After flirting with relegation for four straight seasons, the rug was finally pulled out from underneath Sunderland and they fell down into the Championship.
After 10 consecutive Premier League seasons, playing in the Championship is new to a lot of Sunderland fans just like it was for Aston Villa last season. Villa were relegated for the first time since 1987 after finishing bottom of the 2014-15 Premier League table.
But just like Villa, who finished 13th this season, Sunderland should be worried about becoming a Championship mainstay or worse — just ask Wigan and Blackburn fans.
Both Wigan and Blackburn competed in the Premier League in the 2010s and now both are preparing to play in League One, where they’ll compete against clubs like Blackpool and Portsmouth, both Premier League clubs within the past eight years, and clubs like Fleetwood Town and AFC Wimbledon whose stadiums can seat less than 3,000 supporters.
Flirting with relegation for so long has limited Sunderland’s ability to bring in quality players and so they have often settled for Premier League veterans and average foreign players. But they’re in the Championship now and their squad needs a lot of work.
With the sale of Jordan Pickford to Everton and the release of seven first team players, the club has 21 players listed on the first team squad at the time of writing, and that will decrease again when Jermain Defoe leaves before the summer window closes.
Of the remaining squad, five players have three years or less of professional experience and only four players have any experience playing in the Championship. Thirty-year old right-back Billy Jones has significant experience, playing seven Championship seasons with Crewe Alexandra and Preston North End, but he hasn’t played in the division since 2011.
Irish midfielder Darron Gibson had a 21-match loan spell with Wolves back in the 2007-08 season, and Fabio Borini spent a nine-game loan spell with Swansea in 2011. Right-back Adam Matthews has played 21 games for Bristol City across a pair of loans the past two seasons.
And that’s it. None of the other 16 players has ever played in the Championship.
The Premier League and Championship are different leagues with different styles and the lack of second division experience could come back to bite the Black Cats.
The £30m from Pickford’s transfer can be reinvested in the squad, but the club is approaching the summer transfer window with all sorts of issues besides the squad as well.
According to the BBC, Chairman Ellis Short is currently considering two bids to takeover the club, which is a key reason as to why the club remains manager-less heading into the preseason.
The sooner the takeover can be finalised and a manager hired, the better for Sunderland because its getting to the point that fans need to be concerned. The club’s first pre-season game is 7 July against Bury, and the line-up could look more like last season’s U23 squad than a true first team.
It’s not likely that Sunderland would be relegated two seasons in a row, but it has happened before. The Black Cats have some serious work to do to get back to the Premier League and the longer that leadership issues drag on, the worse their chances get.