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With the seemingly arduous task that Sunderland face in the shape of Chelsea this weekend I once again turned my thoughts to a player that has represented both sides. It would have been too easy to have had another look at the recently departed Bolo Zenden with his flowing hair and obvious flair for throwing some serious shapes on the dancefloor. Hell, I could even have taken the more controversial route and chose everyones favourite right-back, Chelsea's worst ever player, Gareth Hall, but no-one deserves to be reminded of that dark piece of SAFC history.
"The least Brazilian footballer I have ever seen"
So, with that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's Emerson Thome!
The big Brazilian was a £2.7m signing for Gianluca Vialli's Chelsea in late 1999 from a cash strapped Sheffield Wednesday who were also staring relegation square in the face. Thome had become a firm favourite with the Hillsborough faithful, earning the nickname "The Wall" based upon his evident physical attributes and the presence upon the game this allowed him to impose and command. It would be fair to say they were disappointed to lose their man mountain at the back.
Emerson however would not find first team football as easy to come by as he did with Wednesday at Stamford Bridge as he struggled to get in the side ahead of either Marcel Desailly or Frank Leboeuf who had formed a formidable partnership. Even when Thome managed to impress in a run of games that he was afforded he swiftly replaced by Lebeouf upon his return to the fold. The Brazilian was not a happy camper.
Something had to give and after falling out with Vialli over his lack of first team action it was just a matter of time before Emerson was on his travels again. In stepped SAFC and then manager Peter Reid with Bob Murray's cheque book in hand.
With just a single fixture of the 2000/01 season gone the Sunderland boss was forced into action to replace the injured Stanislav Varga who was facing a lengthy lay off of several months. The disgruntled Chelsea central defender was top of Reid's shopping list ahead of reported targets Ugo Ehiogu and Lorenzo Amoruso.
Sunderland shelled out a record £4.5m for the Brazilian's services, a transfer that, despite issues with the player, Vialli had reportedly not sanctioned with the Chelsea hierarchy. The London club then had a bit of a 'mare and replaced Emerson with the one and only Winston Bogarde, a man widely accepted to be the worst Premier League signing of all time and Vialli was out of the Stamford Bridge door shortly after.
"Emerson is a terrific acquisition for the club. He's a very strong defender, has great pace and is good in the air. He will give us vital strength and experience" - Peter Reid
Thome quickly repaid the boss's faith and established himself as a classy, no-nonsense defender, an archetypal "stopper" if you will, who was unbeatable in the air and went on to form a fearsome partnership with Jody Craddock. In a similar vein to current defender Michael Turner, Emerson was, unfairly in my opinion, labelled as a player that was unable to find another red and white shirt on a regular enough basis for some sections of the crowd. Stats at the time, much like his modern day equivalent Turner, would show that he was a lot more efficient with his passing than some would have you believe. Of course that's not to say that he wasn't guilty of pinging the odd ball out to the flanks only to find the stand rather than the feet or path of a team mate but hey, let's cut him some slack, that goatee beard was magnificent after all.
The Brazilian wasn't just a rock in the middle of Sunderland's back four, but he could also be a thorn in the opposition's side from set pieces. In fact this is where his two goals for the Black Cats came from, corner's from his little Argentinean buddy, Simon Walsh's favourite, Julio Arca. Thome opened his account as Sunderland rather mugged Coventry City in October of 2000. Despite being woeful on the day and Coventry having a goal unfairly chalked off when Bellamy was incorrectly adjudged to be offside it was the home side that somehow stole the points when Emerson converted Arca's corner kick in the second half.
Thome also came to the rescue in a home game against Aston Villa on a frosty New Years Day of 2002 when Sunderland failed to make their numerous chances count. Sound familiar? Needless to say Villa capitalised and went ahead through Ian Taylor with their first real chance. The home side left it late and big Emerson was on hand again to take advantage of another delivery from the corner flag from Julio.
Emerson's Sunderland career however was devastated by injury , undergoing two seperate operations on his knee as well as a number of problems with his thigh along the way just for good measure. Overall the defender was to miss well over a year's worth of football. This couldn't have come at a worse time for Thome as he was approaching fifty appearances for the Black Cats, a landmark that would reportedly see Chelsea owed a further substantial sum of cash as part of his transfer.
Of course this is something that the club denied at the time but have since come clean over. So despite working towards a full recovery and being available for selection Thome was not to figure again for Sunderland even during the run in to the season that would see Sunderland relegated from the Premier League. Whether or not the board were reluctant to spend the extra cash because they feared the Brazilian would never totally recover from his injuries or if, which many at the time seemed to agree, we were just so skint it wasn't feasible. Whatever your belief as the Black Cats fell through the Premier League trapdoor Emerson made a move to an ambitious Bolton Wanderers.
Thome was a first team regular for Bolton, reaching the Carling Cup Final in his first season with the club. Bolton were keen to keep hold of Emerson but he chose to drop down to the Championship as injuries began to catch up with him. It proved not to be a bad move as his team of choice, Wigan Athletic, were promoted to the Premiership for the first time. The Brazilian had a brief loan spell with Derby County before Wigan decided to let him leave on a free, following which the defender ended his career with J-League 1 Vissel Kobe.