro has banged in 7 goals and 3 assists in 36 appearances for Swedish top-flight side Djurgården.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images
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