Cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, relegation was always inevitable for Sunderland. The fans had already accepted it before kick off against Bournemouth on Saturday having watched a goal shy Middlesbrough side beat them 1-0 midweek. In the end a late goal by Bournemouth’s Josh King coupled with Hull’s draw with Southampton sealed their fate. Life in the Championship beckons for The Black Cats but it is not the end. Yes its a major setback and the loss of TV revenues is a huge hit. But Sunderland like arch rivals Newcastle who suffered relegation last year can bounce back. The Championship has become the Premier League’s graveyard and has proven difficult for teams who have failed to adapt to bounce back (Leeds, Blackburn, Queens Park Rangers etc). To avoid this happening to Sunderland , change is needed at the Stadium of Light and hopefully everyone connected to the club knows this. However sometimes knowing what to change can be the hardest part so with that here are three things we think are needed for Sunderland to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Trust in Moyes
Sunderland fans are divided on whether or not David Moyes should be retained as manager but for the club to have the best chance of bouncing back up, Moyes must stay. The former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad boss was not been able to turn around Sunderland fortunes this season since taking over from Sam Allardyce last summer but to be fair to the Scot it has not been all his fault. The lack of interest by the clubs owner and main source of funding Ellis Short has hindered the much needed overhaul of a Sunderland squad that has been dangling preciously close to the edge for some time now. Moyes did manage to bring in 13 new players, some on permanent contracts and some on loan deals but at the same time saw 16 players leave. This amount of turn over is usual when a new manager takes charge but usually when 13 new players arrive, the squad starts to resemble the managers vision.
However this is not the case with Sunderland as Moyes had two frustrating windows, both battling the club for enough money to achieve his plans but also fighting against the clubs image as a regular Premier League relegation candidate. In recent weeks, Moyes frustration has shown by his public stating after several defeats that he couldn’t fault his players who gave everything. Whilst that may sound like a strange thing to say, it was Moyes way of saying that the players he has just simply aren’t good enough for this level. Moyes is not a bad manager as proven at Everton and has tasted life in the Championship before with Preston (albeit several decades ago and under different circumstances) so should be the right man to guide Sunderland back into the Premier League. He will need to be backed though both by the fans and the board and allowed to transform the team for life in England’s second tier, much like Rafa Benitez did at Newcastle this season.
Trust in Youth
Sunderland’s drop into the Championship will likely result in a massive clear out with a majority of the more well known names like Defoe, Borini and Kirchhoff departing. There will be other forced sales like the exciting Jordan Pickford who has burst onto the scene this year in goal and has been a revelation despite difficult times at the club. His stock has risen so much that it will be impossible for Sunderland to hold onto him but the net bonus of that is that he should move for a considerable fee. Other players will be freed from their contracts or sold and spaces made available for new recruits but for Sunderland to have long term success they should turn to their youth players for new blood.
Like Pickford, the club has produced from its academy several new faces who could play big roles next season. Josh Robson, Michael Ledger, George Honeymoon, Lynden Gooch and Ethan Robson are all exciting home grown players that will surely have the fans on their feet on a regular basis if given the chance. The Championship is a tough league to test out new youngsters but it can also be the perfect place to do so at the same time. Building a squad that is a mix of experienced pros and youthful exuberance could be the key to success for Sunderland and its promotional push next year.
invest, Invest, Invest
A lack of consistent investment has ultimately lead to Sunderland’s current predicament. Owner Ellis Short has made no qualms about his desire to sell the club this year and appears to have lost all interest. Whilst no one has been able to match the bid price set by Short, the owner appears unwilling to add additional funds into the club at this time beyond what he deems as necessary. As an illustration of this, Sunderland’s net spend this season was only £15m (£39m spent, £24m received) which is hardly considerable considering the amounts being splashed not only by clubs in the top 6 but also clubs in and about the relegation zone (Middlesbrough – £39m, Crystal Palace – £50m, Burnley -£44m, Leicester – £26m, West Ham – £42m). With the exception of Middlesbrough who look to be accompanying Sunderland into the Championship next season, the rest have added well to their squads and have applied little pressure on the manager to balance the books.
To be fair to Short, in the time that he has owned the club (coming on 8 years now) he has given over large amounts for transfers (£163m over last five years) but the money has not been spent wisely and as a result Sunderland have stuttered along. They have danced around relegation for the last five years only once finishing mid table – a respectable 14th in 2013-2104 but it appears lady luck has run out just as Short’s patience has run out too. A new owner needs to be found quickly and one willing to invest not only in the first team but in building a sustainable management structure as well, similar to the one found at Southampton. Only then will Sunderland be on a better footing for the years ahead.