On face value, the signing of a 35-year-old midfielder who’d effectively signalled his retirement from English football a year earlier with a move to the Australian A-League wouldn’t be one advocated by most.
Especially when that player was a notorious ‘playboy’, much more likely to be spotted in Chinawhite than Jacky White’s, and was currently living it large in an apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour.
But the signing of Dwight Yorke, once the former Manchester United striker had gained some semblance of match fitness, proved to be a masterstroke by Roy Keane. A true ‘lead by example’ leader, Yorke played a pivotal role on and off the field at Sunderland – as a statement to complement the arrival of Roy Keane as manager, Dwight Yorke in the dressing room immediately changed players’ perceptions of what was happening at the Stadium Of Light.
When he arrived on deadline day 2006, he signed a two-year contract. Two years, a championship and a successful season avoiding relegation later, Yorke – who would turn 37 on his next birthday – was sitting on a quickly expiring contract, and hadn’t made his mind up where he’d play the following campaign, despite Sunderland offering him a one year extension.
While Yorke and Keane had been successful teammates at Manchester United, there was never any hint at a friendship between them, and Yorke had often inadvertently taken the role of middleman between Keane and the now-disgraced but then-hugely-influential FIFA exec Jack Warner, who was President of the Trinidad and Tobago FA.
With Kenwyne Jones and Carlos Edwards, as well as Yorke, members of the T&T national side, Keane was often disgruntled with regards to his players travelling halfway across the world for meaningless friendly games – a mood that wasn’t helped at all a few days later when Jones suffered a serious injury in a friendly against England.
On the field, Yorke was still doing the business, although at 36 he’d only managed 20 games in the Premier League, three of which came from the bench.
And, while sidelined, Yorke had been pretty vocal in his desire to return Down Under. He’d been heavily linked with a return to Sydney FC, as well as the Central Coast Mariners, an hour north of Harbour.
The Mariners were now bankrolled by a chap by the name of Peter Turnbull, who’d been involved in Sydney when Yorke originally landed in the NSW capital, and discussions were ‘advanced’ to make Dwight their marquee signing for the next two years.
Closer to home, however, were championship offers. Wolves, managed by Mick McCarthy, Reading – who had Steve Coppell in charge – and Derby, under the stewardship of Paul ‘car bonnet’ Jewell, all fancied Dwight’s experience would be hugely valuable to their promotion challenges.
Yorke’s preference was to stay at Sunderland – although the one-year deal and no guarantees about playing time were causing him to pause for thought.
Ultimately, he would sign that one-year deal to stay at the Stadium of Light, but, in a difficult season that saw Keane walk and Ricky Sbragia just about shuffle the team to safety, Yorke make only four starts and three sub-games, as his professional career fizzled out in a manner that didn’t quite fit with what went before.
Still, Dwight Yorke’s still very fondly remembered as a Sunderland player – and persuading him to give up Sydney Harbour for Seaburn certainly ranks as one of Roy Keane’s most impressive pieces of negotiation.