Craig Gordon had arrived at Sunderland in the summer of 2007 to much fanfare. The £9m Roy Keane had paid for the Scottish keeper broke the British transfer record for a goalkeeper, and made Gordon the second most expensive keeper in football, behind Gianluigi Buffon.
Keane’s mentor, Brian Clough, had always put great stock in having an exceptional keeper, and Keane’s approach was similar. Expectation was, therefore, high. And it’s fair to say Gordon struggled to meet the expectation levels of sections of the supporter base.
Gordon was a very good keeper. It’s easy to forget how young he was when he arrived at the Stadium of Light – he was only 24 – and as such, he still had inconsistencies in his game that were only to be expected in a player of such an age.
Some in the crowd, however – particularly the old fella three along from me – expected Gordon to be the perfect combination of Lev Yashin, Dino Zoff, Peter Shilton and Peter Schmeichel – oh, and Buffon. And he was never going to be that.
Not in his mid-20s, at any rate.
His progress wasn’t helped by injury, of course. The broken arm was inflicted by a nasty challenge by Jermain Defoe (something that had been compartmentalized by many after Defoe’s first spell at Sunderland, but was a bloody awful ‘tackle’ in reality) – and that triggered a run of injuries that he never really recovered from at Sunderland.
Fast forward a couple of years in the summer of 2010 there were concerns over Gordon’s fitness. He’d played 26 games the season before, Marton Fulop taking his place in the other fixtures, but had re-broken his arm in a training ground collision, and he was set to be sidelined for the start of the season.
Steve Bruce, was therefore concerned. Fulop had departed the club for Ipswich, and while Simon Mignolet had arrived from Sint-Truiden for a fee of £2m, he was very much seen as Gordon’s understudy – not someone to be thrown into Premier League action.
Attentions were turned to an experienced keeper, and on this day in 2010, former England goalie David James was expected to sign for the club for the season.
James, on the verge of turning 40, had lifted the FA Cup for Portsmouth a couple of months earlier and played for England at the World Cup, but had left Portsmouth after turning down a player-coach role, feeling he had more playing time left.
James’ agent, Colin Gordon, said:
Of course, David would be interested in a move to Sunderland.
They are a big, Premier League club with an excellent manager in Steve Bruce. I know Steve well and we are having ongoing talks.
We are hopeful that something can be done but Sunderland already have Craig Gordon who is a top-class goalkeeper and once he returns from injury that could complicate matters.
We wouldn’t insist on him being the first choice. From what we understand about Craig’s injury, if David were to join Sunderland, then he would have two to three months to show what he’s capable of anyway.
What happens after that would be up to Steve Bruce. But we are looking for at least a one-year deal.
Of course, as it turned out, a move for James never materialised, and we started the season with Mignolet in goal. Despite a shaky start, ‘our Belgian keeper’ made 23 appearances, with Gordon playing 15 times – his first appearance coming a few months into the season, ironically enough away at Spurs, who thankfully didn’t include Jermain Defoe.
The following season Gordon played only one game, before retiring through injury and spending a couple of years out of the game before rebuilding his career at Celtic and then Hearts.
James, meanwhile, did continue his playing career, notching up 81 games in a couple of seasons for Bristol City, and then spending a couple of years at Bournemouth too.