COSTEL PANTILIMON participated in his first press call as a Sunderland player yesterday after almost a fortnight training with his new team-mates.
And the Romanian keeper left no room for doubt over why he left Manchester City and what he immediately hopes to achieve at the Stadium of Light.
CHRIS YOUNG reports.
TWO PREMIER League titles, a League Cup winners medal, Champions League football and a handsome pay packet.
As life goes in the wingman role of back-up goalkeeper, Costel Pantilimon’s existence at Manchester City was none too shabby.
Many have made a career out of being that solid custodian in reserve; content to always be the bridesmaid rather than the bride.
But just two months after lifting the title with City, Pantilimon has immediately banished his time at the Etihad to the confines of the history books.
A modest tally of just 29 starts in three years from Joe Hart’s shadow has grated on Pantilimon. Losing his place as Romanian number one only exacerbated the problem.
He clearly felt there was little option than to leave behind the comfort of the City bench when his contract expired this summer.
In his first press call since joining Sunderland on a Bosman deal, the towering 27-year-old was wary of looking back on his stint at City and the reasons behind his departure.
When asked if he could have stayed at the club, Pantilimon replied: “I don’t want to talk about it.
“It was a good period, a good three years and we won lots of trophies – two Premier Leagues, a Community Shield and the Capital One Cup.
“But I want to forget that because I’m starting a new season, with a new team.
“I want to do good things here.”
In an era when too many Premier League performers are content to pick up their bulky pay packets, Pantilimon’s thirst for regular first-team football is refreshing.
It’s not the only obvious factor which will have attracted Gus Poyet and sporting director Lee Congerton when Sunderland made contact with Pantilimon’s camp at the end of last season.
At 6ft 8in, Pantilimon is a formidable physical specimen in the flesh, craning his neck as he wanders through the corridors of the Academy of Light. There couldn’t be a better prospect of a goalkeeper fulfilling that footballing cliche of “dominating his box”.
But will Pantilimon get the opportunity to do that?
Certainly, the whispers from inside and outside the club this summer have been that the Romanian was handed a four-year contract with a view to being Sunderland’s first-choice keeper.
Yet that seems incredibly harsh on reigning Player of the Year Vito Mannone, who naturally has garnered the early backing of supporters in the battle between the two stoppers.
The scrap to see who starts the Premier League curtain-raiser at West Brom next month could evolve into THE talking point of pre-season.
But Pantilimon has made it crystal clear that he is not here to be Mannone’s understudy.
“I knew I needed to play and I want to play, to get back to being number one in my national team,” he said.
“I’m young and I need to play.
“It was a good opportunity to come here after I talked to the manager.
“I liked his ideas and his ambitions.
“I want to do good things here.”
Pantilimon had established a healthy reputation during his fleeting appearances for City and was rated highly by boss Manuel Pellegrini.
There was even tentative talk of Arsenal being interested when it became clear that he was looking to leave City.
But, given his appearances for City were so fleeting, does Pantilimon feel he still needs to demonstrate his prowess on these shores?
“I need to prove myself all the time,” he replied.
“It’s never enough.
“You always think you can do more and I’m sure I’m going to do good things in this team.”
Inevitably, Pantilimon will get far more chance to demonstrate his shot-stopping ability than at City, if he does win the selection battle with Mannone.
In a side which has toiled for the last two seasons, both Mannone and predecessor stopper Simon Mignolet have been crowned Player of the Year for their remarkable feats in keeping the wolves at bay.
That will be a culture shock to the sporadic contributions Pantilimon had to make at City.
But he hopes Sunderland can enjoy a more stable campaign this time around, as Poyet begins his first full season in charge at the Stadium of Light.
“I hope this will be a different season. I know last year wasn’t so good in the Premier League because it went down to the end,” added Pantilimon, part of the City side who beat Sunderland in March’s Capital One Cup final.
“But I hope we can do better than last year.
“I want to help this team to be in a good position.”