The best Sunderland XI of the 21st century - including ex-Man Utd and Spurs stars

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A selection of the Black Cats' best players since the turn of the millennium.

It can be all too easy, as a Sunderland fan, to get fixated on the bad times. Lord knows, there have been enough of them, especially in recent seasons. But it certainly isn't always doom and gloom at the Stadium of Light, and since the turn of the millennium, there have been several moments where things have even been, whisper it, good.

For every dodgy signing or unmitigated flop, there has been a player who captured the attentions and affections of the fanbase, and who have been subsequently and justly eulogised ever since. And so, with that in mind, we've picked an XI of the very best to have donned the famous red and white stripes in the 21st century, from stunning loanees to hometown heroes.

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Check out our side below, and just know that if your personal talisman didn't make the cut, it's only because this was actually much harder than you might initially assume...

Jordan Pickford

Look, I'll admit that this is probably a case of lionising the local lad done good, especially considering the fact that Jordan Pickford has achieved the vast majority of his personal success away from the Stadium of Light. You could also argue the case for any of Thomas Sorensen, Craig Gordon, or Simon Mignolet squeezing their way into this side, and honestly, I wouldn't disagree with you in the slightest. Still, a little tip of the cap to Pickford, who holds a special place in many supporters' hearts even all these years later.

Phil Bardsley

A defender so unrelentingly granite tough that he once (accidentally) knocked Wayne Rooney out in his own kitchen, Bardsley was a proper old school full-blooded full-back who never shirked a tackle and, of course, scored a goal at Old Trafford that went a long way towards taking Sunderland to Wembley in 2014.

John Mensah

A recurring theme in this article is going to be players who were ultimately with Sunderland for a criminally short period of time. John Mensah is one such example. The Ghanaian was an absolute rock during his two seasons on loan in the North East - or at least he was when he wasn't being plagued by various injuries. Had he been able to maintain his fitness, who knows what he might have been able to achieve in a red and white shirt.

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Jonny Evans

It was 2006 when Roy Keane convinced former club Manchester United to lend him Jonny Evans ahead of a Championship promotion push, and the Northern Irish defender repaid his faith immensely with a series of towering performances at the back. He would eventually rejoin the Black Cats for a second stint in January 2008, and played 15 times as his adopted club avoided an immediate return to the second tier. Even at such a young age, it was apparent that Evans was destined for the top.

Danny Rose

Another loanee who caught the eye, Rose arrived on loan from Tottenham and properly announced himself as a Premier League footballer with a hugely impressive campaign that culminated in him being named Sunderland's Young Player of the Season. By May 2013 he was back in North London, but not before making a considerable impact, to both his and the Black Cats' benefit.

Yann M'Vila

The commanding Frenchman injected a measure of combative class into the centre of the park during his loan stint on Wearside in 2015/16, and the clamour for him to return to the club - both at the time and more recently - is testament to just how well-regarded he was. In fact, the decision against signing him again the following summer, and instead drafting in Didier Ndong, still feels like one of the most baffling in Sunderland's recent past.

Lorik Cana

The kind of signing that makes you go, 'How the hell have little old Sunderland pulled that off?'. Much like Mensah, Cana arrived amid a groundswell of acclaim and was almost immediately made captain for 2009/10 campaign. Perhaps the cruellest twist came when he joined Galatasaray on a permanent deal just one year later, only to make minimal difference to the Turkish giants before leaving them shortly after.

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Amad Diallo

Maybe this is recency bias, or maybe it is foolish longing for a player who will likely never return to Wearside, but Amad Diallo was pure unadulterated magic. The things that the Manchester United loanee could do with the ball at his feet were frankly incomprehensible, and his treatment of opposition often bordered on the inhumane. In a Sunderland side ravaged by injury, he was constantly a shining cause for optimism, and in other circumstances, perhaps he could have even inspired the Black Cats back to the Premier League. I miss him every single day.

Kevin Phillips

It just had to be, didn't it? Arguably the most fondly remembered Sunderland player of the 21st century, Super Kev, at his best, was a continental phenomenon. In the year 2000 he won the Golden Boot for the entirety of European football, and to this day remains the only Englishman to have ever earned the award. Alongside Niall Quinn (who, by the way, could probably have squeezed his gigantic frame into this line-up too), he formed one of the most iconic strike partnerships in Black Cats history, and even now, two decades after he left the club, he is still revered wildly.

Jermain Defoe

Is swapping Jozy Altidore for Jermain Defoe the greatest piece of transfer business ever conducted? That's not for me to say, but yes, yes it is. When the England striker arrived at the Stadium of Light, he brought with him a measure of quality that the Black Cats had been sorely lacking. His goals helped to enact a couple of improbable great escapes, and aside from his work on the field, his relationship with young Bradley Lowery was genuinely and heart-warmingly special.

Darren Bent

The manner in which he left the club still stings, but there is no getting away from the fact that Bent was very, very good for Sunderland. With 32 goals in 58 Premier League outings - more than he scored for any other side in the top flight - he was prolific, consistent, and badly missed when he did jump ship for Aston Villa.

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