Upon completing his rescue mission at the end of the 2014-15 season, Dick Advocaat’s arm was twisted to return to the club permanently. Some say the bouquet of flowers sent to his wife was the turning point in the love affair with the Dutchman - leaving him incapable of refusing a return.
It was all a bit desperate and appeared forced. Adovocaat’s delayed return to the club left preparations for the new season on the back foot somewhat. The former Glasgow Rangers manager had a significant task on his hands in ensuring he assembled a squad capable of pushing away from the doldrums of relegation battles.
Reports from this day suggested that Advocaat was specifically focusing on improving the attacking threat of his team. Though the club signed Jermain Defoe in the January transfer window, scoring goals was a massive issue for the team with Connor Wickham, Danny Graham and Jozy Altidore all failing to make an impression over the course of the season.
But Advocaat also wants to freshen up his attacking line-up and is keen to recruit players with proven Premier League quality after suggesting to sporting director Lee Congerton and club owner Ellis Short that lessons have to be learned from recent relegation tussles.
Amongst the many players suggested as potential targets, rumours were rife around this time that the club were eager in acquiring the services of a former Sunderland loanee - Stewart Downing.
The 30 year old Downing was playing at West Ham at this stage where he had made a significant impression under the stewardship of future Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce in a more central role in the team.
According to exclusive reports in the Northern Echo, Downing’s links to the North East made him a perfect acquisition for the team. He was seen as somebody who could ‘slot in’ straight away.
Downing is seen by both Advocaat and Congerton as one of those capable of slotting straight into life at the Stadium of Light and being a success on Wearside.
Though standing a ‘great chance’ of securing his services, the article suggested that the two glaring issues that could face the club in trying to purchase Downing would be his £80,000 a week wages and the pull of a return to his former club Middlesborough.
Middlesbrough could yet provide an alternative if chairman Steve Gibson opts to make a surprise statement of interest in the transfer market.
He still has two years to run on his contract but Boro are exploring ways of making a huge impact in the Championship and intend to drive for an automatic promotion place. Downing’s reputed £80,000-a-week wage could pose a problem.
As the saying goes, home is where the heart is - and that is where Downing ended up. The ‘Boro local lad returned to the Riverside a few weeks on from the release of this exclusive and helped his team win promotion back to the Premier League in his first season back at the club.
As for Sunderland - the club brought in Dutch winger Jeremain Lens, Fabio Borini and Swedish international Ola Toivonen to boost their attacking threat.