Sunderland may be heading for the Championship, but could they have been pushing for the Champions League if some of these players had stayed on Wearside?
With the quarter-finals of the Champions League getting under way tonight, we take a look at some players who have played in the prestigious competition since leaving Sunderland.
1. Sebastian Coates – Sporting Lisbon (2016-17)
The most recent former-Sunderland player to play amongst Europe’s elite, Coates left Sunderland to join Sporting Lisbon on a season-long loan in the summer of 2016.
The Uruguayan impressed in Portugal, with the Lisbon side signing him permanently in January for around £4million.
Coates played the full 90 minutes in all of Sporting’s Champions League games this season, in a group with holders Real Madrid. However Sporting won just one group game and finished bottom of their group below Borussia Dortmund, Madrid and Legia Warsaw.
2. Jordan Henderson – Liverpool (2014-15)
Local lad Henderson came up through the ranks at Sunderland before leaving for Liverpool in the summer of 2011 for a cool £20million. Although it may have taken Henderson a while to settle, it now seems as though he’s more than capable of filling the gap left by Stevie Gerrard.
After a stellar 2013-14 PL campaign, headed by the goals of Luis Suarez, Liverpool came second in the league, meaning automatic Champions League qualification for the next season. Although their group also featured Los Blancos, Liverpool were expected to overcome Ludogorets and Basel. Henderson scored his first, and to date only Champions League goal away against Ludogorets.
3. Simon Mignolet – Liverpool (2014-15)
Belgian goalkeeper Mignolet came to Sunderland as a relatively unknown quantity, but after stepping in for Craig Gordon in September 2010, he never looked back, putting in some tremendous performances to keep the Scot out of the side. Mignolet was sold to Liverpool for £9million in 2013 and played in all six of their CL games in the 2014-15 season, although he conceded nine goals in the process.
4. Emanuele Giaccherini – Napoli (2016-17)
Although this one is cheating a little bit, as the little Italian was only on the field for eight and four minutes against Benfica and Dynamo Kiev respectively, it does make you wonder why Sunderland froze him out.
His move to Napoli went through after he starred for an impressive Italy side at Euro 2016, and he left Wearside for under £2million, after signing for nearly double that under Paolo di Canio in the summer of 2013.
Despite early promise, with Giaccherini bagging five goals in 28 games in his first season, he tailed off and left the club on loan to Bologna in 15-16, before a permanent transfer to Naples.
5. Craig Gordon – Celtic (2016-17)
Gordon became the most expensive British ‘keeper ever when he joined Sunderland from Hearts in 2007. Gordon helped the newly-promoted Black Cats cement their place as a permanent Premier League side.
A goalie with obvious talent, including making what was voted ‘The Best Premier League Save of All Time’ against Bolton, injuries took their toll and following his contract ending on Wearside, the Scot took a break from football between 2012 and 2014, eventually signing for Celtic.
Although this season was Gordon’s first in the Champions League, out of the five games he played in, Celtic drew three, twice against Man City and once against Borussia Monchengladbach. The one game Gordon didn’t play in, Celtic lost 7-0 to Barca, showing how much they miss their No 1.
6. Sulley Muntari – AC Milan (2012-13)
Muntari played Chamopions league football either side of a brief loan spell at Sunderland in 2011. After starring for Portsmouth, Jose Mourinho splashed out £14 million on the Ghanaian powerhouse to take him to Inter Milan. Muntari collected a Champions League winners medal in Inter’s triumph in 2009-10, but only played a bit-part role, just 220 minutes throughout the whole campaign to be precise.
This lack of game time caused Inter to loan him to Wearside in January 2011 for the remainder of the season. Muntari didn’t do too much at Sunderland, except send limbs flying everywhere when he scored the winner at Bolton in April 2011.
Muntari returned to Milan, just AC instead of Inter this time. He again played a bit-part role, but scored in a 2-0 win against Barcelona in the last 16 first-leg of the 2012-13 CL campaign
7. Danny Welbeck – Man United (2011-2013) & Arsenal (2014-)
Following Welbeck’s loan deal on Sunderland in the 2010-11 season, in which Welbeck excelled, scoring six in 28 games, Man United then called on him and he made his European debut against Basel, netting twice.
Welbeck then joined Arsenal in 2014, and on only his second Champions League game for The Gunners, he netted a hat-trick in a 4-1 thrashing of Galatasaray.
To date, Welbeck has made 22 Champions League appearances since his spell on Wearside, scoring seven goals.