As an avid Sunderland fan from my birth in the early 2000s, I looked back at the squad over the years, and picked my ultimate XI.
GOALKEEPER: SIMON MIGNOLET (2010-2013)
Mignolet’s 3-year reign was filled with quality between the posts. Simon was brought in to replace Craig Gordon. In his 3 seasons as the first team goalkeeper, Mignolet made 23 (2010/11), 29 (2011/12) and 38 (2012/13) appearances, as he continued to impress fans with his showstopping saves and overall consistency for the team. Mignolet also managed an impressive number of clean sheets over the few seasons, enticing an interest from other Premier League clubs. In 2013, he made the move to Liverpool, and is the current first choice goalkeeper for Belgian side Club Brugge.
RIGHT-BACK: PHIL BARDSLEY (2008-2014)
Bardsley joined the Black Cats in January 2008 for a fee said to be around £850,000. After starting out his career years earlier at Manchester United, Bardsley had been on many loan spells at multiple notable clubs such as Burnley, Aston Villa and Sheffield. However, he ultimately found his home at Sunderland, where he stayed from 2008 through to 2014. He made an impressive 174 appearances during his 6-year spell, even managing to score himself 7 goals from his defensive position. In the 2010/11 season he even picked up the player of the year award. Bardsley went from Sunderland to Stoke in 2014, and from 2017 has been a player for Premier League club Burnley.
CENTRE-BACK: JOHN O’SHEA (2011-2018)
Physically commanding Irishman John O’Shea joined us back in 2011 after over a decade of playing for English giants Manchester United bagging himself 14 major competition wins, including a Champions League. Upon signing for Sunderland in 2011, O’Shea got straight to work establishing himself as the heart of the defence. O’Shea made a huge 226 appearances as the rock at the back, even bagging himself 4 goals during his time at the club. He went on to have a small spell at Reading in 2018, and is currently, after his retirement, the first team coach for the last side of his playing career.
CENTRE-BACK: WES BROWN (2011-2016)
Central defender Wes Brown had accumulated quite the resume before joining Sunderland in 2011. After 15 years at Manchester United, he left the club with two Champions League titles, and an abundance of Premier League titles. Sir Alex Ferguson even went on to say that he was “without question the best natural defender this club has had for years". Brown went on to make 76 appearances, although his career at Sunderland was plagued with injuries. After his 5-year spell at the club, Wes Brown went on to Blackburn Rovers.
LEFT-BACK: DANNY ROSE (2012-2013)
Although Danny Rose only played for Sunderland for a short time, he was very impressive during his time at the club. He made a total of 29 appearances. Unfortunately, Tottenham were more than keen to reacquire his services, and brought the left-back back to the club.
CENTRE MIDFIELD: JORDAN HENDERSON (2008-2011)
Jordan Henderson joined the Sunderland academy at the age of 8 years old, after he grew up in the city. After playing his way all the way through the youth ranks, Henderson finally signed for the Sunderland senior team in 2008. He went on to complete a 6-month long loan at Coventry City, before making 71 total appearances for his childhood club, in which he scored 4 goals. After a successful and promising few years for us, Henderson went on to Liverpool where he has had a brilliant career to date. Henderson remains one of the most successful former Sunderland players of all time.
CENTRE MIDFIELD: GRANT LEADBITTER (2003-2009)
Throughout my childhood, Grant Leadbitter was the stand-out player, at the heart of our midfield. Leadbitter joined the Sunderland youth academy at the age of 16 and impressed at the youth level. He made his debut match for the senior team in 2003, in a defeat against Huddersfield Town. Although he had a short loan spell at Rotherham United in 2005, Leadbitter picked up a regular first team place in the team. Over the course of his time at Sunderland, he picked up a total of 111 appearances, scoring 11 goals from 2003-2009. Leadbitter went on to Ipswich and Middlesbrough after this but has since returned to Sunderland in 2019.
RIGHT MIDFIELD: SEBASTIAN LARSSON (2011-2017)
Over his playing time at Sunderland, which was a 6-year period, Larsson established himself as an important squad member, making a total of 176 appearances. Although Larsson was not a standout goalscorer for the squad, having only scored 12 goals, he was still widely appraised for his reliable presence on the right-hand side of the midfield. After a fruitful 6 years, Larsson went on to Hull City, and then Swedish football league club AFK, where he currently plays.
LEFT MIDFIELD: STEPHANE SESSEGNON (2011-2013)
Sessegnon signed for Sunderland in 2011, after a spell at French giants Paris Saint Germain, where he had scored 9 goals in 77 games. Sessegnon, who was able to play as a forward as well as a left-sided midfielder, continued his impressive goal scoring record for the Black Cats. He made a total of 87 appearances, during the 3 seasons that he had at the club. He scored 17 goals during this time and impressed his fans with his flair and entertaining style of play.
STRIKER: JERMAINE DEFOE (2015-2017)
Jermaine Defoe became somewhat of a club legend. He claimed himself an impressive goal scoring record as Sunderland’s main frontman, bagging 34 goals in 87 appearances. Defoe was already established as an exciting and prolific striker in England, through his successful runs with both Portsmouth, and most notably Tottenham Hotspur. Defoe became a fan favourite off the pitch too, memorably for his relationship with Bradley Lowery.
STRIKER: DARREN BENT (2009-2011)
Darren Bent signed for Sunderland back in 2009, after previously playing for Ipswich Town, Charlton Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur. Bent had one of the most impressive goalscoring records in Sunderland’s club history, as he went on a scoring rampage during his seasons at the club. He finished up his time at Sunderland in 2011, after making a total of 58 appearances and scoring 32 goals, which works out at more than a goal every two games - an unbelievable stat to this day. After his clinical few seasons at Sunderland, in which he went on to sign for Fulham, Aston Villa and Derby County, before calling an end to his career in July of 2019.