Can Sunderland ever really compete when top clubs are spending so much?

Kyle Walker in action against Sunderland.
Kyle Walker in action against Sunderland.
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After turning 40 a year ago, it’s been a gradual slide into “yer da” territory for me.

I’ve felt earth shifting beneath my feet for some time now but the tipping point came when Kyle Walker’s transfer to Manchester City came through and without a soul in the house around me, I let out a cry of ‘£50million for Kyle Walker?’.

It was an instinctive reaction, one that may have been tempered if I had sat down and actually considered the deal - but seeing I was busy that morning, that could wait.

There was a sink full of washing-up that wasn’t going to do itself and I hadn’t done my pre-breakfast sit-ups yet (I can do a thousand now).

I soon realised that I’d fallen into the same trap than befalls many by forming a personal opinion on first impressions and sticking to them. Unmovable in my stance.

I’d seen enough of Kyle Walker when he was loaned out to Sheffield United and QPR six years ago, and in the U21 games I’d seen him play in whilst coming back from injury at Spurs. Making him the most expensive English defender ever at some £50million seemed excessive.

That wasn’t to say I didn’t rate him. There are those who I’ve seen label him ‘rubbish’ but if you can wrestle with the fact and accept no player to play at that level is ever truly that bad, what you have to do is hold them up against the very best in their positions.

Ask yourself if you could see Walker playing for Real Madrid, Barca, Juventus or Bayern Munich - would you say yes?

Alternatively, if Pep was still in charge of Barca or Bayern, would he still sign Kyle Walker?

I’m not sure he would and that perhaps would also give you the answer to what you think of him as a footballer.

Without the ball, Kyle Walker is a magnificent athlete. Physically strong, he overlaps effortlessly, like a balletic ox on a motorbike.

Perhaps I’d overlooked the immense influence Mauricio Pochettino has had in his recent development, but that wasn’t going to sway me.

Right or wrong, I hadn’t committed any kind of crime as some people seemed to assume I had after I’d let my views be known on Twitter.

I usually revel in the idea of thinking differently from any popular opinion - so being shouted down for not having the ‘correct’ opinion is like olive oil off a fish’s back to me.

I also never think that I’m always right, which is a rather helpful stance to take since I rarely am.

Perhaps I was exhibiting some kind of inverted prejudice thinking that Kyle Walker wasn’t as good as a Dani Alves or a Phillipe Lahm because he’s English?

As a player, I often found myself putting Europeans and South Americans up on a pedestal, particularly prior to playing against sides from the continent. It wasn’t that though.

My biggest mistake, was to trying to be rational and asking myself whether the deal represented value for money or not.

Now we know the figures bandied about these days are ludicrous and a player’s worth in transfer fee has become like like buying perishable art. If a club wants a player enough, they will pay enough to get them.

You might say that Manchester City are merely paying market value, but does that apply any more? It isn’t so much about getting value for money, it’s just about getting what you want, whatever the cost.

The transfer fees are meaningless to me. There have always been flops but when you’re shelling out a minimum of £30million on someone who is quite good, then it’s daft.

What last week’s transfer activity spelled out was the gulf that separates the top seven clubs in the Premier League from everyone else.

In the space of a year, I’ve gone from harbouring genuine hopes of a top half finish under Sam Allardyce to looking at last week’s double swoop for under £2million pound and thinking there is no way on earth the club can compete at the very top of the game ever again.

Whether it was unrealistic or not, I always held on to a belief that with the perfect storm of the right manager, the right recruitment and huge investment to back it, that Sunderland could become a force again.

Believing in the impossible is what drives players and clubs on to success but when you look at the deals being struck now, be it Keita to Liverpool for £70million or Neymar to PSG in a deal worth £220million, you need a telescope to see how far away those clubs have pulled away from us.

That gap has always been there but when it’s stretched to this point then you start to give up hope and no matter how little hope there was in the first place, it can feel demoralising.

In a market that has never been so competitive, even the answer of better recruitment and scouting seems forlorn.

The most depressing thing about all this is that I’d still only be worth a bag of balls and a set of bibs, even in today’s climate.