ALL Costel Pantilimon wanted at Manchester City was a fair crack at a first team shirt and now he thinks he will get it at Sunderland – even if it leads to frustration for Vito Mannone.
After three years and just seven Premier League appearances for champions Manchester City, Pantilimon had to admit that it was time to move on to further his career.
Sunderland’s Romanian recruit felt he was never going to be able to work his way ahead of England No 1 Joe Hart at the Etihad Stadium, no matter what he did.
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Now he faces the Mannone challenge. The Italian was a something of a sporting hero at the Stadium of Light last season, with his penalty saving heroics at Old Trafford earning a Capital One Cup final spot. His performances also helped keep Sunderland in the top-flight.
Mannone was rewarded with a new two-year contract shortly after confirmation that Pantilimon had arrived as a free agent and manager Gustavo Poyet is not going to rely on just one of them. He wants competition to be high for the right to play between the posts.
Despite not being assured of starting the season by Poyet, Pantilimon is happier with that situation, knowing that if he deserves to be playing he will be regardless of how well liked Mannone is on Wearside.
“After speaking with the manager here I know it will be the same for the keepers as it is for all of the other players. It is a competition now,” said Pantilimon. “The one who is doing well is going to be in the team. It’s normal that it’s like this.
“There should be fair competition for everyone and for whoever is working hard should be the one in the team. It’s important to do what I can to help the team.”
When Pantilimon arrived from Politehnica Timisoara, initially on loan, in 2011, he was regarded as his country’s long term goalkeeper. A lack of first team football, however, has led to him losing his place and that was prominent in his thinking when he decided to quit Manchester City.
“There were many reasons why I left,” he said. “It wasn’t just when I lost my place to Joe Hart last season. I think the big one was the manager and the staff, they knew about my situation and they knew I was a keeper who needs to play.
“We talked about this and it was a good decision for everyone. I want to thank them for everything and they helped me a lot. They offered me a chance to win trophies. Now I am only thinking about Sunderland and I hope to enjoy my time here.
“I needed to play more. It’s normal to think this way. I hope I can show more of what I can do. It is important for me and for everyone. I think it was a good decision to come here.”
Pantilimon has been house hunting in the area but has enjoyed the back-to-back training sessions Poyet has been laying on for the players over the last couple of weeks. After the running on the morning, the balls have tended to come out on the afternoon and the summer signing’s first impressions have been favourable.
“I like being here because it is a great city. I hope to enjoy my time here,” he said. “It was fun at Manchester City. It was a nice period for me there and we won a lot of trophies. It was nice to be there. But from the moment I came here, I saw it as a good move. It’s important to be happy. I am sure I will be happy at Sunderland.
“I wanted to move here to play first team football. I am young and I want to regain my spot as number one in the national team. I was working hard at City and I tried to do my best and I will do the same. I am sure there will be big competition here. Vito is a good keeper. It’s important for me to work hard and to be ambitious.”
Pantilimon spoke for the first time to the media yesterday following his move and Sunderland are looking to make more additions in the next couple of weeks having also landed Billy Jones and Jordi Gomez. All were free agents.
And, as well as showing an interest in American defend Matt Besler, it has emerged that Sunderland are keen on Atletico Madrid’s Cristian Rodriguez. The 28-year-old winger is available and is keen to play in the Premier League.
Rodriguez played in all of Uruguay’s World Cup matches. He is left footed but is capable of playing behind the striker too.
* Sunderland have confirmed that tickets for the club’s opening pre-season friendly against Darlington on Saturday at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland, have sold out.