Ever since my first game in 2006, I have become a massive Sunderland supporter travelling home and away to follow my club. I have seen hundreds of players wear the red and white stripes of the Black Cats. There have been players I love, players I’ll forget and players who I didn’t particularly enjoy watching. So, looking back over the years, who would make it into my favourite Sunderland team?
Signed from Arsenal, the Italian will be known by most Sunderland fans for his performances in the Black Cats cup run under Gus Poyet, where they reached the Capital One cup final in 2014. The second leg of the semi-final against Manchester United went to penalties, where Mannone was the hero as he saved two penalties to help Sunderland progress to Wembley. After helping Sunderland achieve the ‘Great Escape’, he was named Sunderland’s Player of the Year. Mannone also played a crucial part in Sunderland’s survival in the 2015/16 Premier League campaign. The keeper made the number one spot his own, putting in good performances to make sure Sunderland climbed up the table. The Wearsiders clinched survival in their penultimate game of the season, a 3-0 win at home over Everton, sending their rivals Newcastle and Norwich down in the process.
Bardsley was signed from Manchester United for an initial £850,000 before going on to make 174 appearances for the Black Cats. The right back is ranked third for Sunderland’s highest Premier League appearance makers, which cements his place in this team. In his six years at the club, Bardsley won Player of the Year in the 2010/11 campaign, whilst also helping Sunderland reach the Capital One cup final in 2014. Bardsley scored the goal that saved the Black Cats from being eliminated in extra-time, although Javier Hernandez scored two minutes later. Sunderland eventually won on penalties to see themselves through to Wembley. Bardsley was a consistent performer on Wearside, which made him be loved by many of the supporters.
The French centre back was signed by Dick Advocaat in 2015 from Tottenham. Although he struggled at the start of the season, Kaboul’s form and performaces improved under new boss Sam Allardyce. One of his best moments was his assist, a peach of a cross to Steven Fletcher, against Newcastle in a 3-0 home win. Paired with Lamine Kone at the back, Kaboul was pivotal in Sunderland’s survival that season. Kaboul won the man of the match award in the teams final home game of the season against Everton, which secured the Black Cats’ survival in the Premier League. Although he was at the club for only one season, Kaboul’s performances and passion for the club meant he was admired by many.
Joining with a wealth of experience, which included five Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues, Brown was an assures presence at the heart of Sunderland’s defence. Along with John O’Shea, Brown brought a calmness to the backline for five years which was much needed. Brown made 76 appearances in his stint at the club, where he helped the team reach Wembley in 2014 for the Capita One cup final.
Signed on loan from Fiorentina in January 2014, the Spaniard featured 16 times for the Black Cats in his spell at the club. He was named man of the match in his first game, a 2-1 win over Manchester United in the first leg of the Capital One cup semi-final. Alonso oozed quality in his loan spell, which made him favoured by many Sunderland fans. He played in the Tyne-Wear derby, which Sunderland won 3-0, playing his part by producing a fantastic performance at left back. Alonso helped the Black Cats secure survival that season, as they pulled off the ‘Great Escape’.
Captain, Leader, Legend. Cattermole played for Sunderland for 10 years before leaving on a free in the summer of 2019. Signed from Wigan, the tough tackling midfielder played every game with his heart of his sleeve, becoming a fan favourite very quickly amongst Sunderland fans. Racking up a total of 233 appearances, Cattermole helping the Black Cats reach Wembley in 2014, whilst also helping the club survive relegation for many successive seasons. When things weren’t going great, Cattermole always drove the team forward, cementing his place as the leader of the squad. Cattermole suffered two successive relegations at the club, however he never stopped giving his all in each game he played. He is known as one of Sunderland’s best players during his 10 year stint at the club and is sorely missed by a large portion of the supporters.
The Frenchman was signed on loan for the 2015/16 campaign by Dutch manager Dick Advocaat. Scoring his first goal away to Aston Villa, M’Vila became a regular for the Black Cats as his quality showed on the pitch. The midfielder fell in love with the club, saying the 3-0 win over Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby was the best atmosphere he had played in. In turn, the Frenchman became a fan favourite with the Sunderland supporters as his performances oozed quality. M’Vila helped Sunderland survive relegation that year, playing his part in a 3-0 home victory against Everton, which helped relegate rivals Newcastle. Unfortunately, the 2015/16 was the only time the fans of Sunderland saw M’Vila in a Sunderland shirt, as a deal could not be agreed for his return.
The young midfielder was signed from Wycombe Wanderers following Sunderland’s relegation to the third tier of English football. Although he struggled in his first couple of months at the club, O’Nien soon became a fan favourite as his performances improved. His passion and determination to succeed became apparent with the fans, which has made him the most liked player at the club. O’Nien moved into a right back role during his first season, however the change didn’t seem to phase him as he got better with every game.
The Benin international, who signed for around six million pounds from Paris Saint Germain in January 2011, went on to make 87 appearances for the Black Cats. Operating in attacking midfield or on the wing, Sessegnon’s trickery and skill was admired by the Sunderland fanbase as he got excitement levels rising. Sessegnon scored crucial goals in his time at the club, including an extra-time winner against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, as well as the opening goal in the 3-0 away victory in the Tyne-Wear derby in April 2013.
Signing from Manchester United in 2007, Richardson went on to make 134 appearances for the Black Cats. Scoring 14 goals in that time, Richardson was mainly utilised on the left flank, whether it was at left back or left midfield. Capped eight times by England, Richardson was known for his creativity and thunderous left foot, which helped his team pick up crucial wins. Richardson’s best moment for the club was his winner against Newcastle in the Wear-Tyne derby; a rocket of a free kick which almost took the net off.
The England international, who was signed from Toronto in January 2015, went on to score 37 goals for the club in all competitions. Known for his prolific finishing, Defoe quickly became a fan favourite as his goals propelled the club to safety in his first season. One of Defoe’s best goals in his time at the club was his winner in the Wear-Tyne derby; a spectacular volley on the stroke of half-time.
The striker helped Sunderland survive relegation the season after, when Sam Allardyce resurged the team to fight off relegation. Defoe is Sunderland’s second highest Premier League goal scorer, having been one of the best finishers to play at the Stadium of Light.
Taking over from Dick Advocaat in October 2015, Allardyce was left with the difficult task of steering the Black Cats away from relegation. A positive January transfer window, which saw the likes of Jan Kirchhoff, Lamine Kone and Whabi Khazri join the club, helped propel Sunderland up the table. It wasn’t until the penultimate game of the season where Sunderland secured their top flight status, much to the delight of the Sunderland fanbase. Allardyce had built a side that, had he stayed, could have pushed for the top ten of the Premier League. Allardyce was offered the England job, which he stated was his dream job, and left Wearside after a joyful spell in the North East.