VITO Mannone was able to return to Arsenal today with his head held high in the wake of his £2m summer departure from the Emirates.
The Italian stopper was a Gunner from his tender teenage years, being part of the Londoners’ squad from 2005-13 - although he made only 25 starts during that time.
Today though, he went back to the North London club with the best goals conceded record of any keeper who has played more than 10 games in the Premier League this season.
And although some of his performances have earned him rave reviews, the man who gave him his chance at Sunderland says he never doubted the 25-year-old would prove his pedigree.
“No, I’m not surprised how well Vito has done because I knew him from watching him at Arsenal” said Gus Poyet, who handed the Italian his first league start in November against Hull City.
“ I also knew how much he wanted to come to Sunderland so that he could play,” Poyet continued.
“He came here and he waited, waited, waited and finally got his chance in a game which is about as bad as you can get - when we were down to nine men against Hull.
“But he took that chance to shine.
“And the absolute bottom line here - which players sometimes find it difficult to understand - is that it wasn’t because Keiren Westwood did anything wrong but that Vito did everything right.
“It’s sometimes hard to explain to a player that if they are not in the side, it’s not because they have done anything wrong but that someone else has done particularly well.”
Mannone came on after the injured Westwood was forced to withdraw at the KC Stadium following a no-holds barred challenge from former Black Cat Paul McShane.
But the big call for Poyet came in the following game when either keeper might have played.
“My decision on Vito Mannone was made in the following game against Manchester City,” the head coach admitted.
“I had to decide whether to leave him out or play Keiren - who could have played that game - but Vito had played so well against Hull that I didn’t feel I had a choice in the matter.
That’s the way I manage - if you show me you should stay in the team, then OK, you stay in the team.
“He left me with no decision to make, he played well enough to keep his place and he has done ever since.
“That’s why I hoped he would get a good reception at Arsenal - he has done well enough this season to deserve respect for what he has achieved for himself and us.”