2006 will be a year deep embedded in the memory of all Sunderland fans that were around to witness events that would change the club forever.
The sacking of Mick McCarthy on the 6th of May marked the beginning of a transitional period for the North East club that was inevitably in the process of massing a record for the lowest amount of points in a Premier League season, which would relegate the Black cats to the Championship. Thankfully, Derby went on to break the record two seasons later with just 15 points.
Rumours were thick in the sea air on Wearside encompassing the possibility of new owners lead by a club legend. On the 3rd ofJuly 2006, a list of consortium members lead by ex-player Niall Quinn were announced as the new owners of Sunderland AFC, promising fortuitous times ahead, complete with a plan of breaking the club into the top four of the Premier League within the next five years.
Niall Quinn took over as caretaker manager during the summer whilst the club struggled to find a suitable man for the job. Quinn’s first signing in charge would mark the beginning of a new era, a sign of intent; the team that went down was at rock bottom and needed a quick boost of quality.
3. Arnau Riera
It’s rare that free transfers ever make ‘worst signings’ lists. I for one don’t understand why? Yes, the club avoids paying a transfer fee, but it still has the issues of agent fees, signing on fees, contract negotiations etc. In any case, Arnau Riera probably wasn’t paid that much, and wouldn’t have received a great amount in ways of a signing on fee. Nevertheless, he’s reached number three because he represents the epitome of a hyped up transfer.
Speculation would always surround the new arrivals at the Stadium of Light given the high expectations given for a club with new-found deep pockets. The initial impression given to fans at the time was that Sunderland now had an endless supply of money that would help push the club to compete with the Arsenals, Chelseas and Man Uniteds of football. A ‘World class’ manager was just around the corner, as was the queue of elite players who were ready to take on the big clubs… Or so we hoped.
A week in to the 06/07 season and Sunderland had still not been given the go ahead by the banks to spend. So instead Niall Quinn had to go on the hunt for bargain players. Sunderland signed Arnau Riera, the Barcelona B team captain, who had ordered around the likes of Lionel Messi in his younger days. Riera was described as the player that every Sunderland fan had been waiting for for many a year. Solid, quick on the ball, a playmaker; as a free transfer, Riera sounded too good to be true.
Reports suggested at the time that the player had turned down numerous offers from Barcelona to stay and captain the reserves. Instead, his future lay on the banks of the river Wear; the North East of England, rather than the North East of Spain. Arnau was to provide an impetuous for the ailing, newly relegated team that had embarrassingly crashed out of the Premier League. Niall Quinn has since spoken of a dressing room derived of any confidence. The Spaniard was to lead the way back to victorious times.
All in all, Riera played around 50 minutes for Sunderland. He came on as a substitute against Southend United to play most of the second half in a game which the Black Cats lost 3-1. The next game, a league cup match against Bury, the midfielder would start.
The team were given instructions that all play was to go through Arnau Riera. The player was given a free role, told to stay up top without even a second thought of defending and was in charge of all set pieces. “We worked on it for four days, me and Bobby Saxton, and he got sent off in the first three minutes,” Niall Quinn told the Times.
Sunderland went on to lose the game 2-0. And that was it. Never to play a first team game again for Sunderland, Riera was banished to the reserves with the appointment of Roy Keane as manager. The rest is history.
In retrospect, Niall Quinn’s short lived spell as Sunderland boss wasn’t all that unsuccessful. After all, the Irishman signed Darren Ward on a free, who would become first team goalkeeper. He also signed Tobias Hysen for £1.7million, another who would become an integral part of the title winning team. However, he did sign Kenny Cunningham and William Mocquet.
The Chairman/manager went back to just being chairman, and every Sunderland fan should be grateful for what he’s been able to achieve in his short time at the helm. Luring new investment, owners and also new fans, Quinn has lived up to most of his promises in turning around the club and fulfilling its potential. What a fun ‘magic carpet ride’ it’s been so far.
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