David Moyes admits the situation behind the scenes at Sunderland this season has been more difficult than anything he has experienced in his managerial career.
The Black Cats boss is preparing to overhaul the squad following a wretched season in which his side have managed to win just six league games, and been relegated out of the Premier League in bottom spot.
Moyes joined the club in late July, just a matter of weeks before the season began, following the departure of Sam Allardyce.
A difficult start to the campaign was compounded by the departure of influential centre-back Younes Kaboul and a transfer request handed in by fellow defender Lamine Kone.
Despite an upturn in form in November and December, Sunderland managed just two post-Christmas wins, and one of those came after the confirmation of relegation.
Only last month, striker Fabio Borini said, after a 2-2 draw with West Ham, that the dressing room had not been as ‘united’ as in previous seasons.
Moyes has regularly hinted at difficult situations, but he believes that losing games has been the fundamental issue.
Ahead of tomorrow’s final match of the season at Chelsea (3pm kick-off), the Scot said: “It has been more difficult than anything I’ve ever experienced at any other club and any other season, but I do think that comes from losing.
“When you’re losing, nobody is happy, all small things are looked at and discussed, but when you’re winning you shove them under the carpet and move on.”
After a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on the opening day, Sunderland fell to a deflating home loss to Middlesbrough, after which Moyes conceded that Sunderland would be in a relegation battle.
The Black Cats boss has defended those remarks despite fierce criticism throughout the campaign and marks that period as the lowest point of the season.
He said: “The second game of the season against Middlesbrough, I had a couple of moments in private before the game, things that I’d seen and heard which made me think things weren’t good.
“There’s been lots of things in the the journey that you wish had been better.”
Moyes again reiterated his view that recruitment issues have been central to the team’s failings this season.
Sunderland started the season with a threadbare side, Donald Love making his debut at right-back against City and John O’Shea having to fill in at defensive midfield.
He said: “It was an eye opener when I saw the squad, what we had available.
“If you look at our team against Manchester City on the opening day of the season, what we had and could choose from, it was a clear indication we were short.
“To start the season that way, when you’ve been around the bottom for three or four years, you can’t do it.
“It has been an incredibly tough season, right from the start.
“I think we made it known right from the off that we felt our squad would be short, we’d be having difficulties this year.
“The lateness of the start, even before I came in Sam hadn’t brought it any players, we had a short period to do it and we didn’t then make any real significant signings in January, we made a profit.
“All year we’ve maybe just been a little bit behind it.”