After relegation from the Premier League to the Championship, few would have thought Sunderland would sit bottom of the league in February with League One becoming a stronger possibility with each passing game. This time last year many thought the Championship would be good for the club. ‘Get rid of the dead wood, have a clear out, bring in a new squad and be back in the Premier League in no time.’ A nice thought, but one that has become a distant fantasy. Going down to the Championship has caused Sunderland to completely collapse as a club. Players who don’t want to play, an owner who doesn’t want to own and week after week brings loss after loss. Because of this, the prospect of League One is becoming a horrifying reality. The impact it has on the club and the reaction it will cause within the Stadium of Light could well take Sunderland AFC beyond repair.
You must assume Chris Coleman would wash his hands of the club and leave for the type of club he deserves to be managing. After his success with Wales in Euro 2016 Coleman became a wanted man by a number of Premier League clubs. Despite a relegation on his record I believe top clubs would be willing to overlook this due to the circumstances and take a punt with the Welshman, and rightly so. Coleman leaving would force Martin Bain into looking for yet another manager to take the Sunderland hot seat and being in League One, the appointment would most likely be lacklustre for the fans. The appointment of Coleman was a coup that brought some renewed hope and optimism that someone can still save this club. However to lose a manager of his passion and ability would certainly be felt at the club.
Next would be a more welcome change. Following relegation we would likely see most of the current squad jump the sinking ship or big wage players forced out the club. Starting of with the defence, players who have been part of the back-to-back relegations will likely leave. Expect the likes of Billy Jones, Bryan Oviedo and Lamine Kone to end their time in red and white, likely to the relief of many fans. Sunderland stalwart John O’Shea may call an end on his time with the Black Cats too. Likely a big earner the club will probably attempt to move the Irishman on, or at the age of 36 don’t be surprised if O’Shea calls an end on his playing career. In the midfield an exodus should also be expected. First off, Jack Rodwell, earning a reported £70,000 per week will most certainly finally get his wish of just wanting to play football. It is expected either Rodwell and the club will come to an agreement to end his contract (with a significant payoff to Rodwell) or a club will take him off Sunderland’s hands. High earning loanee’s Wahbi Khazri and record signing Didier N’Dong will have also played their last game for the Black Cats and likely join the current loan club on a permanent basis. After nine turbulent years at Sunderland another relegation could spell the end for Lee Cattermole, and in my opinion not a minute too soon. Cattermole would be in the ‘back to back relegations’ category at Sunderland and moving down to League One would be the right time to part with the midfielder. In the attack, Sunderland will be left very short of options. With Ashley Fletcher presumably returning to Middlesbrough that leaves us with Asoro and Maja, who would hopefully be convinced to stay. Don’t be too surprised if there is interest from elsewhere for these two youngsters but hopefully someone at the club can realise their potential value and keep them on board.
With all these players on the way out, Sunderland will need to rebuild. However as we’ve come to learn, with Ellis Short still in charge to expect many singings. In League One I believe Sunderland would be forced to rely on youth. The likes of Donald Love, George Honeymoon, Lyndon Gooch Ethan Robson, Duncan Watmore, Josh Maja and Joel Asoro will be relied on to carry Sunderland and these players will likely have to step up. As well as this a new manager would likely have to delve into the under 23’s squad. Notable names who could break into the first team include Tom Beadling and Rees Greenwood. Personally, in my opinion looking to youth may not be all bad. These players can come in and work their socks off to make a name for themselves and that could be exactly what Sunderland need.
Finally, and potentially the biggest impact of a relegation to League One is the loss of the fans. With each passing Championship game fans are getting tired of watching loss after loss at home and the attendance at the Stadium of Light is getting lower. Expect a League One season to feature the lowest attendance since the opening of the Stadium of Light in 1997. Another relegation would leave many fans without hope and season ticket sales would plummet and a club that not very long ago was capable of filling a 49,000 seat stadium will be left a shell of itself. The club is facing a serious risk of alienating its fans into completely giving up on it. The only way to change this and to bring fans back is simple. Win. If Sunderland start winning games the fans will get back on side and they can push on to get back where they deserve to be. Until then however, it will be empty (pink) seats galore.