Sunderland, where Man United outcasts go to die

Sunderland is where Manchester United outcasts go to die.

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Presumably there’s a reason why – not a reason why they go there, but a reason why it doesn’t always work out. Not so much anyway.

When John O’Shea and Wes Brown were manning the central defensive fort at the Stadium of Light, I often wondered why they wanted to end their careers in such a way. Brown has now left, but O’Shea is still there.

Playing at Sunderland is still playing in the Premier League, of course. It’s still a good level. But whereas playing at United meant playing with the league’s best players and having the protection of playing against the weaker teams, as a centre back at Sunderland that’s reversed. The difference for O’Shea and Brown was that they were a decade older and greyer than they were when they were sitting in a cushy, protected environment at United.

David Moyes is a different kettle of fish, though.

He has already stated that he would have thought much more carefully about taking over as manager if he’d known the depths of the financial situation at the club. That’s code for ‘what the hell have I just done?’

But Moyes isn’t a man in the same position as the other United outcasts. He’s a man who ascended to football’s middle classes doing almost exactly what he’ll have to do at Sunderland: build a team from nothing using twigs, string and hard work.

It’s just that, after thinking of himself as a manager of the bourgeoisie, Moyes instinctively feels he should be one of the moneyed masses of the league, not at seemingly the only club left that’s still broke.

Moyes isn’t like O’Shea and Brown, too old to live, too young to die, rocking up and Sunderland and completely unsuitable for the challenge, having spent their most athletic years at a club where they didn’t need to be so athletic, and moving on to the club where they do need to be athletic whilst nursing ageing limbs.

Moyes may see himself as one of the game’s middle class, but football doesn’t see him that way. Sunderland knew he was the tough organiser that could help them survive, not a suave coach to take them to Europe straight away. But for that job, he’s probably much more suitable than most of his players.