This idea came to me while watching the current crop, wondering which of them I could actually defend with any conviction. The truth is, the majority of them are just either too young, too old or completely out of their depth and so it becomes difficult. That doesn’t mean that a team sheet made up of players you defended to the hilt before finally admitting you were wrong should exclude all of the current crop. There is one who deserves not only a place in the starting line-up, not only the captaincy, but he has been so disappointing despite the promise of greatness that he deserves the team to bear his name. This is the Chodwell XI. I have gone for a traditional 4-4-2, no doubt others have ideas about their own formations and that in itself is a point of discussion; has anyone defended a 5 at the back formation in favour of a 4-4-2? Whatever I say about these players they should not take offence at this, after all, I have always said if you gave us Messi we could ruin him in a season.
Goalkeeping prior to this season has been one of the few areas where Sunderland have been relatively blessed in recent decades. We have, over the years, had our fair share of players in this position however who could easily have been stable mates of the current crop. Picking one who we all thought would turn out well but hasn’t has proved more difficult. I went for a man who’s link with Sunderland began in 1976. In that year Seamus “Jim” McDonagh joined Bolton to replace Barry Siddall when he signed for Sunderland. During his time there he set a club record of conceding just 33 goals in 42 matches. After a spell at Everton where he was eventually ousted by Neville Southall he returned to Bolton and even managed to score a goal for them. Seamus joined us in 1985 and on paper it looked a good signing. 6 games later however he had conceded 14 goals which may even make Camp & Co. blush a little. McDonagh returned as a coach under Martin O’Neill before following him to the Irish national team.
Despite strong support for Gareth Hall in this position I just couldn’t justify it. The truth is that Gareth Hall never showed any promise of improvement so if that doesn’t rule him out, his bowl haircut almost certainly does. Greg Halford, however, joined us with a big “this kid will go far” reputation. A tall rangy full back who was built a bit like Dicky Ord. For Halford there was no “Who needs Cantona…” chant or ALS t shirt. Halford’s long throw became a celebrated trait but, just as Delap kept his talent hidden for the years after he left the lads, so too Halford left without a murmur. Halford dropped down the divisions but gradually climbed back up to the point that, should Cardiff be promoted, he may be back in the Premier League next season.
Many will think this is an incredibly harsh inclusion but bear with me. Anthony Smith was one of the most gifted full backs I have seen play for us. Granted he was playing in a reasonably weak team but he was incredible to watch as a full back. He was homegrown as well and we all know how much that wins the crowd over. When he broke through to the first team he almost instantly became a Fulwell End favourite. I always say you can measure the support for a player by the speed at which they get a nickname. “Smithy”, “Tony” and “Smiter” were all shouted on various occasions usually preceded by “Get in”. For the first time in a very long-time people were looking at a home-grown player thinking “He could play for England one day”. Then we played Bristol City. Andy Llewellyn of Bristol City flew in with a brutal challenge which sent Smiter four foot in the air. His game was clearly over as he lay in a heap. The ref didn’t even give a foul. Smith would never reach the heights of his promise following that tackle. For that reason, he is included here. Harsh, yes, but an illustration of how quickly things can change.
The frustrating thing about Santi was that there were moments where he made David Luiz look as bereft of touch as Lee Howey. We all saw that he had something. Unfortunately for Santi his skill was balancing on a very thin tightrope. He veered from those rare glimpses of culture and class to being an absolute timebomb in defence. Never have I known a defender inspire so many sharp intakes of breath or spontaneous outbreaks of blasphemy. His delicious volley against Southampton in an 8-0 defeat perhaps sums him up perfectly. Half the time I don’t think he even realised he was actually on a football pitch, let alone where he was supposed to be on the pitch or who he was supposed to be playing for.
Staner-lee- Vaa-ar-ga was a monster. Hard as nails with a hair cut that belonged in a decade past. He had such force and power that he really got the fans excited. His debut against Arsenal earned him man of the match and it looked like we had a strong, powerful centre half. As the matches drew on though we realised that despite his strength, he was fairly error prone. Another who suffered from injuries he never really won his place back. His performances, as eccentric as they may have been at times, will always be remembered by the sheer disregard for the health or even existence of opposition players as he ploughed through them. He probably could have taken a few seconds and calmed himself before flying in.
Adnan Januzaj had a chant before he had kicked a ball. Not only that, it was taken from a Stone Roses song. That in itself got me excited. Januzaj burst on to the scene for Man Utd in a spell which saw him score twice on his Premier League full debut against…yes, us. There was huge discussion around his future and arguments over which nationality he would declare for. He faded at Man Utd once Moyes left as he wasn’t admired by any of his successors, strange that Moyes should show such uncharacteristic poor judgment. His time at Sunderland is probably best summed up as lacklustre with the odd flash of skill but an overall lack of effort or backbone. We all thought he would come good one day though…
Jack Rodwell (c)
When I began writing this there was one word on my mind. Fellow writers and editors dissuaded me from using that word so I will try and restrain myself. Rodwell is the most frustrating and offensive player I have had the misfortune to watch. His lack of performance is bad enough. His attitude is so much worse. To watch hard working staff be laid off, to watch families pour hard earned cash into watching that team, to see young supporters in scarves and hats and to effectively go on strike on whatever his astronomical weekly wage is…that is unforgivable. He may well come good somewhere else, but that will not change his morals or his personality. I will allow you to choose the word which best describes Rodwell.
Before you balk at this choice and tell me there are far more worthy candidates out there, let me take you back to 1 February 2014. Sunderland had two successive derby wins in the bag. Newcastle were hungry for revenge. Liam Bridcutt was bought on 30 January and thrust into the middle of the park for his debut in the derby. He was excellent that day. Solidly and steadily breaking up all of Newcastle’s play through the middle. On the back of that performance the more attacking players had creative freedom and we ran out 3-0 winners. It looked as though we had a bargain of a player at somewhere between £3-4m. That was probably the last we saw of that Liam Bridcutt. He went on to become like a smaller Cattermole with less impact. We craved for him to find that debut performance again, but he never did.
Killa came to us with an excellent write up from West Brom fans. Actually that’s not strictly true…they were up in arms. They were incensed that their star player had left to join Sunderland. I hadn’t heard that much of him, but their reaction made me raise my eyebrows. In typical optimistic style I thought we had a coup. Now there wasn’t that much wrong with Kilbane. He went on the occasional jinky run, he put in the occasional killer ball and even chipped in with the odd goal. What brings him into the team though is the frequency with which he would fail to clear first man on crosses, or those times when he would turn in desperation with his hands in the air after losing the ball and then jog slowly back with his shoulders and head slumped. Kilbane would go on to have much better days at Everton and with the Irish national team, but for the lads he never had his best years despite a huge amount of will from the supporters.
Ah Jozy. The man we all wanted to succeed. An absolute beast of a man that looked as though he could charge through centre halves, and frequently did. His feet seemed to work on a different plan to the rest of his body though. His performances were peppered with moments where he almost got there, he almost scored, he was desperately unlucky. Jozy could walk into the stadium of light today and get a round of applause. He had a huge heart and huge shoulders, but two left feet. Part of me still thinks we should have persevered and still gone for Defoe. Jozy went through a two year goalless streak before going on to set the record for a 5 game goalscoring streak for the US national team. Big Jozy and little Jermaine is a double act I would have loved to see. Sadly it was never to be.
What does Arsene Wenger know about football. If you believe those idiots on Arsenal Fan TV then not an awful lot. In Anthony Stokes you have your answer. Stokes left Arsenal to go on loan to Falkirk where he scored a phenomenal 14 goals in 16 games. The story was being picked up in the media when Sunderland signed him. At the time I remember people thinking we had played an absolute blinder and stolen one of the brightest prospects from under Wenger’s nose. Sadly, it turns out Arsene Wenger knows quite a bit about football. Stokes managed just 3 goals in 36 games for Sunderland before we sold him to Hibs at a loss. Once he was back north of the border he found his shooting boots again. He is now based in Athens, rumours that he is planning to open a sister pub for The Glass Spider over there are unconfirmed.