Back in 2011, Connor Wickham, then of Ipswich Town, was supposedly the ‘next big thing’.
At the time, the eighteen-year-old was tipped to go to the very top, and despite his career being very much in its infancy, he was already being linked with the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham.
In 2009, Wickham made his debut for Ipswich at just sixteen years and eleven days old, which made him the youngest player to ever play for the club. Over the next two seasons, he would make sixty five appearances, scoring thirteen goals, which did little to quell speculation that bigger things were on the horizon. In addition, he won the Football League ‘Young Player of the Year’ award in 2010.
On the 28th of June 2011, it was reported that Sunderland had made what was rumoured to be a substantial offer for his services, with a fee of £13 million mooted.
Reports also suggested that whilst Sunderland had seemingly stolen a march, bigger clubs were not giving up hope of signing the young striker. Indeed, various media outlets suggested that Wickham’s boyhood team of Liverpool were his favoured option.
Despite the rumours, however, twenty four hours later he was heading to Sunderland. This was confirmed by the CEO of Ipswich, Simon Clegg, who stated that Sunderland’s offer was too tempting to turn down.
‘As much as we would have liked to have kept Connor at Portman Road, we have to be realistic and recognise that the offer from Sunderland was simply too good to turn down.
‘The deal is by far the biggest transfer fee this club has ever received. We are proud that he has developed through our academy and also of what he has achieved in his time here.’
Wickham also expressed his excitement about the move.
‘Now that everything is done and dusted, I just can’t wait to get started.’
‘Once the fee was agreed and I met with the manager, he basically told me everything about the club and the ambitions, and I was sold.’
With rumours of bigger clubs apparently sniffing around, this transfer was viewed as a coup for Sunderland. Our then-manager Steve Bruce was delighted with the signing, but was keen to stress that he still had a lot of development ahead of him.
‘He’s still very young but at 6ft 3in he’s a physical presence. With his height and style of play, he’ll offer us a threat in front of goal and will complement our existing strikers.’
‘We have been watching him for a while now and he is improving and developing all the time. He’s a great prospect and I’m sure our supporters will love watching him play.’
Despite the early optimism, the England Under-21 international’s time at the Stadium of Light was ultimately disappointing, with his progress curtailed by injuries which prevented him from playing regularly.
That being said, his role in Sunderland’s 2013/2014 ‘Great Escape’ under Gus Poyet will live forever in the memory of supporters. Wickham made an incredible impact towards the end of the season, scoring five goals in April 2014, which were significant in the club’s mission to stay up.
Following those goals, he was named as April’s ‘Premier League Player of the Month’, and subsequently earned himself a new contract at the club in December of that year. It was hoped that he would kick on strongly, but unfortunately, it never really happened.
In total, Wickham made seventy four appearances for Sunderland, and scored eleven goals. He was sold to Crystal Palace in July 2015 for £8 million.