Yorke prepared for fresh challenge

Championship/Sunderland v Leicester: Sunderland are a club getting acquainted with change

Championship/Sunderland v Leicester: Sunderland are a club getting acquainted with change. Where pessimism was so recent and so rampant, there is now optimism. And, although Niall Quinn is not a new face to Wearside, the process he initiated has brought fresh names: Drumaville, Roy Keane and today, in the former Manchester United player's first home game as manager, Dwight Yorke is set to appear against Leicester City.

Recruiting a 34-year-old who has spent the past 18 months playing in Sydney - where the media christened him "All-Night Dwight" - may not seem the most obvious way to sustain momentum, but Keane has no need to take risks and is convinced Yorke will work both as a player and as a dressingroom figure. With a smile on his face, Keane said he could foresee Yorke becoming "social manager".

Wearing a bigger smile, Yorke then sat in Keane's seat, but the European Cup winner with Manchester United in 1999 was not prepared to accept the cliche of himself as a footballer who likes all play and no work.

"We all get to a certain age and we see things differently," he said. "I am not saying I am a completely changed man but I have calmed down a wee bit myself as an individual and I understand more about the importance of being a footballer. The most significant thing for me is that I have my appetite back.


"I lost my sister, Verline, nearly two and a half years ago. I then went into the wilderness a bit, in that football wasn't my number one priority. It is pretty hard when you lose someone who is very close to you and you don't know how to deal with it, because no one in my family had to deal with such an issue.

"I don't want to go into too many details but it had something to do with a little bit of cancer. She passed away when we weren't expecting it. That was the top and bottom of it. It's taken me until now to talk about it for the first time and that certainly played a part in me going away.

"That was pretty hard and my football took a dive in my second year at Blackburn and my year at Birmingham City. In that period I didn't do very well and things didn't go particularly great.

"But then I sat back and thought that my sister would want me to do what I am good at which is to play the game with a smile on my face. Going to Sydney got that energy and the vibes back and the feeling again for football. And, of course, Trinidad & Tobago qualifying for the World Cup brought back the feel-good factor as far as football is concerned."

The intelligence of Yorke's displays in Germany revealed an intuitive understanding of a deeper role and it may be that, in some way, this signing resembles Teddy Sheringham's at United. Sheringham was 31, though, when he moved from Tottenham, whereas Yorke will soon be 35, and it is 23 months since he started a league game in England.

"Even though the legs aren't quite as fast as they used to be, the brain is pretty much as sharp as it can be," Yorke said.

"I would like to think he (Keane) judged me as a footballer because I'm nothing else than a footballer. I'm not really his drinking buddy as we used to be as team-mates. And he knows exactly what I am capable of. What you don't know is what happens behind closed doors and the work ethic that I have."

Guardian Service

Michael Walker

Michael Walker

Michael Walker is a contributor to The Irish Times, specialising in soccer