I have come to a momentous, but blindingly obvious conclusion about the football club that I support, Sunderland AFC. I have concluded that we are completely and utterly… in fact you could even say royally, f***ed.
Up the road at Newcastle, Mike Ashley rightly receives all manner of abuse from the Toon Army for his woeful stewardship of the club, but we Mackems have also endured a decade of incompetence with Texan billionaire Ellis Short at the helm.
Based on his track record with us, how the man ever became a billionaire is completely beyond my comprehension.
I’ve tried to track the key moments in the gradual, but very real decline of a truly great club that has been handled with the care and devotion of a lump of s**t in the hands of billionaire owner Ellis Short…
Not replacing Darren Bent
Looking back, THIS is where everything started to go horribly wrong at the Stadium of Light.
When Sunderland handed over £10m and Darren Bent waltzed on to Wearside in 2009, he scored 24 of the team’s 48 Premier League goals in his first season. Finally, it looked as though we realised what it took to get a foothold in the top league and we’d brought in a player who we could build a team around.
But, this is Sunderland so obviously that wasn’t going to last for long.
Midway through the following season, Bent decided he’d rather play for Aston Villa instead and slapped in a transfer request, getting his ‘dream move’ a couple of days later, with our season unravelling as soon as he’d gone.
Even though we’d bagged approximately £20m from Villa, getting Nicklas Bendtner in on loan wasn’t really the replacement we craved. Bent left in January 2011, and it was the spring of 2016 before another Sunderland player would manage to notch more than 11 Premier League goals in a single season.
The Paolo Di Canio fiasco
When we found ourselves on the brink of relegation in 2013 due to the fact that Martin O’Neill’s side had sent everyone to sleep, the Irishman’s replacement was a volatile fascist sympathiser whose managerial peak had been a few controversial months in League One with Swindon.
Why Short considered him to be up to the job of taking a Premier League club forward is still a mystery.
Yes, Di Canio just managed to help us avoid the drop but after that, in cahoots with our new director of football Roberto de Fanti (a man who had the look of a failed Austrian pop star who had just been released from prison), we somehow recruited a gaggle of terrible players on the cheap – all thanks to Ellis Short’s parsimonious new transfer policy.
Early season results were dire, Di Canio clashed with players (and banned tomato ketchup from the canteen) and within weeks he was gone, leaving Gus Poyet to come in and try to cobble together a decent time from a demoralised gang of underachievers.
Ignoring the Wembley magic
Compared to Di Canio, Poyet was a managerial mastermind, at least at first. The highlight of his first season was guiding the team to a Wembley final, the Capital One Cup, where we lost 3-1 against the vastly superior Manchester City.
That result aside, the cup run reignited the fans’ passion for the club, with thousands of them taking over Covent Garden the night before the final.
It was our first cup final for over two decades and you’d think the fervour it created would make Short realise that he had possession of a major sleeping giant of football. Naaaaaaah.
A flirtation with relegation was dodged thanks to memorable wins at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, but the following summer, Short could only find about £15m to spend in order to strengthen what we had.
We drew 10 of our first 16 matches due to the lack of quality required and naturally Poyet got his P45 after we drifted into the relegation zone again. Enter Dick Advocaat, rinse, repeat, learn nothing.
If Poyet hadn’t pulled off the genius move of bringing Jermaine Defoe back to the Premier League from his Toronto exile (in a swap deal for the inept Jozy Altidore), we’d have tumbled out of the Premier League long before we actually did.
The Ricky Alvarez saga
A perfect example of Ellis Short’s shocking off-the-field management skills. Alvarez was signed on a season-long loan from Inter in 2014, under the proviso that we’d make the deal permanent if we avoided the drop.
We did indeed avoid the drop (thanks to Advocaat’s desperate salvage job) but as the Argentine midfielder had been injured for most of the season and hadn’t impressed much when fit, Sunderland’s hierarchy decided they didn’t fancy sticking to the bargain and refused to pay the previously-agreed £10m.
Off we eventually trooped to the Court of Arbitration for Sport two years later, where we were told that yes, we were contractually bound to pay that £10m in full.
Of course, as the legal wrangling had gone on for so long, Alavarez had by that time moved on to Sampdoria, meaning that one of the highest buys in our history was for a player we never even owned. The whole thing still makes my head hurt to this day.
David f***ing Moyes
After Sam Allardyce had hauled the club out of the mire and took us on a Premier League run of just four defeats in 19 matches (dizzy heights), he was lured away by England, who he oversaw for a mere 90 minutes of football.
In wandered David Moyes, who seemed like a decent replacement, but no. It was quickly evident that the Scotsman didn’t really fancy the task, especially when he admitted we were in a relegation battle in the first few weeks of the season.
Top notch motivational stuff there, Moyesy.
That defeatist attitude, coupled with his inability to recruit any decent players with the poxy amount of money that Short gave him to spend led to our inevitable, long overdue departure from the Premier League.
It gets worse…
Due to Short’s ineptitude at running the club, almost none of the £30m we received from Everton for Jordan Pickford was invested in a promotion push. In fact, it was just over a million.
We’re now on our second manager of the season, are trapped in the bottom three and have just recruited so many loan players in January that we’re over our matchday quota of five.
Oh, and we’ve got Jack Rodwell sitting on his arse and raking in £70k a week because no one at the club insisted on a relegation wage reduction clause. Nice work… if you’re Jack Rodwell.
Ah well, League One will probably be great. It was when we spent a season there in 1987…