Sunderland’s preparations for the new season appear to have hit a wall as the club struggle to attract quality players to justify their lofty ambitions. A new chairman, manager and kit sponsor seemed to signal the beginning of a new era at the Stadium of Light but if their efforts so far this summer are an indication of things to come then mid-table mediocrity may be the most likely outcome. For a team that has only recently shaken off their yo-yo tag to establish themselves as a regular part of the Premier League, such reserved targets are not what the terraces want to hear but given the pitfalls suffered by the red and white part of North East in recent seasons, there are plenty of tough realities to be faced if the club is to move forward.
Every year Sunderland fans embark on a new Premier League campaign with renewed vigour but every season is deemed a disappointment when the team doesn’t qualify for Europe. While fans have every right to demand the very best from their team, it’s clear to onlookers that the Blacks Cats do not yet have a good enough squad to compete with the top flight’s established European challengers. The appointment of Martin O’Neill as manager has supporters dreaming that he will repeat the success he enjoyed at Aston Villa and while that’s a reasonable target, the reality is the Mackems are still a long way of finishing in the top 6 and envious glares at rivals Newcastle United will make any future respectable league finishes seem like an underachievement.
Don’t focus so much on Newcastle
Many a season at the Stadium of Light has been ruined by a failure to overcome the archenemy and such is the importance placed on the Tyne-Wear derby that managers have often seen their careers in the North East judged on how they fared against the Geordies. Ex manager Steve Bruce even cited his local roots and derby struggles as the main catalyst of his demise but while the Corbridge born former defender struggled against Newcastle, he was given a fair crack of the whip by the majority of fans. Still the comparison between the sides was there for all to see last season and seeing their bitter rivals punch above their weight in the Premier League only heightened fans desperation for improvements on the pitch. Had any other team overachieved as Newcastle did last time out then Sunderland fans would have been less inclined to write off their manager and his new players but such is the hatred between fans that they turned on the management and booed the team. Rightly or wrongly, such impatience cannot be repeated next season for if Martin O’Neill is considered to be their messiah then he must be allowed time to mould his team together. New signings are expected but fans must not expect instant miracles, even if Newcastle fans are gloating because they’re playing in Europe.
Stop buying players from relegated teams
As O’Neill slowly stamps his authority on the team during his first full summer in charge, fans are debating the procrastinatory nature of his transfer dealings and wondering how much money there is to spend and who he’s thinking of spending it on. The usual scenario for Sunderland is they have roughly £20m-£30m to spend but often need 5 or more signings and end up bring in a selection of cheap squad players instead of investing in one or two genuine talents. This has led to them snapping up the star performers from previously relegated sides and while players like Sebastian Larsson, David Vaughan and Craig Gardner all represent excellent value for money, they’re not the quality of player needed to take the club to the next level. This summer has seen Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis, Steven N’Zonzi and Martin Olsson linked with the club but these players need to be avoided if they harbour any hopes of moving away from the mid-table pack.
Don’t buy Manchester United cast-offs
Another pitfall of previous Sunderland managers has been to wash Sir Alex Ferguson’s hands of his unwanted Old Trafford talent and with little reward. Currently Phil Bardsley, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Kieran Richardson and Fraizer Campbell fill the quota more than capably but a brief skim down the history books shows a plethora of ex Red Devils brought in by former bosses Bruce and Roy Keane. The stark reality is that while these players may have seemed like they had decent pedigree and to a certain extent they satisfied the needs of an aspiring club on the rise from the Championship, the fact is they couldn’t make the Manchester United first team and are therefore not good enough if Sunderland want to push on to the next level.
Give the lads a chance!
Neutrals peering in on Sunderland’s situation often wonder why supporters demand so much of them given their underwhelming record in recent years. It’s been over a decade since Peter Reid’s side claimed back to back 7th place finishes and the Black Cats have little European pedigree to justify such lofty expectations. This may be true but Mackem fans know the club has a proud history and see their complaints more as constructive criticism then unwarranted condemnation. There are two sets of fans, the group with unrealistic expectations who demand success and the group with a realistic assessment of where the team is but are deemed to lack ambition. These fans needs to find some middle ground and let the team blossom without demanding too much from a side that are clearly worse off on paper than the League’s top teams and will need all the support they can get if their are to progress.
Supporting a so called lesser side is often a hiding to nothing as fans’ aspirations to improve are hampered by the reality of their mid-table predicament. If the Sunderland faithful have learned anything going into next season it should be not to expect success but rather enjoy it, if and when it comes along.
Should Sunderland fans have more realistic expectations or should they have loftier ambitions ahead of next season?
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