RR: Alright Carlos! Thank you for taking time out to chat to us at Roker Report. We always start with a nice easy one. Who would be your SAFC XI from your time at the club?
CE: With me in the team?
RR: Yep! Of course.
CE: Wardy in goal, then it would have to be big Nyron at the back. I'll pair him with Jonny Evans. Danny Simpson and George McCartney. Me on the right, Liam Miller and my fellow countryman Dwight in the middle, Ross Wallace on the left. Upfront I would choose Daryl Murphy and David Connolly. I thought they were a good combination and I’ve got two Trinidadian’s already, so I’ll leave Kenwyne out for them!
RR: You played against us for Luton Town the previous December, setting up a goal in a 2-1 defeat. Shortly afterwards Roy Keane bid £1.5m for you and you were on your way to Sunderland. How did the move come about and what did you know about Sunderland?
CE: I knew about Sunderland because of Kevin Phillips and big Quinny. I used to look up to players like that as a young professional earlier in my career. I knew that Dwight had moved from Sydney that year. There had been some rumours Sunderland and West Brom were looking at me whilst I was at Wrexham actually, but I never paid it any mind - I was just a young boy enjoying playing in English football.
I remember it (the move) like it was yesterday: it was a Monday, Luton played Cardiff at on New Years Day at Kenilworth Road. I got a phone call from my agent on the way home and he said I had to travel up the next day to talk to Sunderland. I remember looking at the miles and thinking "Jesus Christ! Look at the distance!"
Dwight called me in December and asked if I would fancy the move too; said he’d put a good word in, but I never expected anything to come of it. The rest, as they say, is history.
RR: How was the first meeting with Roy Keane?
CE: You don’t know what to expect do you (laughs)? I did the medical and met Roy, I had watched him on TV for years, but when you meet the individual it's totally different to your expectations. In terms of physical stature I remember thinking "he’s just a scrawny little guy like myself!"
He was polite. He told me exactly what it is he wanted, what he wanted to build and how he wanted to push for promotion. We were twelfth or thirteenth at that time, but he spoke about promotion even then. He bought a few more alongside myself afterwards and sometimes it just clicks.
When we lost at Colchester 3-1, I was just thinking "oh no", but the experience he had an an individual across his time in football helped us, plus the experience we had in the squad helped. That's what helped us to go on such an amazing run in the first place.
RR: What was it about the club and your own performances at that time that worked so well?
CE: When you come to Sunderland, you have no choice but to perform because of the atmosphere at the Stadium of Light; even away from home - the amount of fans that always travel, it blows your mind!
As a player, you can’t help but embrace the Mackems, as they call us. They’re true fans, they’re real true supporters through thick and thin, they’ll back you to the hilt - and they did that. With that support behind you it pushes you on.
In regards to the team, the chemistry was a different class. The players we brought on board fitted into the puzzle. Having Niall around the place felt like a relief too.
RR: You say 'we' when you refer to Sunderland....
CE: I still say ‘we’ when I talk about Sunderland because I feel I am still part of Sunderland.
RR: Is it the best you've played in your career?
CE: Yeah, I think so. It was the best time of my career in English football. I always talk to my missus about that. It was really enjoyable.
I still reminisce about that time. Me and my missus still talk about the time at the area. It’s what a player lives for. It's special to have been part of those times I had at the club and builds an affinity between us both. I'm proud to have played for Sunderland.
RR: What are your memories of that Burnley game and THAT goal?
CE: (Laughs) Yeah, that goal! The manager always used to say "hit the target" because even if the keeper saves it could be palmed out and go to the striker to tap in.
It all happened so quick; it was a great counter attack. As soon as I received the ball from Daryl I thought I could shimmy a little or something, but what made my mind up was my first touch; it was as perfect as I could have hoped. I had a little glance, got my head down - I don’t think I’ve ever hit a ball so well. Straight into the top bin.
I did a little shimmy celebration with my shoulders; it was to show I was over my injury I sustained against West Brom. To be honest I didn’t even know how to celebrate though! I was thinking to myself "Jesus Christ!"
That game was typical us though wasn’t it? We always make it hard. We’re cruising the in the game, we miss chance after chance, miss a penalty and all of a sudden Burnley are in the lead. I couldn’t let Wade Elliott get the best goal of the night though! You can’t go beating my goalkeeper from there, so I thought I had to beat him.
I still watch it on YouTube.
I like to watch it back and get goosebumps and watch the fans go crazy. In fact I went to do some training with a local team (in Trinidad) and one of the guys - he’s from Antigua - called me over and was telling me he was watching the goal on YouTube! People are still watching it ten years on - myself included!