Sunderland AFC is approaching a crossroads in its history with a major summer overhaul on the cards
Sunderland AFC is rapidly approaching arguably one of the biggest crossroads in the club's history.
The club has been a member of the Premier League for a decade, but come August, the Black Cats will be playing Championship football unless there is a great escape of epic proportions.
Costly defeats to Watford and Leicester City in the space of four days – two games under-fire manager David Moyes had earmarked to pick up points – coupled with results elsewhere sees Sunderland 10 points adrift with eight games to go.
Not impossible – victory over Manchester United is a must on Sunday if they are to kick-start a City’s fading hopes – but the club’s luck seems to have finally run out.
It leaves the club facing a major summer of upheaval and overhaul, although in truth it is clear that is needed even if they do pull off a miracle escape.
This is the fifth straight season Sunderland have flirted dangerously with the drop. Patience has worn very thin on Wearside.
Should the worst happen and the club be relegated to the second tier for the first time in 10-years then the decisions this summer will dictate the future of the club for the next 10 years.
With mounting debt, will the finances be there to mount a promotion push? Will Ellis Short still be in charge or will the club be under new ownership? Which players will need to be sold to help balance the books?
The 2016-17 campaign has been a remarkably miserable one from a Sunderland point of view. Putting the seemingly endless off-field problems to one side for a moment, on the pitch, results have been appalling.
Fans have had just five league wins in eight months to cheer. Twenty defeats in the 30 games played so far. 20. Incredible. With just 24 goals to celebrate all season too.
Injuries have crippled Sunderland at key points of the season but a points tally of 20 from 30 games is still well below par, especially when you consider Sunderland have one of the best goalkeepers in Jordan Pickford and strikers in Jermain Defoe in the league.
No blame can be attached to those two. And whichever league Sunderland are playing in, the chances of either staying would seem remote.
Pickford is a Washington lad, he loves the club he grew up supporting. It was a dream of his to become Sunderland’s number one.
But bigger clubs are circling with plenty of interest in the England Under-21 international, surely destined to be number one for his country too one day.
Defoe, we know, has a clause which allows the 34-year-old to move for free should the worst happen and the club be relegated.
Nobody could begrudge him a move given all he has done in his two-and-a-bit-years on Wearside. Could Sunderland keep hold of him even if they stayed up?
Sunderland would command a big fee for Pickford, they would also hope to attract big money for Lamine Kone too despite his dip in form.
Kone was a powerhouse when he arrived from Lorient. His performances this season haven’t matched that level but there will be plenty of interest in him. Elsewhere, Sunderland have several players up for grabs on a free this summer, should they not be offered new deals.
Skipper John O’Shea, Seb Larsson, Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar, Joleon Lescott, Jan Kirchhoff and George Honeyman are all in the final months of their current deals.
Rightly, the club are not in any negotiations over possible new deals until their fate is known. It remains to be seen which are offered deals and whether they would stay. Meanwhile, loanees Javier Manquillo will return to Atletico Madrid, Jason Denayer to Manchester City and Adnan Januzaj to Manchester United.
Other players may also agitate for a move, those wanting to stay in the top flight or move abroad. Given how little Moyes has used him it would be no surprise to see Wahbi Khazri depart. Sunderland will need the cash.
Jeremain Lens, out on loan, will move too. And there will be decisions to make over the likes of Vito Mannone, Didier Ndong, Fabio Borini and Jack Rodwell.
A core group will remain but a major summer overhaul is inevitable. And the decisions at the top will shape the future of the club for a decade to come.