Chris Young: Sunderland's false economy letting down the mainstay players again
Absolutely shocking, was the conclusion of the Sunderland fan sitting across the aisle on the flight to California.
Even thousands of miles away from Wearside, there is no escape from this annual feeling of utter disenchantment at Sunderland’s peerless ability to regress.
Every year, Sunderland’s escape from certain Armageddon injects a buoyant feel-good factor that ‘this time everything will be different’, and, every year, that is swiftly replaced by a dark mood consisting of equal parts anger and nausea.
Sunderland fans are right to be experiencing those emotions ahead of Saturday’s trip to Southampton, where David Moyes’s men must triumph to avoid a sixth successive August without a win to their names.
Tonight’s League Cup encounter may simply be an exercise in avoiding further embarrassment.
But there should be a touch of sympathy for those main-stays in the Sunderland dressing room too.
These players have AGAIN been let down by their employers, just as the club yet AGAIN appeared to be turning the corner.
Once again the back-bone of a solid side holding the promise of mid-table security has crumbled.
It’s been the same for years.
Back in 2010-11, Sunderland were a decent outside bet for a European place with a striking quartet of Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan, Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell, hot prospects such as Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet, plus seasoned Premier League hands like Bolo Zenden, Lee Cattermole and Phil Bardsley.
What happened? All four frontmen, along with Henderson and Zenden, disappeared, and the slow plummet down the pecking order began.
It’s been similar even when Sunderland have been a side of lesser lights and the foundations for a brighter era have collapsed.
Within months of Gus Poyet completing the ‘Great Escape’ in 2014, Bardsley, Jack Colback, Marcos Alonso, Fabio Borini and Ki Sung-Yueng – all main-stays of the team – were plying their trade elsewhere.
That doesn’t just present a difficulty in replacing those players. It dampens the sense of togetherness, achievement and spirit which has developed from prevailing in a relegation battle.
Cattermole – who genuinely thought brighter skies were on the horizon this summer – touched on it in an interview towards the end of last season.
He spoke of how powerful the team spirit can be from going through such a pressurised ordeal, and how some players – even if they are not top-class – must be kept around the place so the whole club benefits from that momentum.
Just look at Leicester. They kept all the side which somehow escaped the drop in 2015 and complemented them with – N’Golo Kante, Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs.
Of the Sunderland side which faced Middlesbrough on Sunday, only three were in Sam Allardyce’s first-choice XI three-and-a-half months ago.
In part, that is down to circumstances. Moyes has been unfortunate to lose Cattermole, Borini and Jan Kirchhoff to injury, plus the personal situation which forced him to acquiesce to Younes Kaboul’s desire to return to London.
But if Sunderland had stuck their hands in their pockets, they could easily have Yann M’Vila and DeAndre Yedlin playing in red and white right now.
Yedlin might not be brilliant, but the American international went through something special last May.
And although his conduct has been reprehensible, could Kone – one of eight players to approach Allardyce over a new contract at the end of last season – have feasibly been tied down to fresh terms? Probably.
Sunderland didn’t need wholesale surgery at the end of last season. They only needed five new signings – two of which could have been M’Vila and Yedlin – to remain on a positive footing.
Instead, they still require another four fresh faces with a week of the window remaining after already bringing in four new players so far this summer.
It’s clear there is no money at the club. That’s the ramifications of making £20million annual losses, which the new television deal will only just prompt Sunderland to break even.
But the scrimping and saving on players who don’t necessarily improve the starting XI is ultimately just false economy.
The continuity has gone and Sunderland are back to starting a new team from the embers of a previous one.
Sunderland only lost once in the final 12 games of last season because Allardyce had created a solid spine, where everyone knew their jobs and proved to be doggedly difficult to break down.
Little could be done to prevent Cristhian Stuani’s marvellous opener last weekend, but would Middlesbrough have been able to so comfortably waltz through Sunderland’s defence for their second if the game had taken place in April?
Put a solid side together, where players are well-versed in each other’s game, and the energy of youngsters such as Lynden Gooch will be able to shine through.
Without one, another scratch side faces the ludicrous task of building relationships when the starter’s gun is already a distant sound.