The Bailey Wright interview: Rejoining 'special' Sunderland, unfinished business and why he's feeling fitter than ever
Bailey Wright is back at the heart of Sunderland’s defence and with the season fast approaching, the popular centre-back opened up on his return and the challenge ahead….
"When's Bailey signing?"
A question that was never far away from being asked in the early part of the summer.
Wright's impact on the squad and the team after signing in January was so obvious, it seemed inconceivable that Sunderland would consider launching their next attempt at promotion without him.
Which, when you think about it, is quite the feat on Wright's part.
A serious knee injury limited him to just five appearances in a red-and-white shirt but the solidity of the team in those games led to four clean sheets and twelve points.
It was enough to convince most that this was a side better for his presence.
Wright stayed on Wearside through his rehab and those this eventual return was delayed by an unexpected spell in quarantine, he's a defender who has unfinished business.
That bond has been quickly forged and that appreciation keenly felt.
"I really enjoyed my time here in my first spell," he explains.
"Like everyone, I was left frustrated with how the season ended.
"It felt like some unfinished business for me here at Sunderland and as soon as I knew the club wanted me back I was excited.
"Been back at the club and working with the gaffer and his staff and all of the lads has been really enjoyable again.
"I really do think there's a good thing happening here and we're onto something good and I want to continue being a part of that," he added.
"When you come somewhere and enjoy it as much as I did, and you also feel like you were appreciated, it makes you feel good.
"I like the feeling of playing for this club because it feels special to me, and that's a feeling I wanted more of.
"There's good things happening here and I wanted to make sure I was back and apart of it."
The respect has not just come from the stands, either.
Phil Parkinson was in no doubt that Wright would be his main defensive target and as non-executive director David Jones explained at the Foundation of Light's fixture breakfast last week, he was pivotal to the recruitment plans right from the off.
"It was absolutely fundamental [to sign Bailey]," he said.
"When we sat down with Phil and talked about how we wanted to play this year, and whether he wanted continue with the tactics that served him well post-christmas, and Bailey was fundamental to that.
"I think we saw the impact of losing Bailey after that game at Oxford, I think it unsettled us," he added.
"He's looking sharp and hungry, he's not just a very good footballer but a fantastic communicator as well.
"Phil wanted that leader in the dressing room and Bailey is that.
"He sets the standards."
Pre-season has seen Wright installed at the heart of Sunderland's 3-4-3, one of Parkinson's key players on the pitch.
You suspect it will stay that way.
"The gaffer was a big part of why I wanted to come back too," Wright says.
"I enjoyed working with him, and his staff too.
"I feel like we have a good group here and it's easy to settle in and be yourself and bring out the best in yourself.
"I've felt comfortable and like I had a good understanding of what the gaffer expects of me from the moment I came in. I've played against many of the lads here before, and I've played against the gaffer's teams a few times too. I've always known what to expect, with good honest players.
"So that was also a big factor for me. I enjoy playing for him, I enjoy coming into training every day and I just want to get out there and win games for the club."
After over six months on the sideline, Wright insists he is fitter than ever as the season approaches.
Two weeks from the beginning of the season, he is confident Sunderland 'are in a good place'.
"I'm feeling the best I've been, mate," he says.
"My time out with injury was so frustrating but that's part of football.
"Fortunately for myself I've had about six months to get myself fit because of everything that's gone on. It made it a bit of a different rehab to what I've previously been used to.
"But it was a challenge that I just had to overcome and make the most of it with the extra time.
"I think I've done that because I feel good, I feel fit and I'm really looking forward to getting down to business.
"The competition for places here is strong.
"There's a couple of new lads come in and Morgs [Morgan Feeney] from day one seems to have settled right in. He's a good lad and can bring a lot to the team.
"That's what we want, we want everyone who comes in to be keeping each other on their toes. And whoever gets that shirt at the start of the season, it has to be known that it's not guaranteed for anyone that they keep it.
"Everyone here now has a good chance of making that shirt theirs for the start of the season, and we all need each other to keep pushing each other on.
"It's a good group, we're still building, still getting stronger, confidence is growing and I feel we're in a good place."
After two campaigns that ended in disappointment, you can forgive any supporter for remaining cautious.
Wright's presence, though, will certainly settle some nerves.