Chris Young: Sunderland now need quality, not quantity, in the transfer market
These Houdini impersonators have once more escaped the padlocks propelling them towards the Championship ... the trouble is we all know what happens next.
By now, the pattern is old hat.
Sunderland manage to remain in the Premier League by withdrawing from the jaws of relegation, inject a groundswell of optimism which persists throughout the summer and then burst the bubble during the first fortnight of the following season.
The cycle persists, no matter the quantity of warnings, statistics or pledges that ‘things will be different’ next year.
Will it indeed be any different now (deep breath)?
It would be brave to make any bold predictions, particularly when there is a cloud of uncertainty over the transfer kitty and whether Sunderland can address their ludicrous wage bill.
Sam Allardyce, himself, will want some clear indications over the latter two issues before he continues his mission to put the club on a more stable footing.
But with Allardyce at the helm, Sunderland have the best possible chance of FINALLY achieving that long-held objective of panic-free Premier League respectability.
This year’s survival act hasn’t been a flash-in-the-pan. It’s been four months of encouraging, consistent progress which has provided plenty of evidence that Sunderland are on an upward curve and Allardyce can end the club’s habit of transfer blunders.
Certainly, a few more in the same mould as Allardyce’s January signings of Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff, and Sunderland will be in a far healthier place come August.
Sunderland don’t need a cast of thousands this summer, certainly nothing compared to the big supermarket sweeps of the past three close seasons when there has been an element of throwing buckets of mud at the wall and seeing how much sticks.
Signing Yann M’Vila on a permanent basis - particularly when he is so keen to stay at Sunderland - has to be a priority, albeit the mega money contract the Frenchman signed at parent club Ruben Kazan may prove to be a negotiation nightmare.
But after that, Sunderland simply need to upgrade those who depart and there are obvious players heading to the exits - loanees Ola Toivonen, Dame N’Doye and (probably) DeAndre Yedlin, out-of-contract Wes Brown and out-of-favour Jeremain Lens.
If Allardyce can bring suitably better replacements for those five, then Sunderland already have the foundations of a decent side to build around after just four Premier League defeats since the turn of the year.
However, it’s never that simple at Sunderland.
There are two major issues.
The first is the club’s £70million wage bill, albeit the drain has been eased by Adam Johnson’s downfall and will be further reduced by the exits of out-of-contract pair (and substantial earners) Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham next month.
Despite those exits, out-of-favour loanees Will Buckley, Liam Bridcutt, Adam Matthews, Santiago Vergini, Emanuele Giaccherini, Jordi Gomez and Charis Mavrias are all theoretically due to return to the Stadium of Light this summer. Collectively, their salaries aren’t too far short of £200,000 a week.
Some of those - notably Vergini and Giaccherini - are likely to follow Sebastian Coates’ lead and return to their temporary employers, but the likelihood is that Allardyce will face that draining situation of finding new homes for the others.
The other big problem is whether the money allocated by Ellis Short will be sufficient for Allardyce to bring in players of appropriate quality.
That was very publicly an issue for Dick Advocaat last summer and Gus Poyet 12 months earlier.
Short will at least be boosted by an extra £30m or so in television money, albeit that injection of cash would immediately wipe out the club’s annual debts and bring them back into the black.
But there will remain a reliance on the Sunderland owner to finance some astute spending that can end this painful pattern. Will he do so?
By now, he knows full well what to expect if the Black Cats again try to do things on the cheap.