Sunderland AFC: The 7 Most Controversial Players in Club History
Despite undergoing a rocky start to the season, Sunderland appear to have found steady ground under the guidance of Martin O’Neill this season and are on course to achieve a mid-table finish at the very least.
The Northern Irishman took over the reins of the club in December and with the investment of Ellis Short this summer, the North East outfit will be hoping to improve once again next campaign.
However, what is a successful club without a host of its own memorable players? Whether it be for good reasons or bad (most frequently the latter), there are those of the Sunderland alumni whose roles within the side will be chronicled for ages to come.
So, without further ado, we begin our countdown of seven of the most controversial figures in the history of Sunderland AFC.
Gyan: Hero turned Villain
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To commence our list is a player who continues to infuriate a considerable portion of the Sunderland faithful as well as court controversy as we speak.
In September of last year, Gyan left the Black Cats shorthanded in a desperately surprising turn of events that may have seen Steve Bruce still at the helm of the club had Gyan decided to stay.
Barely a year after he had arrived at the Stadium of Light, Gyan agreed to go on a season-long loan to United Arab Emirates side Al-Ain in a move that had ‘lucrative’ written all over it.
Sunderland were compensated with a £6m fee for Gyan’s services—just under half of the £13m sum they paid Rennes for his services in 2010—but the damage was effectively done as the Black Cats looked incapable in front of goal for some months to come.
On-loan Nicklas Bendtner has been the only established forward amongst the Sunderland ranks for much of this campaign, while the newly formatted and attack-minded Stephane Sessegnon has also done more than his share going forward.
It emerged that Gyan’s contract with Al-Ain would see him earn four times the wages he was on at Wearside and O’Neill recently stated that the Ghanaian was unlikely to feature for Sunderland again, meaning this particular "star" can certainly go down as one of the club villains.
Medina: A Ghost at Wearside
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After arriving in England with fellow Argentinian prodigy, Julio Arca, hopes were exceedingly high regarding the future Sunderland success of Nicolás Medina when the playmaker came to the club in 2001.
The then 19 year old had made enough of an impression while playing in his native Argentina for Peter Reid to refer to him as “the complete midfield player” and Mackems were understandably abuzz.
However, Medina was, and remains to this day, the most expensive player ever to have come to Sunderland and fail to make a first team league appearance.
The midfielder came to the North East for a fee of £3.5m and it was left up to sheer speculation as to why he was not being picked for the squad, with some blaming an indifferent relationship with manager Peter Reid while others claimed that the youngster was suffering with a serious illness.
It eventually emerged that Medina’s omissions from lineups were simply down to him not quite cutting it at the Premier League grade and after Reid was axed from his role with Sunderland, the player followed not so long after, but not without his share of controversy.
Bent: Regretting his Villa switch?
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Webster's defines controversy as "an argument that involves many people who strongly disagree about something." If there was anything a Sunderland supporter may have done regarding Darren Bent’s departure from the club, it was this.
The striker began his career at Sunderland in superb fashion, notching 25 goals in 40 games in the 2009-10 campaign and quickly established himself as a fan favourite amongst fans of the club.
One couldn’t be blamed then, for smacking their lips at the prospect of Bent and World Cup wonder, Asamoah Gyan, linking up on Wearside and potentially creating a devastating attacking partnership.
However, it was not meant to be. After playing alongside each other for just four-and-a-half months, Bent submitted a transfer request following interest from several Premier League outfits.
In a similar scenario to Asamoah Gyan’s exit from the Stadium of Light, it would appear that Bent’s main motives for his exit was for money and while the forward would testify that he saw a bigger future for himself at the Birmingham club, 18 months later, Villa would find themselves threatened with relegation while Sunderland sit at mid-table.
The Black Cats can take subtle comfort in the £16m profit they have made from Bent’s stint in Sunderland, but it doesn’t quite eclipse the controversy caused by the transfer request that the England international submitted midway through the 2010-11 season.
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Moving to Sunderland as a fresh-faced teenage starlet, Bellion came to the side in 2001 and spent two seasons at Wearside before jumping ship in 2003 as the Black Cats were demoted to duties in England’s second tier.
Despite this misfortune for the club, Bellion emerged as one of the most promising members of the Sunderland roster and it became known that Manchester United were interested in acquiring his services.
This kind of attention appeared to have had a profound effect on the youngster, who went missing at the most critical part of Sunderland’s 2002-03 campaign and spent much of the relegation battle in his homeland.
Bellion claimed that he was in France to visit his sick grandmother, stating that he was “mentally unfit” for his Premier League duties. This news was all too coincidentally timed along with reports that United were tapping up the playmaker even though all accusations were swept away.
The rumours appear to have turned true and the Bellion eventually got his wish, staying in the Premier League while Sunderland saw the drop.
A Black Cats betrayal, for sure.
Cattermole: Tenacious C
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Lee Cattermole is the only player on our list playing for Sunderland at this moment and looks likely to do so for some time.
The anchorman also has the enviable honour of being the only candidate who would still be welcomed to a Sunderland reunion party with open arms were any of our seven invited.
Cattermole has made a name for himself as a no-nonsense tackler amongst the English elite, picking up an impressive—or perhaps not so impressive—39 yellow cards over the last four seasons including six sending offs in that time.
While some would look upon "controversy" as being highlighted for all the wrong reasons, Cattermole finds himself in the headlines and at the heart of topical discussion purely out of his genuine love for the game and commitment to each and every match he plays a role in.
That being said, one wouldn’t exactly be ostracised for saying that Cattermole can be a tad too aggressive at times, opting for that extra lunge where a calmer and more pragmatic mind should prevail.
A patriot to the cause and current Sunderland club captain: Lee Cattermole.
Tore André Flo
Flo: Andy Carroll, eat your heart out
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In a countdown of controversial club figures, the biggest flop is always going to feature at some point along the way.
In this case, those bragging rights go to Tore André Flo who completed a summer deadline day move to Wearside at the beginning of the 2002-03 season for a fee of £6.75m.
The Norwegian international made his first mark on the Premier League during a three-year stint with Chelsea where he enjoyed decent success, scoring 50 goals for the Blues in just over 160 appearances.
Flo then made the switch to Scotland where he was even more prolific with Rangers, leading Sunderland spirits to be high when news of his transfer arose.
However, the Norwegian hitman—who was the Black Cat’s second most expensive purchase at the time—never recaptured the kind of scoring form he produced at former sides and netted just six goals in a sole season at the Stadium of Light.
The veteran had the task of filling the boots of Niall Quinn, who had just retired from the game, making his time at the club infinitely harder and meant that he would move on once more as Sunderland were relegated to Division One.
Tore André Flo: inconsistent to say the least.
El Hadji Diouf
Diouf: Premier League Bad Boy
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To use an old cliché: "last but by no means least" on a list of controversial Sunderland alumni comes El Hadji Diouf, who probably would have found his way onto the chart even if he hadn’t been directly on the books of the club.
Wherever the Senegalese attacker goes, controversy is sure to follow and Diouf’s time in the North East was no different. After all, a player has to do something to entertain himself.
Diouf has earned a reputation for being one of the most foul-mouthed, overly-aggressive, unnecessarily lewd and rebellious faces in not just England, but across world football over the past decade.
Arguing with opponents and fans became a not too uncommon feature of the winger’s career as years rolled by, but Sunderland brought Diouf’s argumentative nature to a whole other level, when he threatened to stab teammate Anton Ferdinand.
The incident occurred in a post-match meal following a victory over Fulham and should the African forward have waited just a few more days to vent his frustrations, he may have lasted considerably longer with the Mackems.
However, as it was, Diouf timed his attack during the January transfer window and after spending just six months at the Stadium of Light, then-manager Ricky Sbragia jumped at the chance to sell his "asset" to Blackburn for a fee of around £2m.
El Hadji Diouf is disliked and hated by more clubs, players and officials than my fingers have the stamina to type and is, without a doubt, a huge contender for the title of most controversial player ever to have donned the red and white of Sunderland AFC.