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"The 18-year-old right-back broke into a struggling first XI after Xmas in the 2002-03 season. His arrival along with that of experienced left-back Rufus Brevett (a January signing) helped the relegation threatened club put together an amazing run of just one defeat in the final 11 games. Johnson signed a new four-year deal in March and despite the Irons slipping out of the division, Johnson was regarded as one of the new young breed who would help the club make a quick return. As it was, he was the first to leave in a £6million summer move, becoming the first signing of the Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea."
"His part in West Ham's Great Escape is the stuff of legend, but the passage of time has papered over the fact that the Argentina assassin failed to score a single goal in his first 19 appearances for the Hammers in all competitions. That all changed with a first goal in a home defeat by Spurs in March 2007, sparking a run of seven goals in West Ham's final 10 Premier League games. His departure after just one season was sad but not unexpected with Man United stepping in. What we didn't realise at the time of course is that one season is about all you get from the single minded hotshot, no matter who you are."
"West Ham took a big gamble on the Senegalese striker who had been plagued with injury at German club 1899 Hoffenheim. A proposed £5.9million move to Stoke collapsed in January 2011 after Ba failed a medical. The Irons stepped in and offered the prolific hitman a three-year deal, crucially with a release clause should the club be relegated. Ba hammered in seven goals in just 12 appearances to end the season as the club's leading scorer, but his efforts weren't enough to save the Irons from the drop."
"Without a doubt it has to be Demba Ba. He's carried on at Newcastle where he left off with West Ham. At the time of writing he's smashed 11 goals in just 14 appearances for the Toon - making his total in his first year in English football 18 goals from 26 Premier League games. We can only imagine what damage he could have been inflicting upon our promotion rivals in the Championship, or indeed how West Ham would have fared this season had they stayed up with Ba leading the line."
"The Dutchman was a magician; he did things on the pitch that I didn’t even know were possible! He was the type of player that would make the opposition scared and although he wouldn’t fit into the current team (big, physical etc) I’d love him to return to the club in some capacity. It’s great to think that such a skilful player finished his career at the club after he retired in 2004. He will always be remembered for his hatrick against Reading and particularly the second goal, a goal that I don’t think will ever be matched by a player in a Stoke shirt at the Brit. He was voted as the best Stoke player in the first 10 years at the Britannia which proves what a player he was."
"I’ve been looking forward to writing about this man, if you asked me who my all time favourite Stoke player was; it would definitely be Peter Thorne. He scored 65 goals, including the winner that sealed our victory at Wembley in the ‘Football League Trophy’, then called the ‘Auto Windscreen Shield’. In his final season for Stoke, the season that saw him controversially leave for Cardiff City, he scored 4 goals in 5 games before bidding farewell for a lucrative contract in South Wales, who knows what may have happened that season had he stayed with us. Despite the circumstances with which he left, he’ll always be a hero and he proved his love for Stoke when after scoring a hatrick for Cardiff against us he decided not to celebrate. I’d welcome him back with welcome arms; there is only one Peter Thorne!"
"Choosing between the three I'd say Peter Hoesktra, simply because we desperately need competition for wingers right now. We have a good basis of strikers with Crouch and Jerome signing along with the imminent return of Ricardo Fuller. He'd add flare to our team and like I said previously, defenders would fear him. Although he's now in a coaching role, I'm sure he'd pull on the famous red & white again!"
"First name out of the hat, Gerard Pique. It seems obvious doesn't it, Pique perhaps wasn't suited to the English game as he was the La Liga, maybe he would have been, but he didn't show it during his spell at Old Trafford. Caught out many times, namely at Bolton, when Nicolas Anelka finished off a free-kick which Gerard Pique didn't have a clue about. But he showed glimpses of why he has been such a success in bringing the ball out of defence, a cutting edge through ball in 2007 against Wigan set-up United’s second goal.He got his name amongst the goals too, against Kiev and Roma, and was picked for the game title decider against Arsenal in 2008. It was a surprise to everyone when Pique was let go, and went on to become a regular Barcelona defender, and beat United in the Champions League final just 12 months after his departure.Maybe we’ll never know how suited to the English game Pique would have become, but I do wish we’d have found out."
"Number two on my list is like marmite, you either loved him or hated him. Diego Forlan. To say he took a while to get going at United would be an understatement, but we let him go just as he was becoming the striker he still is today, and showed in South Africa 18 months ago almost.Once he got that first goal, against the mighty Maccabi Haifa, the goals flowed. There were some scruffy ones, Northampton springs to mind, as does Southampton, when he was running around half naked. But there were the crackers, Southampton again, Chelsea in the last minute and against Rangers in the Champions League. And there were the downright memorable ones…Mr Jerzy Dudek.Forlan had all the qualities of a top striker, he went on to score plenty with Atletico, he dominated teams in the World Cup with Uruguay and I have no doubt he would have done the same had he stayed at Old Trafford."
"Finally, a controversial choice maybe, the little Serbian, Zoran Tosic. There was much excitement when it appeared United clichéd a double deal to bring Tosic and then Partizan team-mate Adem Ljajic to Old Trafford, but when the Ljajic deal fell through, rumours surfaced that Tosic had only been brought here as a buddy for Ljajic, and suddenly the Serbian was out of the door.He had his moments, a fleeting debut against Tottenham was followed by the odd appearance. He shone in the 2009 pre-season, setting goals up, and scoring a nice goal against Greentown over in Asia, but he was soon on his way to CSKA Moscow, where he has flourished and become a key member of the Serbian national team squad.Tosic didn’t win the hearts of many United fans but I feel with a few more chances, Tosic would have developed well here and given us good back-up options on the wing, where we sometimes struggle to find back-up for these days."
"Who would I take back out of the three at the time they were sold? Under circumstance, it’s too easy to say Pique, but at the time, Rio and Vida were in their pomp, Jonny Evans was a developing young talent, and Wes Brown had just endured his best United season. For me, Diego Forlan left at a time when he could have been a star.The 04/05 season wasn't a success, in any way. United lacked creativity, sure, Ruud was scoring the goals, we didn’t know if Wayne would sign for us or head up north to Newcastle, Saha had only been with us six months, Solskjaer was crippled, Smith was a new entity, Ronaldo was just a one-trick pony and nobody knew how poor David Bellion would be. There were youngsters, as ever, when nowadays we look to Welbeck and Macheda for youthful inspiration, back then it was Rossi, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, and erm.. Kenny Cooper. Forlan had a chance to shine that season, would we have signed Rooney if he hadn't gone, who knows? But Diego had much more to give, it’s just a shame he didn't want it."
"Paul Robinson joined Spurs from Leeds in May 2004, for a fee of £1.5M. He was an instant hit with the fans and in the next two seasons he put in some top quality performances in a team that generally was considered to have a poor defence. It was easy to see why many considered him to be England's best goalkeeper. In his third season, he was very inconsistent, due to the lack of confidence after his mistake at the beginning of the season for England against Croatia. He never fully recovered and in that season Spurs had a poor record of keeping clean sheets. The team however, still managed a fifth place finish in the league.
His form again suffered for club and country and he lost his No1 status for both club and country. However he showed his professionalism & regained his place and collected the first major trophy of his career in Tottenham's 2–1 victory over Chelsea in the 2008 League Cup Final. His form suffered again after this and he eventually left the club on transfer to Blackburn in July 2008 for a fee of £3.5M. His performances since for Blackburn showed what a good goalkeeper he still is and it is no coincidence that Spurs have struggled to find a replacement of the same standard. Brad Friedel is showing he is close. I believe he is still a genuine contender for an England place, if he chooses to make himself available for selection. Worth noting that on his Blackburn appearances at WHL, since he left, the fans have given him a special and warm welcome."
"This decision is a hard call. I don’t think he has played as well for Manchester United as he did in his spell for Spurs, but he was sold for a club record £30m. He joined Spurs in July 2006 and took time to settle, but formed a good partnership with Robbie Keane and from about April 2007 put in some great performances. However, he is very moody and needs careful management (a genius often does). His languid approach on the pitch can be deceiving; he has a great eye for goal, much like Greaves and Klinsmann before him. We have not really replaced him. Pavlyuchenko is a mood player, Crouch was clumsy, Keane fell out with Redknapp and Jermain Defoe is only now getting some form back. Emmanuel Adebayor is proving to be another shrewd acquisition that has good potential."
"Sol made his debut in 1992 and proved his class almost immediately. Initially he played up front and also covered all across the back line, but eventually settled into the central defensive position circa 1995. He moved to Arsenal under the ‘Bosman ruling’ amidst a lot of hostility from Spurs fans in 2001 and that is still prevalent today. He played a key role in Arsenal’s success in the early part of that decade and also key games for England, although injury restricted his appearances. The natural successor was Ledley King, but injuries have severely restricted his appearances over the years. We have not had a strong defensive player since, Dawson and King are the closest when fit."
"If I had to choose one of those 3 above the others, it would be Campbell. Central defence has been Spurs’ achilles heel ever since he left. I am certain we would have been a better team had he stayed."
"Whilst many may have raised an eyebrow when seeing how involved with the Manchester United first team Danny Welbeck has been this season, there was no such surprise amongst Sunderland fans. Last season we had the privilege of having the youngster on loan and he had Manchester United pedigree oozing out of every facet. Welbeck appears to be the archetypal modern day striker, possessing the touch and vision to go with formidable physical attributes. Many believed that the club had enough prospects of their own that should be getting the playing time that would be devoted to that of another club. But the player started contributing to the first team immediately and it was clear from the start that he was far more than a 'prospect' - he was a Premier League player.
It is fair to say that Sunderland have been haemorrhaging strikers at a frantic rate this year, with Welbeck, Bent, and Gyan all wearing the colours of another club at this moment in time. The latter two will not make this short-list, as the only thing 'bigger and better' about what they have done since leaving is their pay-packets, but Welbeck is making a big contribution to the champions and being fast-tracked into the England side. Whilst the other strikers we have lost have made the headlines, Welbeck has been a huge miss."
"It may surprise people to see such a Newcastle United stalwart in a Sunderland list. In fact, a lot of people may not even be aware Given is a former Sunderland player. But before he was a Premier League mainstay, before anyone had even heard of him actually, Given was a very important part of the Sunderland team that laid the foundations of the relative successes the club is enjoying today. At the turn of the year, Peter Reid signed the then Blackburn youngster on loan and stunned everyone by instantly throwing him into his promotion chasing team. We needed not worry, though, as Given's immense quality was evident from day one. During Given's brief 17-game spell at Roker Park, he amassed a massive 12 clean sheets as the championship was claimed. For the record, that means that in 17 games with Sunderland he won more medals than in the 400 he played for Newcastle.
The club seems to have been searching for a reliable goalkeeper for years at this point. Craig Gordon is a richly talented shot-stopper, but suspect in other areas of his game and has an atrocious injury record. Mignolet we have high hopes for but injury has just befallen him as well. Given was good enough from the day he walked into the club as a 19 year-old and I wish we could have kept him."
"Another high-profile player that many may not be aware ever played for Sunderland. Downing enjoyed a loan-spell at Sunderland back in 2003 as Mick McCarthy was trying to steady the ship following the total implosion of the club during Peter Reid's final months here. The more eagle-eyed of you will notice that this makes it a hat-trick of loanees, but for whatever reason Sunderland has always been a club for overachievers who struggle to replicate it elsewhere. The elegance and quality on the ball that has defined Downing's career was evident immediately at Sunderland despite his tender 19 years. In fact his form was so good that he was recalled after a mere 7 games and thrust immediately into the Premier League limelight by Middlesborough.
It is no exaggeration to say that I genuinely struggle to remember the last natural left-sided wide-player we have had at Sunderland of any actual quality. You probably have to go all the way back to Julio Arca. It is a failing that has plagued the club for years and how different it could have been had the club been in able to secure his services on a permanent basis. The fact that he was in the England squad within 18 months of having his loan spell ended shows that even the 19-year-old version of Downing could have impacted Sunderland at Premier League level."
"The great Brian Clough always said that he couldn't understand why top goalkeepers didn't cost as much as top strikers, and I completely agree with that. A save can be as valuable as a goal and Shay Given has made a career out of pulling off saves that he had absolutely no right to make. For that reason, coupled with the fact that he was young enough, and good enough even at the time, to provide the kind of goalkeeping stability Sunderland and so many other clubs rarely enjoy, it has to be Shay Given. He would immediately improve the current team considerably."