Brown return a big boost for Cats

Friday 26th July 2013 9:14

Wes Brown: Back in the picture at Sunderland

Wes Brown: Back in the picture at Sunderland

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Sunderland FanZone blogger Michael Graham believes the return of Wes Brown could be one of the biggest fillips of all for the club this season.

Whilst much about Paolo Di Canio and his managerial credentials remains something of a tantalising mystery, I think it would be fair to say at this point that modesty is not something that comes easily to the Italian.

He may be only just getting started on his Sunderland 'revolution', but he has yet to meet a spotlight he didn't like.

To Di Canio, the touchline of his fiercest rivals is a stage upon which to strut and slide; a post-game Stadium of Light an arena awaiting his imperial salute; the eight points he achieved from Sunderland's final seven games of last season 'a miracle'.

But for all his swagger and posturing, the former Swindon boss may have pulled off something of genuine substance if, as the opening round of games of the Asia Trophy has suggested, he has helped bring Wes Brown's career back from the brink of retirement and breathed fresh life into it.

In many ways, Brown has become one of football's lost men. The kind of player you find popping into your head over a pint with friends in 10 years' time with no one able to quite remember what on earth happened to him. Actually, I suspect some people even now are already scratching their heads over it.

By way of a brief recap, allow me to bring everyone up to speed. In January 2012, Brown limped out of a FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough with a knee injury that kept him out until the summer. A year ago in a pre-season tournament in Korea he attempted a return only to break down in the first half of his first game which ended his season before it had even begun.

Since then, just about everyone has given up on Brown. Fans had all but flushed him from their memories, the club offered to settle his contract, and Di Canio informed him he would not be part of his plans.

"I have to be honest and say that he was not on my list for the future", said the Sunderland manager. "After one year and two months out, at his age, I couldn't start thinking about a player who I didn't know if I could rely upon. I spoke to him and was clear that he wasn't on the list."

Indeed, the only person who refused to write off Brown was the player himself, and that faith looks like it may be vindicated following his successful return to the Sunderland side with a man-of-the-match goalscoring performance against Tottenham on a sodden Hong Kong pitch.

It was a timely reminder that, when fit and firing, centre-backs don't really come much better than Brown. For a club with an obvious soft centre last season, the potential return of a player of his calibre is a big and unexpected boost.

Whether or not Brown can stay free from serious injury is the big question, but there is cause for optimism there. The general perception of Di Canio's pre-season routine is that it is not so much designed to build fitness but rather to sort the survivors from the rest, and Brown is said to have come through it without any hint of struggle.

His record suggests a fresh injury is never really far away, as does his general attitude that a football is there to be vigorously attacked with uncompromising malice as opposed to simply won. There will be no counting of chickens on Wearside, you can be sure of that.

But for the moment there is no question that Brown has worked his way back into the picture at Sunderland. "I'm very happy to tell him now that he's completely on my list", enthused Di Canio, and that may just make him the best summer addition for the busy Black Cats.

As for his manager, he appeared unusually content to shine the spotlight on someone else for a change, which probably translates as the biggest compliment he has to offer. For a time it even almost seemed he wasn't going to claim the merest sliver of it for himself.

"It proves the quality of my technical staff", insisted Di Canio at the death. Well played.

You can find Michael on Twitter @Capt_Fishpaste - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too for links to all the latest blogs.

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