FORMER Middlesbrough and Sunderland captain Grant Leadbitter has brought his 18-year porfessional career to a close after officially announcing his retirement. 

Leadbitter notched up 587 career appearances after coming through the academy ranks at the Stadium of Light and scored 65 goals. 

The 35-year-old broke into the Sunderland first-team in 2005 before a permanent switch to Ipswich Town four years later. A move back to the North-East with Middlesbrough would follow in 2012 where he would spend the next six-and-a-half years cementing himself into Boro folklore captaining the side to the play-off final in 2016 and Championship promotion a year later. 

Leadbitter beecame a fan favourite on Teesside with his combatitive style of play, endless passion and rocket of a right foot. He would also have his most prolific spell with Boro scoring 32 times.

A move back to Wearside came in 2019 where he added much needed experience to the Balck Cats midfield in League One. However, he couldn't help steer the club back to the second tier of English football and his last ever game came in the play-off semi final second leg against Lincoln City. 

Leadbitter made the announcement on his official Instagram: "After taking a few months off to enjoy a holiday with the family and reflect, I've realised I am ready to retire.

"Of course there has been a temptation to carry on, but since playing my final game for Sunderland in May I have had it in my mind I wasn't going to play on. I just wanted to be sure it was the correct decision.

"For me to finish after my second and final spell at the club where it all started, the one I supported as a boy, and where I loved going with my mam and dad, just seems right.

"Now I can look forward.

"I would like to thank my mam and dad for everything they did for me and my sisters - helping me to fulfil a dream.

"And, of course, I want to thank my wife and two daughters for all of their support throughout a career which has led me to play for clubs with great history.

"The memories I have from playing for Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Ipswich will live with me forever. 
"Those promotion celebrations with Sunderland and Middlesbrough were incredible and I am proud to have played in the Premier League for both.

"I have worked with some fantastic people, some top players and under brilliant managers. I loved wearing the colours of all the clubs I played for and it was an honour to wear the England shirt from schoolboy all the way up to Under-21s.

"Who knows what the future holds but I am excited about it. I will miss playing but whether I go into coaching, the media or even something else I know I can draw on my experiences and help others in the future.
"Once again, thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way."