Things were looking up around Sunderland in 2011. Steve Bruce’s Sunderland had solidified their position in the Premier League with a credible 13th-place finish in his first season.
After a couple of tumultuous years, Bruce appeared to be strengthening the team, despite some questionable runs of form under the former Manchester United defender.
The signing of Darren Bent the previous season offered the club a natural goalscorer. Bent scored 24 goals in his first season, making him a hot commodity around the league and even beyond.
Bent departing was seen as a non-starter, as the club intended to recruit instead of letting players depart. Bruce brought in players such as Titus Bramble, Simon Mignolet, Ahmed Elmohamady, Nedum Onuoha, and Danny Welbeck.
One name that surprisingly left the club was Kenwyne Jones. Jones was a fan favourite and an integral part of the teams under Roy Keane and Ricky Sbragia but didn’t appear to fully see eye to eye with Bruce.
With the departure of Jones, Sunderland were in need of a striker who could be relied upon to stay fit and score regularly. With Bent, Sunderland only had young Manchester United loanee Welbeck along with Fraizer Campbell, who continued to struggle with injuries.
In late August, rumours began to circulate that the club was interested in signing one of the stars of the 2010 World Cup - Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan.
Gyan’s name skyrocketed onto the world scene for his all-action displays along with his silky celebratory dancing after scoring goals. Furthermore, his country had a very successful campaign at the World Cup, losing to Uruguay at the quarter-final stages with Gyan missing a last-minute penalty.
On Deadline Day in 2010, Gyan became a Sunderland player when he moved for a fee of £13 million from the French club Rennes. His capture was perceived as a bit of a coup for Sunderland, with Gyan known to have many admirers. When speaking to the media on this day, Bruce couldn’t contain his happiness with the signing.
I was actually after Gyan a year ago, when we had Benty on the go.
He was definitely our top target. The problem we had with him over the summer was that I didn’t think we were going to get him.
You have to say fair play to the owner, because of Frazier getting injured I think they [Rennes] knew they could stick to their asking price and never budge.
We had to make sure that we got him in the last week of the transfer window, let’s put it that way.
We’ve got someone who is desperate to do well and with a bit of hunger in his belly to prove it.
I first watched him three years ago and I’ve consistently kept watching him.
He basically has a go. He’s a wonderful athlete with a great attitude. I remember him in the World Cup – the penalty miss. It was unjust that Ghana didn’t get to the semi-finals and it was unfortunate that he missed the penalty.
The striker started his Sunderland career with a debut goal against Wigan, instantly making him a fan favourite. From that point until the new year, Sunderland played some wonderful football. With Bent, Gyan, and Welbeck up top, the club was scintillating at times, creating many opportunities.
In January, everything changed, and Gyan’s capture became all the more important when Bent dramatically left the club in the January transfer window for Aston Villa, leaving him as the main striker at the club.
With Fraizer Campbell and Welbeck suffering injuries, he was the main man along with the new signing Stephane Sessegnon, who was still adapting to his new surroundings at the Stadium of Light.
In what was typical Sunderland fashion under Bruce, Gyan suffered an injury along with half the squad, leaving him sidelined for a couple of months. His return in April saw an upturn in the team’s form, with the Ghanaian scoring vital goals near the end of the season, earning Sunderland a top-10 finish and making him the top goalscorer.
As we all know, the 2010-11 season was the only full season we would see of Gyan, who left England behind for the wealth of Abu Dhabi with Al Ain.