DAVID Healy is prepared to drop down to League One to escape his Sunderland nightmare.
The Ulsterman joined the Black Cats in the summer of 2008 as one of international football’s most potent strikers. But he has never been able to convince Steve Bruce, Ricky Sbragia or even the man who signed him, Roy Keane, that his qualities could be transferred to the Premier League.
If Healy was in any doubt as to his standing at Sunderland – where he has never started a league game and has played just 64 minutes of first-team football this season – further proof will be provided today when he watches from the sidelines as the Black Cats entertain non-League Barrow in the FA Cup third round.
Fraizer Campbell – unlike Healy, yet to score for the club – will be preferred up front with Bruce promising to field the side which drew 2-2 at Blackburn Rovers on Monday.
Healy missed out on a loan to Championship Coventry City in August, but now the transfer window has reopened he is determined not to waste another opportunity to leave.
“The time has come for me to look at other options if I am only going to get 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there at Sunderland,” Healy wrote in a newspaper column in his homeland.
“I don’t know if anything will happen during this transfer window but I certainly have to consider it.
“When you train all week, all you want to do is play at the weekend and have something to show for your efforts.”
Healy’s lack of first-team football has started to affect his international form. The former Manchester United trainee is the highest ever goalscorer in a single European Championship qualifying campaign, having hit 13 in 11 Northern Ireland games during his country’s unsuccessful attempt to reach Euro 2008. This despite having made half his Premier League appearances for Fulham from the bench in 2007-08.
Since his £1.25m move to Sunderland, however, playing time has become even more scarce and the cumulative effect appears to have caught up with him. His last international goal was in March 2008. In a season-and-a-half on Wearside Healy has made just 13 substitute appearances in the league, plus two FA Cup starts.
Even in the lightly-regarded League Cup, he has been limited to four appearances, three from the bench. Healy has scored in all three competitions, against Nottingham Forest on his Sunderland debut, versus Blackburn in the FA Cup, and an injury-time goal against Stoke City in the Premier League three days later.
Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington has regularly voiced his concerns at Healy’s inactivity – he has not been loaned out since joining Sunderland – and dropped him to the bench for November’s friendly against Serbia.
Now Healy, who has also played for Leeds United, Norwich City, Preston North End and Port Vale, is prepared to sacrifice top-flight football for his international future.
“Going to Old Trafford, Anfield, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge is what football is all about,” the 30-year-old added. “Unfortunately for me, most of my experiences have been as a substitute and it leaves you wanting more.
“The top flight is the best place to be and every player wants to experience it but if something happens and I move out of it, then so be it. I’m not above the Championship or League One. I’ve played there before and enjoyed it.
“It’s a no-brainer for me – if it is the best thing for my career to drop out of the Premier League then I will certainly do that.”
Coventry manager Chris Coleman is apparently undeterred by his failure to strike a deal in August, and Sheffield United and Derby County are thought to be interested.
Healy, who has 18 months left on his current deal, will have to take a substantial pay cut.