Grant Leadbitter sends emotional message of thanks to 'outstanding' Sunderland support as he weighs up next steps
Grant Leadbitter has thanked Sunderland fans for their ‘outstanding support’ during his second spell at the club.
Leadbitter said he and his family would ‘never forget’ that support and says that he hopes the faith they have shown in the club is rewarded in the years to come.
The 35-year-old said he was sure that the ‘good times would come back’ after the disappointment of the play-off semi final defeat to Lincoln City.
After the club announced his departure, Leadbitter’s emotional message of thanks on social media led to an outpouring of affection from the fanbase.
Leadbitter said then that Sunderland fans ‘would always be in his heart’.
Having joined the club at the age of six, Leadbitter made over 200 appearances for the club across two spells as a player.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Leadbitter told The Echo.
“The Sunderland fans have been outstanding, the support they've given me since I came back. They really have.
“It's something that my family and I won't ever, ever forget.
“The messages I've had from fans over the last week have been very special to me.
“Sunderland fans deserve a successful club, to be happy following their club.
“To get that, things have got to be done right and I'm sure they will. I'm sure the good times will come back for Sunderland.”
Leadbitter intends to take a break before deciding whether or not he will continue his playing career, or whether he will look to potentially moving into another role within football.
He said: “First and foremost, my kids deserve me.
“I want to enjoy time with my family and honestly, I don't know what will come next.
“I believe you've got to have that hunger to achieve in football and I believe that I do still have that in some capacity.
“I don't know if that's playing or not.
“That's something I need to think about.
“A lot of people have told me to keep playing but it's one where I need to listen to my family and the people around me and I'll certainly do that.”
Leadbitter’s affection for the region, and Sunderland and Middlesbrough in particular, remains immensely strong but the midfielder insists he will only return to the game in a capacity where he believes he can make a genuine impact.
He said that while there will always be disappointment at not being able to achieve a second promotion at his boyhood club, he ‘loved the challenge’ of returning for a second spell.
“I will always have that connection to Sunderland but it doesn't give you any right to be at any club,” he said.
“You've got to earn your stripes so whatever I go on to do, I've got to earn it.
“I took a big risk coming back to Sunderland but I didn't want to have the regret of not doing it for the rest of my life.
“I loved the challenge, but it's hard for me to reflect when the end result was disappointment.”