Cult Heroes: Djibril Cisse

by Kate Smith

Despite a short spell at the club, Cisse made a lasting impression!

Djibril Cisse may only have spent one season on Wearside but the flamboyant Frenchman stole Sunderland fans’ hearts during his rollercoaster nine months with the club.

Initially, eyebrows were raised when Black Cats boss Roy Keane made Cisse his eighth summer signing in 2008.

The front man had previously suffered two horrendous leg injuries whilst at Liverpool and despite costing £14 million he found himself surplus to requirements at Anfield and so pursued a career in France with Marseille before returning to the Premier League.

Cisse marked his arrival at Sunderland with aplomb as he came off the bench at White Hart Lane to seal Sunderland’s first away victory over Tottenham in 24 years with a stunning 83rd minute header.

That goal also saw his name go into the record books as he became the fastest debutant to score a goal for Sunderland.

Not content with breaking those two records, the enigmatic marksman scored the opening goal in what would become Sunderland’s first Wear-Tyne victory at the Stadium of Light and their first win over rivals Newcastle United on home turf in 28 years.

The striker’s form was delighting manager Keane, and the pair were almost revelling in proving those who cast doubts over Cisse’s move to be wrong.

Djibril was just as influential off the pitch as he was on it. He stole the show – and headlines - at the inaugural Foundation of Light Fashion Show, raising thousands for charity in the process.

Following the derby triumph, Cisse went on to notch six goals in 11 games for Sunderland, including the winner away at Blackburn Rovers and then two vital strikes in the games with West Bromwich Albion and Hull City that came after manager Keane’s shock exodus.

Having developed a taste for derby-day goals, the Frenchman was quick off the mark against Newcastle United again in the return fixture at St James’ Park at the turn of the year.

His strike just after the half hour mark – and his memorable dance routine goal celebration – sent the 2,500 Sunderland fans located at the top of the stands into raptures.

After leaving Tyneside with a point for the first time in over eight years and buoyed by the run of results under new coach Ricky Sbragia, things seemed to be looking up for Sunderland.

However, this was short-lived as the team embarked a six-game run without a win and were staring relegation in the face by the time Hull City made the short trip north in April. 

Not one to buckle under the pressure, Cisse slotted home the only goal of the game at the stroke of half-time and it was evident the strike meant as much to the Frenchman as it did the natives, when he ran straight into the crowd to celebrate.

In the games that followed that crucial six-pointer, Cisse found himself struggling to keep a place in the team after a slump in form.

A 3-0 drubbing at West Bromwich Albion and then a home defeat at the hands of Everton saw the striker make his final two appearances for Sunderland from the bench, before he was left out of the squad altogether for the final game of the season against Chelsea.

Cisse’s omission split the opinion of the red and white army. Some agreed with the move, implying that the striker’s performances following Keane’s departure had left them bewildered.

Others thought the goal scorer’s inclusion in a game where Sunderland’s Premier League status was hanging in the balance should have been a certainty. 

Nevertheless, the Black Cats turned on the style in the dramatic final day clash. Goals from Kieran Richardson and Kenwyne Jones weren’t quite enough to get past the Blues, but results elsewhere ensured Sunderland would be enjoying another season of top-flight football.

Cisse took to the pitch for the team’s lap of appreciation following the final whistle of that game and it was fitting that the star had the opportunity to bid farewell to the fans, after etching his name in folklore during his 38 appearances and 11 goals for the club.

Djibril Cisse… Sunderland’s number nine!