KEIREN Westwood was prepared to take a pay-cut and drop into the Championship to get his career back on track next season.
But the goalkeeper is relishing the prospect of a fresh Sunderland start under Paolo Di Canio after Simon Mignolet’s £9million departure to Liverpool has transformed his prospects for first-team football at the Stadium of Light.
Westwood was limited to just three Capital One Cup appearances for Sunderland last season and lost his Republic of Ireland place as a result after being forced to play second fiddle to Mignolet.
The 28-year-old had asked to leave the club on loan during the January transfer window, only to see his hopes dashed by former Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill.
Despite enjoying life on Wearside, Westwood said it was probable that he would have had to begrudgingly leave Sunderland this summer, even if it meant dropping out of the Premier League.
But following Mignolet’s exit, Westwood hopes he can fight off the challenge of new £2m signing Vito Mannone to establish himself as Sunderland number one.
Westwood said: “Yes, I think the summer was going to be a bit of a crossroads for me.
“I actually love it here, it’s a fantastic club and I get on great with everybody. I’ve got a lot of good friends here.
“It would have been a wrench to leave, but on the other side of it, I have to think of my career.
“I have to play games and have something to look forward to during the week - putting all that work in on the training field to send fans home happy on a Saturday.
“I didn’t have that last year, but I still carried on going.
“At times, it was mentally demoralising.
“I want to play. Everybody knows I want to play. It’s not in my nature to sit on the bench.
“I would rather go and play for a Championship team on less money and play every week, just so I get that buzz on a Saturday.
“Sitting on the bench in the Premier League and picking up money is not my desire or attitude. It’s a trap I don’t want to fall into.
“You can quite easily do that. You can see over the years that players have done that, not just goalkeepers.”
Westwood holds no animosity towards Mignolet and says he worked as hard as possible on the training field to provide the Belgian with the sternest competition.
But he hopes he can learn from last season’s chastening experience and grasp the vacancy in Sunderland’s goal.
“I got on really well with Simon actually,” added the former Coventry stopper.
“We worked really hard together and I pushed him the best I could. There was a good working relationship with Si.
“That maybe helped him because he did perform very well last season and got himself a move to Liverpool which is fantastic for him.
“Even if Simon was still here, I’d still try to get the shirt back because pre-season is a new start; a clean slate for everybody.
“Nobody can ever live off past laurels. You have to keep moving forwards.
“I was never one to complain, I always had a smile on my face as best as I could.
“I’m not a bitter person. I like to enjoy a laugh, but I work exceptionally hard.
“Now it’s a fresh start for everyone, with a new manager and new ideas. It’s something I’m looking forward to personally and I’m sure the whole squad is.
“I learned a lot about myself mentally. I’m a big believer in fate; that these things happen for a reason.”