Wednesday marked 25 years since Jean-Marc Bosman, an average Belgian midfielder, changed football forever. Before the Bosman ruling a player could not leave at the end of their deal unless their club agreed to let them go on a free or the club received an agreed fee from a buying club. In 1990 Jean-Marc Bosman tried to leave his club RFC Liege and join French side Dunkirk at the end of his contract. However, Liege demanded an astronomical fee and the deal fell through. After this Bosman’s wages were cut by 75%. Bosman took the club to the European Court and after a five-year legal battle Bosman won his case.
The infamous Bosman ruling in December 1995 meant a change in employment law. Footballers could choose to run down their contracts and move clubs on a free. The ruling gave significant power to players and meant they could demand huge signing on fees and salaries from their new clubs to make up for the absent transfer fee. The anniversary of the Bosman ruling got me thinking about what players have made the move to the North East on a free. In the past Sunderland have chucked millions at players with the majority turning out to be dreadful. This article will look at some of the best (and worst) players to join Sunderland on a free transfer.
A cult hero, Nosworthy signed in June 2005 after leaving Gillingham. He was signed to give first choice right back Steven Wright some competition. However, an injury to Wright at the start of the disastrous 2005/06 Prem season meant Nosworthy became a first team regular. He played 30 times but could not save us from relegation and the lowest Premier League points total at the time. The 2006/07 season saw Nosworthy play his best football in a Sunderland shirt. His performances that season led to him becoming a fan favourite. After starting the season at right back Roy Keane moved Nosworthy to centre half in January 2007. His performances in the second half of the season helped propel Sunderland up to the top of the Championship table. We only lost once in the second half of the campaign and Nosworthy played a big part in that. After winning the Championship on the final day at Luton, Nosworthy celebrated with the travelling fans. The image of Nosworthy celebrating with no top on and a trilby hat will forever be iconic. The Jamaican international was voted Sunderland's Player of the Season for the 2006–07 campaign, overcoming fierce competition. Because of his cult hero status, Sunderland fans came up with the chant they tried to get the ball past Nyron but he said no no no to the tune of Amy Winehouse's Rehab. There is also another song about Nyron however it is definitely not suitable for this article. Nosworthy was an ever present in our first season back in the Prem playing 29 times. However, after the sacking of Roy Keane Nosworthy found his game time limited under new manager Ricky Sbragia. The appointment of Steve Bruce in the summer of 2009 further limited Nosworthy’s playing time. As a result, he was loaned to Sheffield United in February 2010 until the end of the season. Nosworthy returned to Bramall Lane in July 2010 and spent another season on loan at the Blades. Still not in Sunderland’s plans Nosworthy signed for Watford on loan in October 2011 and made the move permanent the following January. In total Nosworthy made 125 appearances for the lads and will always be remembered with fond memories. He remains one of the best Bosman signings the club has made.
The former Barcelona, Chelsea and Liverpool midfielder joined the lads in October 2009 after impressing Steve Bruce whilst on trial. Zenden made his debut against former club Liverpool in the infamous beach ball goal game. He came on as a sub and helped protect the lads 1-0 lead. Zenden scored his first goal for Sunderland in a 7-2 defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Zenden’s second goal for the club was far more spectacular. He was literally the flying Dutchman as he struck a left footed volley into the top corner in a 3-1 victory over Spurs. After 20 appearances in a successful first season at the club Zenden signed a one-year contract extension. In his second season at the club Zenden became a viral sensation. After Asamoah Gyan scored against Chelsea, and began doing his trademark celebration dance, Zenden joined in. Whilst Gyan’s moves were silky smooth Zenden looked like a drunk uncle dancing at a wedding. Zenden played 27 games in his second season at Sunderland, scoring twice. In his final appearance as a professional footballer Zenden scored against West Ham. He was offered a new contract by Steve Bruce but rejected it before going on to retire. Although he was in his mid-thirties and at the end of his career Zenden still looked a class act on the pitch and helped the lads secure a tenth-place finish in the 2010/11 season.
Larsson joined in 2011 after leaving Birmingham and linked up with his former manager Steve Bruce. The Swede scored on his debut against Liverpool, striking a fantastic first time angled volley to secure the lads an opening day point. Larsson made it a habit of scoring free kicks during his time at Sunderland, especially in his first season. Larsson scored a spectacular long range free kick against Arsenal in a 2-1 defeat. The free kick led to Arséne Wenger saying that he was ‘maybe the best in the league as a free-kick taker’. Larsson scored another free kick, this time against Blackburn. His injury time free kick went in off the post and handed Martin O’Neill a 2-1 win in his first game in charge. When Ji scored and Sunderland beat Man City in January 2011 Larsson played the full 90 minutes despite having the flu. Larsson didn’t train in the week leading up to the game but still gave his all, something he always did at Sunderland. Larsson’s first campaign at Sunderland was his most successful scoring season, finishing with 8 goals. After playing on the right wing in his first season Larsson moved into central midfield. A move into the middle of the park led to Larsson only scoring season in the 2012/13 season. Larsson started the League Cup Final defeat in March 2014 before helping the lads in their miraculous battle against the drop. His only league goal of the 13/14 campaign was a winner at Old Trafford in May 2014, the 1-0 win helped propel us to safety. In the 2014/15 season Larsson was named Sunderland's Supporters' Player of the Year. Larsson left the club in 2017 when his contract was not renewed after our relegation to the Championship. Larsson divided opinion during his time at the club but you could always guarantee he would give his all in every game. Which is a lot more than can be said about some players that have pulled on the red and white shirt. Whilst there have been some great free signings made by the club there have also been some shocking ones. I won’t be going into detail on the bad ones as its too painful and I’d probably be still writing the article this time next year. However, I will list some of those who made the free move (thank god) to the Stadium of Light.
OTHERS THAT YOU’D PREFER TO FORGET!
James McFadden 3 Apps 0 Goals
I actually can’t remember McFadden playing for us, which is probably a good thing.
Joleon Lescott 2 Apps 0 Goals
Lescott had a disaster at the back as we lost 5-1 to Chelsea on the final day of the 16/17 season.
Louis Saha 14 Apps 0 Goals
Was a shadow of his former self and missed a sitter in the 1-1 Tyne-Wear derby at home to Newcastle in October 2013.
Steven Pienaar 17 Apps 0 Goals
Great in his hay day but was far too old when he came to Sunderland. Was signed by David Moyes and helped the lads to relegation from the Prem in 2017.
Cabral 1 App 0 Goals
One of the 14 signed by Di Canio. Cabral scored against Tottenham in the semi-final of the 2013 Premier League Asia Trophy. He played in the opening game of the 2013/14 season against Fulham and was never seen again.
Emmanuel Eboue 0 Apps 0 Goals
Eboue signed on the 9th March 2016 and was sacked in April 2016 after he was forced to serve a one-year ban from all Football related activity for failing to pay a former agent.
If you don’t remember these playing for Sunderland, then lucky you. The best thing about their time at Sunderland was the fact they didn’t cost us a transfer fee; however I can guarantee they were paid a ridiculous wage.