Sunderland in 2017: Buckle up for another SAFC rollercoaster
A new year brings with it fresh hope of a brighter future.
Or at least, that’s what Sunderland fans will be hoping and wishing for heading into 2017.
The Black Cats find themselves in an all-too familiar position at the turn of the year, battling relegation and scrapping for their lives to maintain their place at the top table.
2016 was an eventful 12 months, to say the least.
Big Sam helped steer the club to safety against all the odds before heading off to the bright lights of Wembley when England came calling in the summer, albeit briefly.
David Moyes took charge in the summer and there was fresh hope of a new era at Sunderland. Sadly, limited transfer funds meant the quality needed to improve the squad didn’t arrive, with a lot of deals done late in the day.
Another season of strife was on the cards and so it has proved.
The January transfer window won’t offer much help either, unlike Allardyce 12 months ago, Moyes will have to wheel and deal in order to improve the squad with funds tight and the wage bill almost at the limit.
And that’s with a mounting injury list plus key players away at the Africa Cup of Nations to contend with.
If Sunderland are to stay up this season, they will certainly have done it the hard way after a 10-game winless streak to kick off the campaign.
Moyes is determined, though, to make a success of his time at Sunderland.
It is, without doubt, one of – if not THE – toughest challenges he has faced in his management career.
Just don’t bet against him and the Sunderland squad pulling it off. They have proved on several occasions they have the necessary fight and desire to stay up. They just need a touch of added quality.
Getting some of the injured players back is key as is Moyes somehow finding some wiggle room to manoeuvre in the transfer market.
That may mean selling one of the club’s big assets, with Lamine Kone the leading candidate, with the likes of Crystal Palace and West Ham United circling round him still.
If Sunderland could get anywhere near the reported £25million release fee in his contract, then that would represent a very solid piece of business considering he arrived this time last year for a fraction of that.
Time will tell whether Sunderland go down that route, but it is one fans must be braced for.
2017 could prove a pivotal year in Sunderland’s history – on and off the pitch.
What can fans expect? If the past six months is anything to go by, they should probably brace themselves for short-term pain in order to hopefully achieve long-term gain.
What is clear, though, is remaining in the Premier League is key – the absolute priority.
Relegation doesn’t bare thinking about, especially with the club £140million in debt.
But the reality is Sunderland are having to cut their cloth accordingly given the dire financial straits and it has been made crystal clear that the club cannot buy their way out of trouble.
Ellis Short has bankrolled Sunderland since taking charge, pumping more than £200million of his own money in.
But with Short willing to listen to offers for the club, provided they are right for the long-term future of Sunderland, then 2017 could also herald the age of new owners at the Stadium of Light.
Alongside Moyes, Short also appointed a new chief executive, with Martin Bain proving to be a shrewd operator with a keen eye for detail – eager to improve Sunderland on and off the pitch.
Bain, alongside Moyes, is putting his stamp on Sunderland and communicating his plans – and the reality facing the club – to supporters.
That is a very refreshing and welcome change.
Fans can stomach bad news as long as they are kept in the loop. Keeping open that communication channel this year will be important and both Bain and Moyes have been refreshingly honest since arriving on Wearside.
2017 is also a big year for some of the younger players.
The likes of Ethan Robson, Tommy Robson and George Honeyman have been consistent performers at Under-23 level.
Will this be the year some of them break into the first team on a regular basis? Jordan Pickford, Lynden Gooch and Duncan Watmore have proved it is possible.
This would have been a big year for Watmore, having established himself as a regular in the Premier League could he then kick on to the next level?
A season-ending injury means we won’t see him in action again until pre-season.
Watmore will bounce back and it will be interesting to see which – if any – of the next crop prove they too can make the grade. They will certainly get the opportunity under Moyes.
The Scot endured a tough start at Sunderland but has turned it around with strong leadership and clear signs of improvement.
Can Sunderland ensure 2017 is a year to remember for all the right reasons for a change?
Buckle up, it will be one hell of a ride.