Vito Mannone admits he was on the verge of leaving Sunderland in the January transfer window after the hardest 12 months of his career.
Mannone’s future at the Stadium of Light looked bleak in the final months of 2015 after his frustration at being limited to a back-up role behind Costel Pantilimon left him discussing the possibility of leaving the Stadium of Light with Sam Allardyce.
The Italian was crowned Sunderland Player of the Year in 2013-14, but after the arrival of Pantilimon last season, he lost both his confidence and No 1 spot under ex-boss Gus Poyet.
But after giving Mannone a chance in the final two games of 2015, Allardyce put his faith in the ex-Arsenal stopper and opted to offload Pantilimon last month, instead.
Mannone has now reestablished himself as Sunderland number one, with the 27-year-old making several smart saves in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Liverpool.
He told the Gazette: “It was a massive statement of faith (from Allardyce).
“I always showed him since he came in what I could do. I slowly got my confidence back.
“I didn’t have an easy year with other managers.
“But since he’s come in, he’s been direct and honest with me.
“We had a chat when I was not playing and he said I was the No 1. He trusted me.
“I’m happy that happened and I didn’t leave the club, because I was probably nearly leaving.
“Now I’m here, I want to work hard to keep my shirt.
“Last season was probably the hardest of my career.
“It’s never easy when everybody talks. I went from Player of the Season to people not being really nice about me.
“But that’s football. I’ve kept working hard and it’s a reward that I’m playing now.”
Mannone could do nothing about the two goals second half goals Liverpool netted, which looked to have given the hosts an unassailable lead and pushed Sunderland a step closer to relegation.
But two goals in the final 10 minutes from Adam Johnson and Jermain Defoe rescued a precious point for Allardyce’s men, who came away with something for their efforts, despite an inferior performance to the one shown in the previous defeat to Manchester City.
“It’s a massive point – 2-0 down away at Liverpool is not easy because they’re a good team,” said Mannone.
“But we did well to come back and with 10 minutes more, we’d probably have nicked it!
“It’s a great buzz for everyone involved in the club - fans and ourselves - to come back like that.
“We’ve had two games. Man City, we played well and didn’t get anything.
“And then at Liverpool, we tried to stay in the game for a while, didn’t look like conceding, but then, again, we found it so difficult to get a clean sheet.
“But in the end, it was a good reward for the fighting spirit.
“We don’t want to play like Saturday. We want to play like the Man City game because it was much better in terms of team play and fighting.
“But it’s a point.”