Alex Neil shocked and disappointed a lot of Sunderland fans when he completed a surprise move to Stoke City last month.
The manager, who had earned the Black Cats promotion back to the Championship via the playoffs, had overseen a promising start to the new season that had seen just one defeat against Sheffield United.
However, he suggested on a number of occasions that he wasn’t backed by the Sunderland board financially as he looked to make a number of new signings, and that was cited as a key reason for his departure.
When asked about asking the board for new signings, Neil said: “I can’t knock on the door anymore. There’s probably no door anymore – I’ve probably bust it down
“We need to get reinforcements in. We’re aware of that.”
And yet, Sunderland brought in a total of ten new players on permanent and loan deals during the summer, ranking fifth in the Championship expenditure table, which is an impressive feat for a newly-promoted side.
Even with no real income from outgoing players, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and the Sunderland board provided the money needed for Kristjaan Speakman to strengthen the squad and give the Black Cats a real chance of a positive season in the second tier.
Sunderland’s most expensive new signing of the transfer window, if reports of a potential future fee of up to £10m are to be believed, was Jack Clarke. Certainly on that evidence, the powers that be were giving Neil plenty of funds to work with.
One of those assists last season included a vital piece of play in the playoff semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday which booked Sunderland’s spot at Wembley, and Neil was quick to praise Clarke after the game.
He said: “He’s got good quality, he can drive past people and that’s a really useful thing to have in your team.
“He delivered the moment that we needed.”
He has started the new season in fine form, contributing two goals and three assists in the Championship, earning a superb average rating of 7.40/10 from WhoScored, which ranks him as the second-best performer in Tony Mowbray’s squad.
This investment in such a promising young player, who has started the season in such impressive fashion, emphasises that Neil’s departure cannot merely have been about the money that was being spent. Indeed, he is beginning to prove his former manager wrong when it came to the finances.