THE SAGA dragged on for a month yet it was easy to understand why Steve Bruce was so keen to land Wes Brown and John O’Shea.
The Manchester United defenders both finalised their moves to Sunderland yesterday with the pair each agreeing a four-year deal. Brown will cost around £1million, while O’Shea is expected to set the club back a fee closer to the £5m mark.
But Bruce knows for that outlay, he is buying the nous and experience which was too often lacking from Sunderland last season.
Sunderland were the youngest side in the top flight and that naivity was exposed with their ability to consistently throw away the advantage.
The Black Cats surrendered 23 points from winning positions – two more than basement boys West Ham.
But, in O’Shea and Brown, Bruce has recruited two players who know what it takes to maintain their composure under pressure and see the task through to its conclusion.
The pair made a combined total of more than 700 appearances for Manchester United, collecting five Premier League titles, the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League in the process.
Both will also offer versatility to a Sunderland back-line deprived of departed loanees John Mensah and Nedum Onuoha and hampered by ongoing injury concerns over Michael Turner and Titus Bramble.
Bruce said: “I’m delighted with the players we’ve been able to secure ahead of the new season.
“We are delighted to welcome a player of Wes’s ability, experience and character to the club.
“He has been a fantastic professional for Manchester United through the years and not only will he strengthen our defensive options, he will also bring with him a winning mentality and level of maturity which can only be positive for the players around him.
“John has been a solid, consistent part of Manchester United’s squad for well over a decade which goes to show the fantastic pedigree of player we have signed.
“He is a wonderful professional both on and off the field and his wealth of experience and versatility will be great attributes for us.”
Sunderland made a combined £12m bid for Brown, O’Shea and Darron Gibson a month ago following their £19m sale of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool.
Initially, midfielder Gibson was thought to be the most likely to move to the Stadium of Light.
But the 23-year-old’s move stalled over his excessive wage demands and Sunderland turned their focus on O’Shea and Brown.
O’Shea’s move was held up by the birth of his child, but the 30-year-old insists there was never any doubt he would join Sunderland despite reported interest from Stoke City.
“Once I heard reports about the club and the people here, the ambitions and what the manager is all about, it was the only place I was going to come to once I knew the deal was on the table and close to being done,” the Republic of Ireland international told SAFC TV.
“I had to wait a few weeks for the birth of my child – that’s why it seems protracted, but it wasn’t really. It was fairly straightforward and I am delighted that it’s all been done now.
“I am coming to Sunderland after one of their most successful seasons in the Premier League and always the aim with every team is to improve on the season before.
“I’m sure the manager will be drilling that into us in pre-season, that we want to improve on the season before and if we can do that, I’m sure the club and the fans will be delighted.”
Former England international Brown has been restricted to just 33 league appearances over the last three seasons.
The 31-year-old has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, but Brown insists he was fully fit last season, with his contribution limited after falling out of favour under Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Last season, I was fine, I just didn’t get into the team, so it was a little bit frustrating. But that’s football and you move on,” he added.
“I am just delighted to be here now to help Sunderland push forward. Personally, it would be good to be playing every week, trying to help the team win and playing well.
“Club-wise, everyone will be looking to push the club forward and start challenging for those European places – and who knows beyond there?
“That’s what teams always aim for at the beginning of the season and we will be no different.”
United boss Ferguson also paid tribute to Brown, who signed his first professional contract 15 years ago. “Wes has been a great asset to the club during the most successful period in its history,” he said.
“He was a product of the youth system and marked himself out from an early age as one of his generation’s most natural defenders.
“In his time with us, he certainly became a favourite with the fans for his no-nonsense approach to the game and his infectious personality.
“It’s always the hardest of decisions to let loyal servants go. But life moves on and, unquestionably, Wes will get the chance to make a real contribution to Steve Bruce’s Sunderland and I’m delighted to be passing him into such good hands.
“Everyone connected with United wishes him a long and happy stay at Sunderland.”