Sixteen years ago, we were in the middle of a summer of hope and optimism. Roy Keane was still probably the biggest name in football, and had guided us back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
And now, we were right in the middle of our first Drumaville transfer window – which promised a stark contrast to the period of limbo, free transfers and desperation only 12 months earlier.
Keane was still box office, and all eyes were on Wearside as he prepared for his first season as a top flight manager – and he was casting his transfer net if not far, definitely wide.
Already in the building were defenders Russell Anderson and Greg Halford, while West Brom’s Paul McShane was expected to agree on terms imminently, but on this day in 2007, Keane was focusing on clinching the signings of two new full-backs, which were earmarked for first team berths.
First up was Southampton’s Chris Baird. The 25-year-old Northern Ireland international right-back had come through the ranks at St Mary’s, and was highly rated as a solid, steady full-back. While he’d played a handful of games in the top flight, he’d only really forced his way into the Saints team the season prior in the Championship – but after Southampton failed to achieve promotion (they’d been beaten in the playoff semis by Derby), he’d set his sights further afield.
After putting in a transfer request he was in the centre of a three-way tug-of-war, with Reading and Fulham the other participants.
A fee of £3m had been agreed with Southampton – no other club had matched the Saints’ asking price – and Baird was reportedly on his way to the northeast to put pen to paper and be part of Keane’s revolution.
On the other side of the park, Keane was lining up another first choice, in the shape of Wigan’s Leighton Baines. Sunderland had had two bids – £2.5m and £3m turned down, as Wigan held out for £5m. Baines was reportedly increasingly frustrated by Wigan’s stance, and was very interested in speaking with Keane about a move to the Stadium Of Light.
Wigan’s manager Chris Hutchings said:
We’ve rejected another bid from Sunderland for Leighton Baines.
We don’t want to let him go, but as I said all along every player has their price. We don’t want to lose our best players because they are a big part of the future of this club.
Of course, unfortunately, neither transfer materialised, as Baird and Baines, despite holding talks, went elsewhere. Baird eventually joined Fulham, who matched Sunderland’s bid – the offer of decent shopping, said Keane, swung that deal. Baines, of course, went to boyhood club Everton who, at the last minute, matched Sunderland’s £5m bid to take the talented full-back to Goodison.
Ultimately, it was a summer of transfer disappointment for Keane, who had to often go a few places down his list of targets to get reinforcements through the door.
Up front, for example, he ended up signing Cardiff’s Michael Chopra after failing to land Jermain Defoe, Craig Bellamy, David Nugent or Alan Smith. In goal, he’d been priced out of moves for Jussi Jaaskelainen, Scott Carson and Craig Gordon at this point – although, as time ticked, Keane evidently rethought his valuation of the Scot.
In midfield, Kieran Richardson was also linked – a move that would materialise, as did deals for fellow summer arrivals Dickson Etuhu and Roy O’Donovan. Unlike his teammate Chris Baird, Southampton’s striker Kenwyne Jones did sign on the dotted line, arriving on deadline day after going on strike to force a move through, while the squad was subsequently supplemented by the aging Ian Harte and Andy Cole, as Keane got that dose of Premier League experience he was so desperate for.
It was a busy summer window at Sunderland – but not anywhere as near as successful as the one Keane no doubt envisaged in the weeks following promotion.