THE rumours of him flying in to the Academy of Light training ground in a helicopter to complete a move from Chelsea a week ago were wrong, apparently. What is true is that Patrick van Aanholt has officially started his Sunderland career and he could not be happier.
A picture circulated on social media last Friday of a camouflaged chopper landing at the club’s training HQ and it coincided with news that the pacy Dutchman was finalising a £1.5m switch to the Black Cats.
Such was the speed of the transfer, it was quite believable. For months Sunderland had tried to come up with a deal to take Spanish left-back Marcos Alonso back to Wearside, instead van Aanholt arrived first to solve his problems to fill that area.
Many would argue it was a brave move by the 23-year-old, offered a new deal to stay at Chelsea, to turn his back on chances to play in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge. He views it differently, however. After four years on the Blues’ first team books, and very few opportunities, he knew it was time to move.
He could have jumped in to another loan, but after temporary stints with Coventry, Newcastle, Leicester, Wigan and Vitesse, he was more than happy to put his signature on a four-year deal with Sunderland.
“I could have stayed at Chelsea, signed a new contract, but I chose to go different ways,” said van Aanholt. “You have to think about it and I wanted to leave and move on.
“I have been at Chelsea for a lot of years. I have played in the Premier League, the Champions League, it is a kid’s dream to play for Chelsea. I have moved on, who knows I might one day go back to Chelsea. But now I am a Sunderland player and I want to do well here.
“At Chelsea I didn’t have the feeling I would get a chance this season so it was time to move on. I wanted to find a club where I can stay a couple of years and try to do well. I am happy I have signed a contract for four years.”
Gustavo Poyet’s chat with him helped seal the deal. Poyet had indicated he wants to play a similar system to what he has been brought up with at Chelsea and during his younger days developing in Holland.
“The manager has told me we are going to play 4-3-3 and it will be similar to Dutch football,” said the 23-year-old. “I like to play that type of game, it made my choice easier. We have good people in this squad and if we stick together, play together, we will do well.
“Gus has seen me play. He told me he knew me from watching games. He had watched me a lot. I don’t know him as a manager or a person, I watched Sunderland under him last season when they won at Chelsea and Man United and he did a good job to keep Sunderland up.
“He is a good manager and I have a lot of respect for his style. He called me and I had a great feeling straightaway and that feeling never left me. I thought I am going to sign for them, so I did.”
Van Aanholt’s first appearance in a Sunderland shirt lasted 81 minutes in the 1-0 defeat to CD Nacional at the Estadio Municipal de Albufeira on Wednesday night. He expects it will be first of many as he attempts to impress new Holland coach Guus Hiddink.
Van Aanholt narrowly missed out on a World Cup place for the Netherlands after being named in Louis van Gaal’s provisional 30-man squad after two-and-a-half years of impressing with Vitesse in the Eredivisie.
Speaking from the Algarve yesterday, van Aanholt said: “I have made the right decision. I missed the World Cup and it happens. The manager made different choices. I have thought about things, I got a chance to move on and I did. Sunderland came in and this move could help me get back in to the Holland squad.
“Vitesse was my hometown club. They helped me in my career. It was Vitesse who helped me get in to the national team squad in the first place, even if I didn’t make the World Cup. I was happy there for two years, I have become a better player and Sunderland will see that. “I could have stayed in Holland. I had options there and in Germany that I could have gone to. I wanted to stay in the Premier League. I have been loaned everywhere but I wanted a move. I was disappointed to miss out on the World Cup. I got my head clear during my holiday. I signed for Sunderland. If I play well for Sunderland I will be back in the squad.”
Despite insisting he had not dropped in by helicopter, van Aanholt was at the Academy of Light last week to pass a medical before flying out to team up with the squad in Portugal. He has never been to the Stadium of Light, even if he did play regularly for Newcastle during their Championship winning season in 2010.
He said: “I never played against Sunderland because we were in the Championship for Newcastle, I have only ever been to the North-East to Newcastle with Chelsea, but didn’t play, but never to the Stadium of Light.
“That does not bother me. I knew a couple of players, like Liam Bridcutt, already here and it’s been nice to have had this chance in Portugal to meet everyone else. We have trained very hard and I feel like I have settled in quite well. It’s just about getting up and running and starting the season well now.”