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Charred Buttocks - an S&C Profile

When Chris Makin left for Ipswich last season, Sunderland fans were left cursing Melanie Sykes, scratching their heads and contemplating a serious void at right-back. Options seemed either more of the Void Personified (aka Darren Williams), or instead a permanent void left behind as Patrice Carteron went about putting in tackles on his imaginary defensive line (just behind the front two). Sanity has prevailed in pre-season, however: Cartman is apparently heading for the Valley, and it's been good to see Simon Ramsden getting the chance to move above Williams in the pecking order. Better still, however, is the arrival of 23-year-old Swiss international, Bernt Haas as the fifth of our new signings.

Haas comes with a big reputation from a small country - think Stan Varga, but with mountains and a confusing number of languages. Re-established as a key player for Grasshopper Zürich last season, he was in action throughout July as Grasshoppers began the defence of their league title. The Swiss media had him ranked consistently as the club's best defender in those first few games, despite the obvious distraction of the club thrashing out the reported £750,000 deal that brought him to Sunderland behind the scenes. Turning down Champions' League football to come to Sunderland shows a healthy set of priorities, and will no doubt make him another player keen to ensure a concrete achievement at the end of this season.

Unsurprisingly for a player closely tracked by bigger clubs, Haas had a meteoric rise in Swiss football. After playing as a junior for FC Freienbach and FC Wollerau, he signed for perennial National Liga champions Grasshopper Zürich in 1993, aged 15. From there, his progress was on the fast-track. Coming into the first team aged 18, he made an immediate impact and became a regular throughout the '96-97 season. When Grasshoppers played their first ever match in the Champions' League against Ajax early on in that season, Haas was their youngest player. They went on to beat Rangers 3-0 at Ibrox in September - presumably with Haas kicking ten barrels out of a tub of Geordie lard playing in Glasgow at the time.

Within a month of the Rangers win, Haas was in the Swiss national team as right-back in a 3-2 away win over Finland. Further caps were delayed for a couple of years while he learnt his trade, but he would be involved in 8 internationals from mid 1998 to 2000. At first, these were largely as a sub, most notably coming on as centre-back against Italy in a 0-0 draw, evidence that some of the versatility Peter Reid has seen in him can be carried through onto a higher stage.

His last three international caps all came as first choice right-back, but first injury then loss of form have allowed Marc Zellwegger to take his place in the current Swiss line-up. With Switzerland performing poorly in recent World Cup qualifiers, a return to the national team must be high in Haas's priorities. Proving himself against Messrs Giggs, Kewell and co will obviously make an echo or two back in the Alps. With Stéphane Henchoz a regular in Liverpool's treble-winning side last year, the Premiership is high profile in Switzerland, and Haas has a good chance to showcase his ability as one of the country's few right-backs of genuine class.

His early Grasshoppers career was under Spurs' future nemesis, Christian Gross, who was a great success with Grasshoppers. Haas cites Gross as one of his main influences, and there was some talk of a move to Spurs during Gross's short-lived, Gooner-delighting reign. Rumours that he turned it down when he realised how Cockneys would pronounce his name remain unproven... In the end, Haas stayed with Grasshoppers, Gross bought another Swiss defender before getting the boot, and Spurs fans had 3 years of the terror that is Ramon Vega unleashed upon them. Their pain, our gain...

Haas has a reputation as a solid, uncompromising defender, and, at 6ft 2 and 14 stone, will obviously bring a bit more of the brick Scheisshaus to the role than Mickey Gray on the left. Chopper Haas, perhaps? If he adopts Chris Makin's habit of booting tricky left-wingers into the middle of the East stand, no-one will complain. Peter Reid, who knows about these things, describes him as 'tough-tackling'. Swiss fans seem to view him as a good player, physically and technically, in a league where all matches seem to bring a good smattering of cards. Fans of Grasshoppers' rivals FC Basel can still be found bleating about him 'brutally' taking out their favourite, Supermario (no, really).

Of course, the SoL will be a step up from the 8-9000 of Zürich's Hardturm, and Haas may be used to fans more plain bonkers than passionate - Grasshoppers' 'Ultras' have a natty line in skull flags and, bizarrely, fishermen's hats. One fan, the aptly named 'Blue Stars' (see bit about bonkers, above) who runs the website, describes him as 'a great guy and a reeaaally good defender.' The overall opinion in Switzerland seems to be that Haas should adapt well to the English game, and is young enough and promising enough to get back to international standard.

Now, the words 'Swiss' and 'glamour' are about as likely to go together as 'Smogland' and 'healthy', but it's undeniable that Haas is something of the golden boy of Swiss football. A few previous disastrous haircuts aside, we are assured that he is something of a lady-pleaser as well. [Libellous comments gleaned from Swiss fans deleted...ed]. Not that ALS has a celebrity gossip department or regularly reads the Swiss tabloids, of course, and we refute the suggestion that this will be of any interest to female fans mourning Tommy Sorensen's wedding, but...our sources reveal he was formerly one half of 'Switzerland's Dream Pair' (tabloid headline writers being the same the world over) a year ago when he was an item with then Miss Switzerland, Anita Buri.

It seems not to have lasted, however, and, having seen her, we feel his pain, we really do - especially since it seems his Grasshoppers team-mate, Marc Hodel was making her yodel a year later instead of Bernt. Oh well, never mind the gossip, feel the outstanding teamwork, that's what we say...

He remains a favourite with the Grasshoppers players, who wore t-shirts with 'Good bye and good luck' and a photo of Haas printed on them under their shirts for their first match after his departure. They promptly won 6-1, and, from one good omen to another: jetting in from Zürich to fill the right-back gap in time for the friendly against West Brom, Haas has made one big impression already. A debut goal against the Baggies after less than 20 minutes on the pitch - perhaps not entirely the stuff of dreams, but it has a certain irony after Sunderland fans' prolonged love affair with Chris Makin's right boot. Stadium bookies are no doubt rubbing their hands with glee, as Haas' debut goal probably means another year of punters ready to take comedy odds on the right-back opening the scoring. What odds for him doing it on August 26th, though?

Armed with a German dictionary and a couple of pounds of holey cheese, we scanned the World Wide Web for info about our new signing. This is what we came up with:

Born: 8th April, 1978

Weight: 88kg

Height: 187cm

Came to Grasshoppers Zurich in July '93

Favourite colour: Blue (obvious really, G. Zurich are blue & white, but what a wimpy question)

Favourite drink: Mineral water (bloody 'ell)

Favourite food: Dumplings (that's it, I'm off to bed)

Hobbies: Listening to music (house)

Wishes: Health & success

What would you have done if you weren't a footballer?

My Father is my example - he was an electrical fitter and now he's a policeman. I'd like to have his attitude to work.

Are you a fan of a foreign team?


Is there a better Swiss No 2 than you?

That's a matter of opinion - I can't say.

What's the most important thing for you after football?

My family.

Have you a girlfriend?


What is your dream club?

A big club in the South - an Italian one wouldn't be bad.

What music do you like?

Songs in the charts, and I like house very much.

What's the worst part of being a footballer?

Not having many holidays.

Would you like a transfer abroad soon?

Not soon, but in the future it would be great.

Do you answer fan mail?


Are you a typical Aries?

I don't know what a typical Aries is. I'm certainly a calm, ambitious type.

Did you find Roy Hodgson a good manager? What do you think is good about him?

Yeah, definitely. You can learn a lot from his vast experience.

What do you think of grasshopper fans? Do they get on your nerves sometimes?

I think they're great. They only get on my nerves when they don't get behind the team, when things aren't going so well. And the same with their 'whistling concerts' too.

What position would you like to play?

Goalie - you don't have to jump so much (think we must have got this wrong in translation, or is it Swiss irony?).

What's you personal goal?

To play abroad one day. (Success!)

Under which manager would you like to play?

There's not one in particular. A player can't choose a manager anyway.

Who's been your favourite manager up to now?

Christian Gross would be the one.

Do you recognise many fans who come to a match?

Yes, in time you get to know them well.

What do you fall for in a woman?

Above all she must have an attractive character - her outward appearance is secondary (easy to say when you're seeing Miss Switzerland).

Which Zurich player are you most friendly with?

Hakan Yakin.

Are you aware that you're the player who's committed most fouls in the NLA?

I'm a defender - fouls go with the job. But I'm certainly not a dirty player.

Mike Metcalf and Sheila Seacroft

The People Versus Neil Wainwright

Did you read the ones about the Scouser, the pseudo-Italian and the Middlesbrough fan? I am referring, of course, to the triumphant trials of Messrs Reid, Dichio and Williams over the last season. As we look towards our third season back in the big-time, it's high time we weeded out some of the dead wood in preparation for the inevitable glut of big-money signings, which, as we all know, is only a heartbeat away.

In this, the fourth in an occasional series, we put one of the more misunderstood SAFC charges in the dock and ask them to justify their astronomical wages. This month, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is time to don your Sunday best and follow me to court 1 as we begin... the People Versus Neil Wainwright.

The Charge

Neil Wainwright, you are hereby accused of making little impact in your considerable time at Sunderland and being a key candidate for transfer.

The Defence

Members of the jury, allow me to paint for you a picture of my client, Mr Wainwright. Signed by Peter Reid in the close season of 1998, he cost a mere £100,000 from Wrexham. His arrival, like so many of his peers, did little to stir the excitement of Sunderland fans. However, I would like to place on record that, when Sunderland signed him, they beat off competition from several Premiership clubs, including, I'm reliably informed, Newcastle United. At the very least, then, when signing my client, Sunderland fans could celebrate something of a victory over their nearest and dearest. In hindsight, it was to prove a feeling they would become accustomed to.

When people write my client off as a 'no-hoper,' I feel they fail to take into account some of his performances in the Sunderland reserve team. Indeed, a quick fire hat-trick against Preston was one of the highlights of a successful, championship-winning season for the Bs three short seasons ago, and my client recently displayed his undoubted potential with a 30-yard thunderbolt at Bradford (Park Avenue) in a Len Shackleton memorial match.

The prosecution will no doubt try to get a guilty verdict by accusing my client of not making sufficient progress in his three seasons at the club. Indeed, he has made only six starts in this period, all of them in League Cup ties against lesser opposition. When bringing Wainwright to the club, Peter Reid described him as 'one for the future'. Looking at the club's injury history, my client has been one of the most frequent visitors to the physio. A torn hamstring in his first season was just the first in an unfortunate catalogue of physical ailments; which has undoubtedly affected his progress.

However, I would point to my client's lack of first team experience as one of the key reasons to find him NOT guilty. After all, you wouldn't buy a shirt without trying it on first. My client and I feel he has not had the opportunity to prove himself at Sunderland. After a most successful loan spell at Darlington last season, in which he helped them to the play-off final, I feel this season may be telling in the future of Neil Wainwright at Sunderland AFC.

The club has not signed a right-sided midfield player to replace Nicky Summerbee who left last season. Could this be an indication from Reid that my client remains part of his plans? Certainly, he was reluctant to sell when Darlington tried to make his loan spell permanent. Either way, Neil's future is largely in Mr Reid's hands. The defence rests, your Honour.

The Prosecution

Excuse me ladies and gentlemen whilst I choke back my tears of laughter. The very suggestion that the defendant is in any way capable of replacing a player of Summerbee's quality in a team as supposedly ambitious as Sunderland - they want to get into Europe, don't they? - is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

My honourable friend tried to second-guess my case, by citing Mr Wainwright's inexperience as evidence. I thank the honourable gentleman for doing my job for me, allowing me to concentrate on other matters. Such as Peter Reid describing him as 'one for the future'. This is fast becoming a mantra for the Sunderland manager as he signs players who he thinks 'have a chance'. David Bellion beware. Wainwright may well have showed promise as a youngster, but at 23 he cannot really fit into that category for much longer.

The defendant has undoubtedly done well for Sunderland reserves and in a loan spell at Darlington last season. This, combined with the fact that his only starts have come in cup competitions against teams that a full-strength Sunderland team would be expected to thrash, points to one thing: Wainwright would be out of his depth in the Premiership. I am not disputing his talent, but he's obviously too lightweight to make it big. It is one thing to impress at Darlington or Wrexham, another in the top flight.

Peter Reid is obviously in agreement on this matter, having singularly failed to include Wainwright in his first-team plans last season, at a time when width was at a premium in the Sunderland team. Reid preferred instead to convert players from other roles to the right side of midfield.

Wainwright has had so little action at Sunderland, I would be surprised if many of their fans actually remember what he looks like. In short, he must return to the lower leagues if he wants to have a career as a professional footballer. Sam Aiston spent season after season in the reserves at Sunderland because he wasn't quite up to the rigours of top-flight football. He moved on and is carving a name for himself at Shrewsbury. Martin Smith is another who moved when the first-team door looked closed to him. I would suggest Wainwright looks to do the same, and fast.

Andy Walker
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