When you think of the Sunderland team in the 2000s, the first player that comes to mind is Dean Whitehead.
The former Oxford midfielder, who played under Mick McCarthy and then Roy Keane, experienced a roller coaster of emotions as a player for the club, making over 200 appearances in the Sunderland shirt.
Whitehead was a capable midfielder, hard working and versatile, having played for the club on numerous occasions. He was especially so when he returned to the Premier League under Keane.
Arriving on a free transfer from Oxford United in June 2004, Whitehead was an integral part of Mick McCarthy’s squad restructuring. He and Liam Lawrence were his two unknowns who later became important players.
His performances were so good that Whitehead earned a new and improved contract during the season. He played a key role in a highly competitive position with the likes of Sean Thorton, Jeff Whitley and Carl Robinson.
As we all know, Sunderland’s 2005-06 season was all but forgotten, but Whitehead’s performance was one of the few bright sparks and continued to do well. He scored his three goals and missed only his one game. This earned him a further improved contract and increased Sunderland’s desire to keep him.
Whitehead enjoyed playing under Mick McCarthy, he told RR:
Mick trusted in your abilities.
He will really help you and bring out the best in you.
Approach him and talk to him and the player will react. He makes those arguments and puts your mind at ease.
His approach to players gave me confidence. Young players entering big clubs need it from managers. He helped us all a lot.
Not many youngsters lasted long after Roy Keane took over from former Republic of Ireland manager, but Whitehead was one of the essential players for them.
By the time Keane arrived, speculation was rife about the midfielder’s future, with Premier League side Reading sniffing around him, but Whitehead stayed on and became one of the key cogs in the machine under new manager. became.
During the 2006–07 promotion season, Whitehead made 47 appearances. He was named PFA Player of the Year, finished second in the club’s Player of the Year award, and was captain.
He will always be remembered as one of the key figures of the Roy Keane era.
With Roy watching over us, everyone was working to be at the top of their game.
His drive and winning mentality was infused into the team, and that mentality rubbed into each of us and pushed us away.
At times, Roy felt almost invincible because of his ability to bring out the best in young people. We went into the game expecting to win.
The former Oxford native continued to play for Sunderland until August 2009. He left the club to make over 200 appearances for the club. At this point, he became one of the club’s most consistent players.
He moved to Stoke City in 2009, playing for Huddersfield Town before eventually becoming a coach. Most recently, he joined his team in Cardiff’s backroom after playing for Besiktas in Turkey.
Happy Birthday, Diano!