ALTHOUGH the omens may not be good at the start of the new season for Anthony Stokes, Roy Keane believes the young Irishman can finally begin to show his potential at the Stadium of Light.
Some might think Keane’s words belie his actions. The Black Cats manager is thought to have had an offer for Benni McCarthy rejected yesterday and has taken the number nine shirt from Stokes and handed him 44. But Keane has told supporters not to read too much into the squad numbers he has assigned.
When the Wearsiders begin their new Premier League campaign against Liverpool this evening, Stokes will be one of those hoping to feature in a matchday squad expanded to 18 by the top-flight’s decision to allow seven substitutes. But Keane has shown confidence in the ex-Arsenal prospect by ruling out a loan move.
“Stokesey’s had a very good pre-season so I’d be reluctant to let him go out on loan,” he said. “But the proof is in the pudding when the real business starts.”
Keane is pressing ahead with plans to sign a striker, a left-back and a centre-back and McCarthy tops his wish-list of forwards.
Blackburn Rovers are reluctant to sell but, despite the club’s denials, the mood in the Ewood Park camp is not thought to be good and Paul Ince may find the South African is one of a few players he is unable to keep hold of.
Stokes is not the only loser in Sunderland’s numbers game, but Keane insisted it was not a reflection on how he rates the players – and devilishly admitted it was a ploy to upset some.
Daryl Murphy has gone from 11 to 14, Paul McShane from six to 30. Phil Bardsley has been upgraded to two. Numbers three and nine are vacant. When asked
about the decision to make Stokes his new 44, Keane collapsed on his desk in mock despair. “Please don’t go down that bloody road,” he pleaded. “You can read too much into these things and the players are obsessed with these bloody numbers.
“We don’t think Stokesy is a number nine, you can look at it like that. Apparently he used to be 44 at Arsenal. Allegedly. 144 more like! We had a clean slate and just gave them the numbers we felt were right. We changed the numbers, believe it or not, just to upset certain people. All I’ve heard during pre-season is ‘What’s my number, what’s my number?’ Well for all your bitching we’re going to give you a different number. I like to rattle a few cages every now and again.
“Certain numbers suit certain people. Others have their favourites. Grant (Leadbitter) likes 18 – because Scholesy (Paul Scholes) wears it and he admires him. It’s stupid what players get so obsessed about.” Keane’s revamped squad contains a number of players whose characters have got them into trouble in the past. Typically, though, he is unconcerned, and says he did not even do much homework on that aspect. “Sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut feeling,” he said.
Keane expects to hand debuts to all four of his major summer signings, El-Hadji Diouf, Steed Malbranque, Teemu Tainio and Pascal Chimbonda.
The Black Cats were also linked yesterday with Olivier Kapo – reportedly unsettled at Wigan Athletic.
The kick-off time of the September 20 meeting between Sunderland and Middlesbrough has been moved on police advice. The Stadium of Light game will now start at 12.45pm.
SUNDERLAND SQUAD NUMBERS: 1 Gordon, 2 Bardsley, 4 Tainio, 5 Nosworthy, 6 Whitehead, 7 Edwards, 8 Malbranque, 10 Richardson, 11 Diouf, 12 Miller, 13 Ward, 14 Murphy, 15 Collins, 16 Chopra, 17 Jones, 18 Leadbitter, 19 Yorke, 20 Reid, 21 Chimbonda, 22 Higginbotham, 25 Mvoto, 26 Etuhu, 27 Anderson, 28 Kavanagh, 29 Hartley, 30 McShane, 31 Connolly, 32 Fulop, 35 Kay, 39 Waghorn, 40 Dowson, 44 Stokes, 45 Prica, 46 Colgan.