If you are an eternal optimist, you could argue that rock bottom is merely a solid foundation to rebuild from rather than the end of the world.
As a Sunderland fan, staying optimistic is a constant struggle, we don’t want to be negative about the club we love but after making us endure nothing but a constant fog of emptiness and depression it is hard to feel anything else. But have we finally sunk to our lowest ebb or are trips to Rochdale and participation of our first team in the Checkatrade trophy on the menu for next season?
It is fair to say that the life of most football fans is a series of relenting and grinding disappointments, the only difference is the scale of the setbacks. For a Barcelona fan winning the Copa Del Rey is like a home victory over Queen’s Park Rangers, the league title a formality and back to back defeats an unthinkable disaster. For all we quite rightly feel that our club is a complete mess, Hartlepool United supporters would give their right arm to be in the situation we are.
From a personal perspective, things certainly feel as bad as it gets, from a statistical view point it’s certainly the worst I’ve experienced. Even if we miraculously defy the laws of physics and finish 4th in the league it would have been our lowest league finish in my lifetime. Obviously, I would be delighted with this, but it puts in to perspective how out of keeping this disastrous campaign has been with our recent history. Of course, ever since we finished 7th under Peter Reid in 2001 we have spent every top flight season in a constant battle against the drop with the possible exception of 2009-2012 where we achieved 13th and 10th place finishes. But even then we still had seemingly never ending winless runs and flirted with relegation battles. However, the Championship has been a different story, every season in that time we have either been promoted or involved in a playoff show down at the end of the season, playing in the second tier has been everything it should be. Winning most weeks, getting a sense of belief going around the club and the city, taking over entire towns with our away support and getting back to the Promised Land feeling invigorated. Nobody expected that this season, but there is no club like Sunderland for letting you down even when you have zero expectations to begin with. The dark cloud that circled under the “management” of David Moyes has continued to engulf Wearside and it is showing no signs of shifting.
Much of the football world acted with a degree of surprise when Chris Coleman decided to accept the Sunderland job. After all his stock had never been higher off the back of his achievements with Wales. But attracting a man of his profile is futile without the necessary backing in the transfer market. By backing I don’t mean to the tune of £20 million, I understand that we have to attempt to reduce our staggering debt somehow, but despite our league position Coleman has proven that he can make improvements even with limited resources. There is little point bringing in a man of his calibre if you don’t give him the necessary tools to do the job, there is a responsibility to ensure that we have already hit rock bottom. Otherwise, relegation could see the gaffer resign and we will be back to square one yet again.
At some point we must get a transfer window right in order to stem the tide and move forward. With each passing transfer window we appear to just continuously dig bigger holes for ourselves. One of the great hopes we all clung to after we were eventually relegated was the prospect of getting rid of the main culprits of our downfall over the past few years and replace them with limited but hungry players who would see signing for the lads as an opportunity rather than doing us a favour.
At the time, I remember being pleased with our summer recruitment; I was excited by the prospect of highly rated duo Brendan Galloway and Tyias Browning from Everton, I was always dubious about Jason Steele but after the impressive pre-season form of Robbin Ruiter I thought we had found ourselves a good goalkeeper for this level. I thought Aiden McGeady was a fantastic piece of business for the club and despite Vaughan’s questionable goal scoring record in the Championship, I had hoped he would be full of confidence after an impressive season with Bury. I was further encouraged by our deadline day business of Jonny Williams, Callum McManaman and Marc Wilson. On the surface it appeared to be a good blend of youth and experience and I was pleased with the pedigree of player we had managed to recruit. However, it has all gone drastically wrong from there.
Perhaps we should have suspected there was a reason for Bournemouth and West Brom to allow Wilson and McManaman to leave on free transfers and that reason is that they are both injury prone and past their best. Of course, given our current financial situation any player we sign will have obvious question marks over their heads but for all Grayson’s talk of wanting to bring the right players in with the right attitude he continued to not only play Lamine Kone but employ him as captain on occasion. Chris Coleman has already alluded to problems with the attitude problems within the squad and hopefully he can put this right.
I am hopeful about our recruitment under Coleman despite the restrictions he has to deal with. He is arguably the first manager since Roy Keane to talk about players coming to the club having the right DNA and being in a “dogfight” together. Grayson touched on these issues but Coleman has actively questioned the commitment of some of the lads and has invited anyone who doesn’t want to be at the club to “go and play badly somewhere else.” Another thing in the current gaffer’s favour is his strength of personality, his recent rack record carries a great deal of respect and latest signing has already expressed his delight at working with him.
In all his discussions of transfers he has talked about bringing in young, hungry players who will be able to make more of an impact than certain washed up old pros who would just see Sunderland as another wage packet.
Let’s hope that we have indeed hit rock bottom and use it as a springboard to not only keep us in the Championship but to change the mentality around the club and breathe much needed life into both our club and our city.