When discussions are held about great loan signings Sunderland have made in the past, the likes of Shay Given, Jonny Evans and – of course – Amad are immediately thrown into the mix.
And Peter Beagrie, if you involve me in that conversation.
But John Mensah rarely gets a look in. Maybe it’s because he spent two seasons with us. Maybe it’s because he was injured so frequently that he never became a true regular. One thing’s for sure, however – when he was fit, he was genuinely world-class.
A calm, imposing figure at the heart of the defence, he could pass, he had a bit of pace, he could tackle, he could mark, he could pass – in fact, there was little he couldn’t do.
Well, apart from stay fit.
On this day 13 years ago, we were putting the final touches to another deal for Mensah – ‘the Rock of Gibralter’. He was on the books of Lyon, but they seemed keen to get him off the wage bill for the second season in a row.
After his first loan spell, there was talk of making the move permanent, despite only appearing 17 times, but the injuries he suffered put paid to that. Lyon couldn’t shift him permanently; we were happy to take him on a temporary basis once more.
Mensah had proven his fitness during Ghana’s World Cup run, during which they’d got to the quarter finals, only to be beaten on penalties after an enthralling clash with Uruguay, which had seen Luis Suarez red-carded in the last minute of extra time for a goal-line handball – and Asamoah Gyan, then of Rennes, blasting the penalty over the bar, kissing the crossbar on its way.
Before joining Lyon in 2008 for around 8 million euros, Mensah had also played for Rennes, having previously spent the majority of his career in Italy, with Bologna, Genoa, Chievo, Modena and Cremonese. In France, he’d managed 70-odd games in three seasons – certainly not disastrous, but a record that when competing in around 50 fixtures a season, suggests his niggling injury worries were par for the course.
After an impressive World Cup, in which Mensah demonstrated his fitness, Steve Bruce was close to landing the Ghanaian for the second time round.
We’re doing our utmost to bring John back.
Anybody who watched him play in the World Cup (for Ghana) or watched him play for Sunderland will realise he’s an absolutely fantastic defender.
We realise the problems he’s got, but I’m prepared to take that gamble because, when he does play, if you look at our record, we don’t tend to lose many games.
He’ll be a huge part of the squad if we can make things happen. We’re making inroads and we hope we’ll have something in place by the end of the week.
Also on Bruce’s radar was Manchester United youngster Danny Welbeck – who was available for loan but also wanted by Newcastle, Blackburn and Blackpool. Bruce was confident his former manager Alex Ferguson would see the light and send him in our direction.
We’ve expressed an interest and there might be a possibility, but that’s all it is at the moment,” said Bruce.
Speculation is rife about the boy, but first and foremost he’s a Manchester United player.
I’ve spoken to Sir Alex on many occasions and there’s a possibility. Will it happen? For me, it’s still up in the air a bit.
One player who definitely was going to be missing from the season’s opening few games, however, was injured goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
While 22-year-old Simon Mignolet had signed from St Truiden, he was viewed very much as one for the future. With Gordon’s injury, Marton Fulop’s departure to Ipswich and David James having turned down a one-year deal in favour of a longer deal at Bristol City, Bruce was pondering his options.
I’ve been really impressed with Simon Mignolet, however he is young. I just need to decide over the next couple of weeks what we do.
We know Craig might be back after six games so I’m left with a situation where I have a wonderful goalkeeper – as good as any in the Premier League – and a young one that I brought in who has done nothing wrong since he’s been here.
At this moment, I’m tempted to just put him in the deep end and see how it goes.
Of course, Mensah and Welbeck both completed loan deals with the club, while Mignolet did start the season as the club’s only fit goalkeeper – and despite a few nervy moments early on, settled in very quickly.
Mensah had a clause in his contract that the loan deal would become permanent should he play in 25 games that season. In a campaign once again blighted by injury, he made only 15 starts, and three more appearances from the bench – Bruce deciding at the end of the season that, as talented as Mensah was, he simply wasn’t a player we could build a team around.
After leaving the Stadium of Light aged 29, Mensah incredibly played only another ten club games – one for Lyon, four for Rennes and five for Slovakian side Nitra. It was a sad end for a brilliant footballer – however, if it wasn’t for his injuries, it’s unlikely we’d have ever seen him don the red and white shirt.