On loan from Manchester City, the Belgian defender, who spent a large chunk of the season playing as a defensive midfielder, was, injuries aside, a regular first-team player under David Moyes.
Making 27 appearances in all competitions, the 22-year-old was used all over the place by the former Black Cats manager, and is now trying to go on another loan, as Manchester City try to push him towards newly promoted La Liga side Girona.
Not exactly keen on the idea, Denayer told Sport/Foot in Belgium why: “I want to be in a team who dominates the game, not in one who suffers, mostly so I can show what I can do, but also to develop.
“When I go on a pitch, it’s with the aim to enjoy myself and tell myself it’s just football. However, not everyone thinks like that. The problem is that when you’re on the back foot, you don’t take any pleasure from it.”
Still, despite spending most of the season losing games, the 22-year-old is trying to see the benefits of his experience at the Stadium of Light, even if, in the grand scheme of things, ‘there were more negatives than positives’.
He said: “The fact that we had ups and downs, with small injuries and being move around the pitch helped me become a different man and player. I feel like I hardened myself.
“I was so used to winning stuff. In the end, I tell myself that the season at Sunderland was something I had to do in my development.”
Spending time a year in Turkey with Galatasaray before his move up north, a season on Wearside was a shock to the system.
He said: “You can’t compare. England, it’s stressful, everything needs to be done quickly. Turkey was more for me, people are more relaxed. And Istanbul is a beautiful city, the beach is nearby, it’s great.
“Nothing like Sunderland where it was quite difficult at times. There’s nothing there, apart from a small shopping centre. It’s really small.”
Revealing ‘it wasn’t exactly a joy’ to know he had to go to Sunderland on the last day of last summer’s transfer window, Denayer would, if possible, like to join Lyon, who reportedly saw a €13.5m bid rejected by Manchester City recently.
Playing the Europa League would certainly be a nice change from getting thumped 4-0 by Southampton.