As the early promise of 2008/2009 faded into an all-too-familiar sense of dread, there was a great deal of upheaval at just about every level of the club, as the ‘magic carpet ride’ that had initially lifted off in August 2006 threatened to make an early landing.
In September 2008, Ellis Short purchased a controlling stake in the club from the Drumaville Consortium, before eventually assuming full control in May 2009. If the arrival of the American billionaire was met with questions, the next turn of events left Wearside stunned.
After what had felt like a painfully brief spell in the dugout, Roy Keane departed, to be replaced by Sunderland stalwart Ricky Sbragia, and it was obvious that uncertain times lay ahead.
Somehow, despite a truly dismal run of form that saw us win a single league game between February and March, we ultimately escaped relegation, despite finishing with a meagre total of thirty six points. Therefore, as the summer transfer window approached, it was abundantly clear that radical steps had to be taken in order to avoid a repeat scenario for 2009/2010.
The first big change came in the shape of Steve Bruce, who took over as manager, despite rumours linking us (gloriously) with no less a luminary than Roberto Mancini, who would eventually arrive in English football later that year, replacing Mark Hughes at Manchester City.
After doing a fairly solid job at Wigan, and despite a less-than-glittering managerial CV, it felt like Bruce had been hired in order to shore things up, and turn us into a more resilient, streetwise outfit.
As the window opened, the nucleus of Keane’s squad, that had served us so well for almost three years and was made up of many players who had earned a place in the affections of the fans, was dismantled.
Skipper Dean Whitehead and Danny Collins were both sold to Stoke City, as Tony Pulis set up a Sunderland foreign legion in the Potteries; Grant Leadbitter and Carlos Edwards swapped Wearside for Suffolk as they headed for Ipswich, and Michael Chopra returned to Cardiff after a tumultuous spell in red and white. Though it was sad to see many of these lads depart, tough decisions clearly had to be made, and the need to bring in genuine quality was glaring.
With the old guard gone, the rebuild began in earnest, and first through the door was Manchester United’s Frazier Campbell, for whom we paid £3.5 million. He was followed by Paraguayan defender Paolo da Silva, who joined for an undisclosed fee from Deportivo Toluca.
Campbell’s tenure on Wearside would last for four years, and yielded some flashes of promise and some superb goals, until he eventually departed for Cardiff in 2013.
Mid-July saw the arrival of a player who not only achieved the noteworthy feat of being made captain as a new signing, but would also establish himself as a very shrewd addition to the squad.
Lorik Cana, signed from Marseille for £5 million, quickly became a rock-like presence in midfield, taking no prisoners and making a hugely positive impression from the beginning.
Cana was soon joined by a player who would spend a decade in red and white- Lee Cattermole, who followed his boss from Wigan, and began a ten year spell that would see him remain at the heart of the team, during some of the most turbulent years in the club’s recent history.
The most memorable, and most important deal of the summer was struck in August, as after a lengthy period of speculation (as well as some fairly cutting statements made from the player himself on social media, during which he tried his best to engineer the move) we were able to lure Tottenham’s England-capped striker Darren Bent to Wearside for an initial fee of £10 million.
At the time, Bent’s signing felt like an absolute coup. He was twenty five years old, possessed an impressive scoring record in the Premier League, and was already established as a genuinely top-class striker, first at Charlton and latterly at White Hart Lane.
As a result, there was huge expectation surrounding Bent that was ultimately fully justified. He took to life at Sunderland with ease, and his twenty four league goals were a superb return. As the season unfolded, there was talk of Bent even making Fabio Capello’s England squad for the 2010 World Cup, although the Italian eventually overlooked him, much to the dissatisfaction of many fans.
Towards the end of the window, we made three additional signings, all of whom made a very positive impression.
Ghanian defender John Mensah was signed from Lyon, and he was followed by ex-Liverpool midfielder Bolo Zenden, as well as Hull’s Michael Turner. Zenden in particular would become a highly popular figure at Sunderland, with his class, his amiable personality, and enduring skill proving a welcome addition.
Although history has judged him quite harshly, Bruce’s first window as Sunderland boss was, in hindsight, a very successful one.
We needed to stabilise the club following the calamity of the previous season, and although many of his subsequent windows would yield vastly mixed results (more on that later), there is little doubt that the summer of 2009 did at least move us away from a fairly poor state of health, into one that did lay a reasonably solid platform for the seasons to come.