‘The ongoing speculation over Sam’s position is extremely damaging to Sunderland AFC, particularly at this crucial time of the season and we urge the FA to respect the disruption that this process is causing and bring about a swift resolution to the matter’ – Sunderland official statement, July 13.
Poor Sunderland. Just as the Premier League’s perennial year dot club were trying to shake off their rollercoaster reputation, along came England’s miserable Euro 2016 failure to kick them swiftly in the balls. Thou shalt not relax.
The Stadium of Light circus has long played a familiar tune, a song played on repeat. The constant cycle of extended winter despair followed by brief elation in the spring was manageable, but supporters clamoured for change. Sam Allardyce was not quite knight in shining armour – perhaps saviour in grubby suit fits better – but fans enjoyed the constancy of his two point four football. Where West Ham had grown tired of middle of the road, Sunderland embraced it.
And then England happened. Or, more exactly, England didn’t happen. England didn’t happen so much that young players were cast as villains, personalised headrests were damned to eternity and Uncle Roy became bad Uncle Roy who your mother and father no longer speak to or about. Suddenly Sunderland, who only had two players at the European Championship and none in England’s squad, have their plans foiled again.
Whatever your opinion on Allardyce – and there are lots to have – it’s fair to say his England chance has come from deep out in leftfield. In March, Sunderland’s manager was 40/1 to replace Hodgson. A list of those available at shorter prices includes Brendan Rodgers, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Paul Clement, David Moyes and Garry Monk. Now he is overwhelming favourite, just ahead of Steve “OK, we’ll give you an interview” Bruce.
Overwhelming favourite, but not yet in place. Allardyce has not yet had the chance to show off the greatest smug smile in history nor install his trusty printer in a room at Wembley Stadium, although reports suggest it will happen soon. In fact, despite Sunderland’s urges for the Football Association to get on with things, if they wouldn’t mind, the governing body quite understandably wanted to take its time in picking the next victim.
That left Sunderland in an odd, and difficult, position. The club were kept in suspense while they wait for a decision with no deadline, powerless to try and enforce one other than through the virtually meaningless weapon of grumpy PR statements. After desperately wanting to leave their state of constant flux, supporters are now demanding some bloody flux.
However this process ends, it doesn’t end well for Sunderland. They are at the behest of the FA. Either they lose their manager three weeks before the start of the season, or they keep a man with an added sense of entitlement and a publicly-stated desire to leave. It looks like the former, with David Moyes being lined up as his replacement. A new manager must learn the intricacies of his new squad and ways of his new club at lightning speed. There’s a reason clubs appoint managers in May and June rather than July and August.
It is this no man’s land at Sunderland that most threatens their hopes of improvement. Until Allardyce’s situation is resolved, nothing else moves. Sunderland are one of only two Premier League teams yet to sign a player this summer, and the other (Stoke City) have far less surgery to conduct on their squad. Talk in June of Edin Dzeko and Diafra Sakho has been silenced. Davide Santon came close, but the deal collapsed. ‘You’re spoiling us with that unwanted Serie A left-back, Mr Ambassador!’
Worse still is the uncertainty surrounding Yann M’Vila, the popular central midfielder whose loan ended in May. M’Vila took to social media to state his desire to stay at Sunderland, a view shared by supporters, but the silence is deafening. A club is effectively closed for useful business. Sunderland’s first-team squad currently consists of 20 players, only six of whom are defenders. The season starts in 24 days.
For so long Sunderland have been the artists of their own downfall, a club doomed to repeatedly make the same mistakes. At the point that they finally thought they had finally learnt their lesson, one of the bigger boys has stepped in to spoil the fun. Twenty-two days after Roy Hodgson paid the price for England’s failure, Sunderland have suffered for far longer than most.