Mick McCarthy’s spell as Sunderland manager saw a number of loanees arrive to the Stadium of Light – particularly in the championship.
Some donned the red and white stripes with little or no impact – Kevin Cooper and Simon Johnson, anyone? – but others left more of a lasting impression.
Stewart Downing was probably the best loan signing McCarthy made during the championship years – with Darren Carter arguably the second most effective.
Carter was a highly rated young player at Birmingham – he had scored the winning penalty in the play-off final shoot-out against Norwich City in 2002, and had made 12 Premier League appearances the following campaign.
His career had stagnated a little at St Andrew's, and manager Steve Bruce agreed to loan him to Sunderland, with McCarthy in need of midfield reinforcements. The youngster made his debut in an early-season clash at home to Preston, scoring in a 3-1 victory, and impressed during his eight starts and two sub-games for the club.
At this point in time, loans were generally for a month or two – season-long loans were the exception, rather than the rule, so after a couple of months on loan, regaining form and fitness in the process, Carter was recalled to St Andrew's.
McCarthy had evidently liked what he had seen, however, and as Sunderland clinched the championship the manager was on the lookout for reinforcements to strengthen the midfield.
Throughout the season he’d generally relied on a central pairing of Carl Robinson and Jeff Whitley, but Whitley had been dropped as the promotion battle intensified and had been released to join Cardiff.
Ipswich’s Tommy Miller had agreed to join upon the expiry of his contract at Portman Road, and McCarthy had earmarked Carter.
Unfortunately, on this day 17 years ago, the talented midfielder opted against a permanent move north, opting instead to join Bryan Robson at Birmingham’s midlands rivals, West Brom.
While McCarthy had thought his season-long loan offer could have been attractive for Birmingham, Robson had piled in with a £1.5m bid – something that, with Bob Murray keeping tight control of the purse strings, McCarthy couldn’t compete with.
Carter’s move to the Baggies didn’t work out. The midfielder struggled for a place on the bench in the opening weeks of the season, and as the team was relegated alongside Sunderland he was singled out by the crowd and given some significant stick.
He was a regular the following season as West Brom lost out in the play-off final to Derby. and was sold by Tony Mowbray to Preston – a move Carter subsequently described as ‘nothing short of a disaster’.
During four years at Preston, he made short of 100 appearances and subsequently spent time with Cheltenham, Northampton, and Forest Green.
After the promise he showed at Birmingham and Sunderland, he could have gone on to have an exceptionally good career. Maybe he should have signed for us on loan after all. Actually, he probably should have just stayed at Birmingham (where he is now the head coach of their women’s team).