Can Sunderland Avoid Their Most Devastating Relegation Yet?

Author: Nirwan Vibhor


Being an owner of a club that’s reeling down at the bottom of the Championship is not easy. Add to that an inevitable task of rebuilding the entire portfolio of players and reinstating the club to its former glory, and you have a real battle at hand. Even for Chris Coleman, a man who refuses to shy away from any challenge.

Since Coleman took over as Sunderland’s manager, succeeding Simon Grayson in November, the club has won only four out of 16 league fixtures, and many have started to question the new manager’s game-time strategies, and his decision to join Sunderland. There was a moment recently, at a Christmas drinks party that some put this question rather bluntly to the former Wales manager. To this, Coleman typically replied that there have been some “sleepless nights” and that right now, he is “in the middle of a tornado”, reflecting the manager’s inner doubts and uncertainty in taking crucial tactical decisions.

When Coleman led the determined Wales team to the semi-final clash against Portugal in Euro 2016, the 47-year-old could never have fathomed that his next job would need him to bail out Sunderland from looming debts and a possible relegation to the third tier in English football, for only the 2nd time in the club’s 139-year history.

Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat against Bolton, however, left Sunderland at the bottom of the Premier League and possibly heading for a second successive relegation, which could spell out curtains for the six-times English champions at the top tier.   

Thousands of fans have already signed a petition to accelerate Short sells up. Despite slashing down to £50m, in an attempt to pay off some of the debt that the club owes him, and trying to make the trade for the past 18 months, there are no reputable buyers, much to the annoyance of the American financier and the fans. Therefore, it’s no wonder that there could be some angry protests at the club’s home turf, the Stadium of Light prior to the derby clash with Middlesbrough, who are chasing playoffs.

Short, who is currently domiciled in Florida, has an accumulated debt of approximately £110m during his run as the owner. Despite, pouring in tens of millions from his pockets into keeping his favorite venture afloat in the last few years, the club has seen a significant reduction in the cash injections. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the American businessman has almost thrown in the towel and taken a leave of absence. In his absence, the onus has come onto Martin Bain, the club’s CEO, and Coleman. While Bain is struggling with the annual wage bill of £35m, Coleman has his own work cut out.  

According to sources, while Grayson only had a cap of £1.25m for 10 players last season, Coleman is merely permitted to take up four loan signings in January – Jake Clarke-Salter of Chelsea, Ashley Fletcher of Middlesbrough, Ovie Ejaria of Liverpool, and Lee Camp of Cardiff. The result? So far, the quartet has failed to live up to expectations in a squad that features seven on-loan players.

To add to Sunderland’s misery, Coleman doesn’t seem to include the £70,000-a-week, England midfielder Jack Rodwell in his plans, and then, there’s the combined £30,000-a-week that Sunderland sends to subsidize match fees for Papy Djilobodji and Wahbi Khazri, the defender and winger Sunderland have loaned to Dijon and Rennes respectively.

Sunderland’s woes don’t end here. To top it all, the appalling player recruitment over the past few years hurts Sunderland’s performance the most, so much so that despite having arguably the biggest home ground in their division, the players have been abysmal and inept at handling the pressure.  

Therefore, Coleman’s stint as the ninth manager in 6 years for Sunderland has not been a smooth ride, to say the least. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that the manager has been forced to name an unchanged side just once, and has switched between a back four and back five formations, without caring too much for tactical inventiveness. The problem here seemingly lies with the player’s mindsets rather than formations, but eventually, the club has suffered nine defeats in the season, and that calls for an urgent introspection. If not, then the club whose desperately looking to reinvent itself, will have to suffer the most heartbreaking relegation it’s history.


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