A new low for The Mackems
This weekend saw another proud football establishment fall from grace in a very ugly and public manner. Sunderland have become the twenty-first club to have dropped from the Premier League to the third tier of English football. The inquest and debates will rage on, but the rot set in years ago and should once again serve as a warning that the Premier League provides no security or safe haven from poor decisions and lack of proper investment.
A late defeat to Burton Albion confirmed what most already knew last weekend. Sunderland were going down, after just six league wins all season and more managerial changes it begs the question as to how low thing could get.
Swapping and changing, comings and goings
Sunderland Football club has paid the price for far too many errors on and off the pitch. Their increasingly unpopular owner Ellis Short must shoulder some of the responsibility for their decline in fortunes. Since he took the reins of the clubs from the ever popular Niall Quinn in 2009, he has made a catalogue of bad decisions which have taken the club in the wrong direction.
From hasty sackings of solid Premier League managers, to the bizarre u-turn and attempted transformation into a self-sustaining nursery club full of cheap foreign imports, very few of his calls have paid off.
Steve Bruce had led Sunderland to the safety of mid-table in 2011 but was sacked after a large group of fans lost patience with his style, and the owner panicked with the club sliding down the table. Now it would be fair to say that Bruce’s time was up. He’d won just two of his opening thirteen Premier League matches in the 2011-12 campaign. However in Bent, Gyan and Welbeck he’d lost his three top goal scorers in less than twelve months and yet still left a side with enough quality for Martin O’Neil to steer up to 13th when he took over as manager. Hardly a club in terminal decline.
O’Neill too was hastily jettisoned in 2013 after a run of poor results. Again, it’s unfair to criticise fans and owners for wanting more and being ambitious, but men with the clout of O’Neil and Bruce had more than enough pedigree to build solid sides in the Premier League, and had they been given more time, this may have come to fruition.
What came next was a bizarre and abrupt, mid-season change of approach. In came Italian football agent Roberto De Fanti as Director of Football, Paolo Di Canio as Manager and Valentino Angeloni as Chief Scout. Short was going all continental. Again though the owner didn’t stand on ceremony, long serving Head Scout Pop Robson was kicked out in favour of the former Udinese man Angeloni. The local and former player was yet another link lost to an increasingly alienated support base at the Stadium of Light.
Interestingly though, the owner was focused on the profits made by Udinese on cheap foreign imports such as Asamoah Gyan and Alexis Sanchez. Whether or not he saw the pound signs and salivated at the prospect is not certain, but the approach definitely backfired. Fourteen players signed with a total gross spend of just thirty million pounds in a single transfer window. It’s not surprising that this ended in abject failure. Perhaps the outgoing Robson summed it up best in his interview with the Sunderland Echo:
“They might go for cheaper options, younger players, European players, Croatians, Italians – but they still have to be good enough to play in the Premier League, which is pretty demanding,”
Di Canio steered the club away from relegation but started the next campaign terribly with goals being shipped in almost at will. His successor, Gus Poyet chose just three of those foreign imports on a regular basis, Borini, Mannone and Ki Sung-yong, the only three with any previous Premier League experience.
The Rot sets in and a touch of misfortune
By the time David Moyes stepped up to job in 2016, he was the club’s seventh manager since the sacking of Steve Bruce in November 2011. The club was now in regular dog fights at the bottom of the league and devoid of any real quality baring the ageing Jermaine Defoe. So much for top ten finishes.
Sadly for the fans, it was a case of right manager at the wrong time. Moyes could have been a steady appointment, had he not only arrived following two successive dismissals. He also took over a side which had just lost the galvanizing force of Sam Allardyce to the England job. Big Sam had steered the club clear of relegation and got the best out a below average group of players. His departure felt like yet another blow to the fans. The beleaguered and weary David Moyes cut a frustrated and defeated figure on the touchline as he complained about lack of funds and quality, hardly an inspirational approach. Had Allardyce stayed, it’s a safe bet to say he would have built a more efficient, solid unit and he certainly possessed more self belief and enthusiasm than Moyes. It will always be a case of what might have been for the Mackems.
A murky future in League One
For this football club to be in League One next season is a damning indictment of the way it has been run on and off the pitch. For players like Jack Rodwell to have no contractual relegation clause stipulating a drop in wages is a symptom of the short term strategy blighting this club. It’s an outlook that needs to change if Short is to have any long-term success. They certainly cannot sustain the current outlay on wages in the third tier of English Football.
Short will no doubt want to sell and bring to an end, his reign of poor decisions. In fairness to the London based businessman he has put in two hundred and fifty million pounds of his own money in to Sunderland. His investment has gone stale though and the club may need to turn back to someone like Niall Quinn, who may not be the businessman, but understands what’s expected now his beloved club is in the trenches.
If Coleman stays on they have a good coach who plays some nice football, but they may need a more grizzled veteran who knows the lower league waters and can mastermind a turnaround in a division where they going to be a big scalp. Some Sunderland fans have called a nice, boring season, where they are neither promotion nor relegation scrappers. For them to have settle for that in League One is a truly sad state of affairs.