Monsieur Salut writes: Pete Sixsmith raised this question here several months ago. It occurred to me again as I wrote my preview of Sunderland vs Stoke City for ESPN FC – is Mark Hughes’s side, and the club itself, more or less what SAFC should be aiming to emulate? Why can they attract players with greater apparent ease than us, and how do they manage to get into the top half so often (OK, a bad start this season makes that a taller order for 2016-17)?
Read my full piece here. This is an extract …
According to one recent forecast, Mark Hughes’ team can hope for no better than 12th place at the end of this season. Such a slip after three successive ninth-place finishes would doubtless disappoint Stoke supporters. Through the eyes of most Sunderland fans, it would feel like a gift from heaven …
Compare the clubs and history also shows the Wearsiders are the bigger of the two, even if you need to wade far back to prove it — the most recent of Sunderland’s six top-flight titles was won all of 81 years ago. And geographically, in terms of attracting players of quality, there is surely little to choose between them.
Yet Stoke have the look of a reasonably stable mid-table side despite a potentially disastrous start to this season; the Potters went eight games without a win until — almost inevitably — they beat Sunderland to begin the recovery that now sees them back up to 11th place.
If Stoke are prone to the occasional wobble, they also entertain fleeting notions of challenging the top six. With Sunderland, the threat of a wobble is constant; it is not by accident that they start more or less every season tipped for relegation and duly proceed to struggle.
Yes, there has been end-of-season excitement in the great escapes under Gus Poyet, Paolo Di Canio, Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce, with less dramatic brushes with danger when Roy Keane, Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill were in charge. Yes, there is much to be said for being a part of a huge fanbase attached to a club because of what and where it is rather than for what it has recently won. But it would be refreshing to have a period of regularity in which relegation was no more than a distant danger and constant managerial changes seemed unwise even to the most impatient or capricious of owner.
Thoughts anyone? Realistic or hopelessly unambitious? Stoke fans might accuse me of getting ideas above my station …
Catch up on Salut! Sunderland’s buildup to Sunderland vs Stoke:
** Stoke City ‘Who are You?’. A truly exceptional football character, Neil Baldwin – Nello the Clown, Macari’s star kit man, inspiration for the film Marvellous – tells us of his Stoke passion, his admiration of David Moyes (‘like me, a man of faith’) and his dismay at Big Sam’s comeback. Click anywhere on this paragraph to read the interview.