Pete Sixsmith, as ever, brings our end of series reviews to a climax and it is a suitably bleak one. Salut! Sunderland thanks all who have contributed to or shown interest in the features published in the series, which be seen in full here. No prizes for guessing before scrolling down what mood Sixer will be in; if only our recently departed manager and his players had performed as well, just often enough, as he writes week in, week out …
No, I can’t think of one Sunderland supporter who would have more than two positive things to say about the utterly wretched season that has just gone. I can’t think of one Sunderland supporter who would be anything other than glad to see the back of David Moyes and glad to see the back of some of the players who contributed so meaningfully to the worst season we have ever had in the Premier League.
I can’t think of many Sunderland supporters who see the Championship as a place where we can rebuild fractured relationships between the club and the fed-up support as Our Friends From the North did last year. Want me to elaborate? Here goes….
The positives revolve around Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe, both of who seem destined to leave us this summer. Indeed, Defoe has negotiated a huge deal at Bournemouth (bloody Bournemouth!!!) so that he can continue to play in the Premier League and perhaps have the doubtful privilege of being on the plane to Russia for what should be a trouble free, all-inclusive World Cup this time next year.
His goals kept us afloat and without them, we would have struggled to beat Derby County’s lowest ever points total in the Premier League. He battled away for most of the season and when he grabbed those two at Palace to wrap up the game for us at half time, he gave us a last glimmer of hope – which was quickly extinguished when Southampton and a big boy called Gabbiadini arrived at the Stadium the next week and showed us how stupid we were to believe that this badly run, badly coached and poorly motivated lot could perform The Great Escape Volume V.
It wasn’t only Jermain’s form on the pitch that mattered though. His relationship with Bradley Lowery showed that footballers do have emotional intelligence and the pictures of Bradley and Jermain holding hands with each other, of Jermain carrying Bradley onto the pitch and that incredibly moving one of the pair of them asleep on a hospital bed, will ensure that Jermain Defoe’s name will go down in the pantheon of Sunderland heroes, alongside Ian Porterfield, Charlie Hurley, Jimmy Montgomery and Ned Doig. He came as a footballer and leaves as a man.
Jordan Pickford was chosen as the best keeper in the division by The Observer‘s readers, although Gareth Southgate thinks that Fraser Forster and Joe Hart are better than him – which tells you all you need to know about the current England manager.
Some of us have watched Pickford come up through the Under 23s at Hetton and identified him as a future Sunderland keeper and a possible England custodian. Now we see him as a former Sunderland keeper and a definite England custodian after a season where he showed his qualities from Bournemouth (bloody Bournemouth!!!) to ‘Boro and got his England call up.
That he won’t be with us next season is due to the other nine who played in front of him and the man who selected them, coached them and motivated them. Wherever he goes, he will always be seen as “one of our own” and the £25m+ transfer fee will hopefully be given to a manger who will not then waste it on fees and wages for the like of Djilobodji, Pienaar, Lescott and Janusaj.
David Moyes came to the club with a boatload of goodwill and left it with a boatload of ordure.
He was the manager the owner wanted, the manager the fans were prepared to back and a manager who had a reputation for being tough, for being organised and for being someone who could build on the achievements of Sam Allardyce. He failed in every department as we have chronicled throughout the season.
It may well be that he had walked into a club that appears to be dysfunctional. It is interesting that when Allardyce left Palace (how many of us had our hopes lifted for a couple of hours) spoke fulsomely of the owners, the club and the fans. He left Sunderland without saying anything which suggests that he knew that the game was up in July. No money available means that Sam can’t do his job; he is a manager who depends on a churn of players and he knew that the squad he had at Sunderland needed a major upgrade.
Surely Moyes realised this before he took over. I would imagine that the state of the club is well known throughout the bubble of the Premier League; it can’t keep a manager, it’s up for sale, there are some poor players there but the crowd base is exceptional and if you succeed there you are a true hero. Maybe Moyes was seduced by the latter and chose to ignore the former.
But the manager is only the tip of the problem. The real problem lies within the club in that we have no real identity. What are we? Are we a venue for huge concerts? Are we a charitable institution? Are we a symbol for good in a region that is struggling to survive? Are we a successful football club? The answer to all four is no.
The only one that counts is the last one. And we are not, and haven’t been, a successful football club. We have had ten years of struggle and strife, nine of which have been under the current ownership. He has tried and has appointed managers who should have done better but were caught out at Sunderland, either for not being good enough (Bruce), too old (O’Neill), a mad Fascist (Di Canio), not as good as he thought he was (Poyet), fed up (Advocaat) and couldn’t get out quickly enough (Allardyce). Moyes inherited much of the rubbish they left behind but failed to make any better of it than they had.
The injuries to Watmore, McNair and Cattermole didn’t help. They give us the pace, energy and enthusiasm that we lacked for much of the season and, had they been fit, we may have conjured up another escape at the expense of Palace or Watford (bloody Watford – someone tell me what clubs like this are doing in the Premier League). But Moyes failed to invest wisely and his failure to bring in another forward probably contributed more than anything to our wretched demise.
Losing Kaboul and Kone didn’t help. They had been Imperious in the run in last season. Kaboul headed back south while the Kone who knocked Yaya Toure over, scored the winner against Manchester United and looked as if he could be the next Dave Watson failed to turn up. He made it clear that he wanted to leave and, with hindsight, we should have cashed in on him. But then what would Moyes have spent the money on?
His signings were poor although I don’t imagine he had a huge budget. Didier Ndong could be a good player but he was not what we needed in August. The former Everton players he brought in did very little to improve things, although Anichebe had a decent run in November and December. The loan players were awful and established players like Rodwell, Borini and van Aanholt never looked happy and played badly despite the huge salaries they were on.
When the relegation came, it was a blessing. Better to get it over and done with that hanging on until the last day of the season. But with it come even greater problems. No TV money. Decent players will leave. Crowds will drop considerably – there will be no full houses at the Stadium for the foreseeable future. New players will be well below the standards we have been used to. Starting again is not easy.
At the time of writing we do not have a manager. The names being mentioned are relatively low key which reflects our situation. Whoever comes in has a lot of work to do, as did Roy Keane when he took over in 2006. He dragged us up with some astute signings but mostly by his fierce personality and will to win. Since then, we have had managers who do not possess either of those attributes. I would welcome the appointment of Derek McInnes as the replacement for Moyes. He is ambitious and wants to succeed – and he is not likely to say that we are in a relegation battle after two games.
So ends the worst season I have experienced for many years. One which saw us relegated, play dismal football, win three home games all season and be completely overshadowed by the likes of Bournemouth and Watford (and all the best to them; they deserve to be where they are as we deserve to be where we are). It wasn’t helped by the renaissance at The Sports Direct either. They did well to keep Benitez after relegation and he did well to bring them back up. It made our feeble attempts to continue our winning streak against them look even more pathetic and it may be a few years before we can witness them punching horses again.
It was worse than when we went down last time because the players were, on paper, better. Alas, we don’t play on paper.