Niall Quinn has revealed how close he came to leaving Manchester City for Sporting Lisbon during his playing days, and calls the collapsed move the worst decision of his career.
However, the Republic of Ireland legend went on join Sunderland and became a Black Cats hero, scoring 67 goals in 218 outings to help the North East side return to the Premier League after their relegation in 1997.
Speaking to Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh on the latest episode of our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, Quinn recalls his failed transfer to Portugal and how he won over the Sunderland supporters.
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Not signing for Sporting Lisbon was the worst decision I ever made in football.
Carlos Quieroz was the coach there, who later came to Man United and did great things, and he agreed a deal with Manchester City. I went over, signed for them, picked a house to live in [ahead of] moving the family over, but had a row with Man City over the parting fee.
Quieroz gave me seven days, and when I didn’t clear it up after seven days, he went for somebody else. That’s the one I look back and say I wish I’d have done.
I went on to have a real connection with Sunderland, but it didn’t start that way because I got injured very quickly as I did my other cruciate. I was brought in to be the one that made them stay in the Premier League, and I got injured after four matches so it was a disaster.
I tried to come back too soon, and it wasn’t happening for me. I was getting dogs’ abuse. My family and Gillian were all saying “what are we doing here? Why did we leave Manchester for here?”
It was a tough time.
I grafted away at it, and I got a break. I got a great operation eventually on my knee, and things started to look better for me. Then Kevin Phillips walked through the door as well, almost unnoticed . It was one of those signings that didn’t even get a headline.
Things started to click for me, and I think the fans appreciated the work that I was putting in, because they knew that the easiest thing to do would be to take the retirement money and play golf. The hardest thing to do was to come back and prove to them that I could be a force, and play a major role in a better time for the club.
With Kevin Phillips scoring the goals, I was getting credited for some. I wasn’t even playing some of the matches where they were giving me credit for the goals that he got, but it just gave me a new lease of life.
I appreciated a really hard-working area, what the football club meant to the fans and how important it was that we gave maximum effort for them.
We made them feel as if we were sort of acting on their behalf, showing a pride in how we played and believing in ourselves to give them a lift because the shipbuilding had finished, the coal mines had been closed. It was poor there for a long time in the North East.
But, lo and behold, as we started doing this on the football side – Newcastle started doing it and Middlesbrough started doing it too. It started to come good. New industry was coming to the area, so there was a kind of buzz around the North East and we kind of caught a lift on that.
As a family, Gillian and I, it was a wonderful time in our lives. Our children were born when I was at Sunderland and it was just a great time to be playing football in the North East. I appreciated that because, as I said to many people, the supporters are just like Dubs. They’re like the way the Dublin fans follow Dublin Gaelic Football.
They live for it, they love it. They’re not as successful as Dublin, obviously, but they’re the nearest thing to what I would call Irish diehard fans, in that the club is everything. They can be quite tough if you’re not putting it in, but if you put it in for them, they’re great. So, that relationship just grew and grew.
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