Phil Smith: Chelsea star lifting Premier League trophy will be firm reminder of Sunderland’s recruitment failures

Chelsea's Marcos Alonso celebrates scoring.
Chelsea's Marcos Alonso celebrates scoring.
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It will be the second time in three years that Sunderland have been the slightly awkward guest at Chelsea’s title party.

Last time they were at least able to join in the festivities somewhat, buoyant after Dick Advocaat had sealed their safety, in an eery coincidence, at the Emirates just days beforehand.

On Sunday there will nothing to celebrate, though there may well be a carnival feel to the away end as they bid adieu to the Premier League.

Tuesday night saw a respectful reception at the final whistle for the players as they applauded the away end, their vast improved effort recognised by the travelling support.

It had been a far cry from the understandably hostile atmosphere days earlier, a shameful capitulation to Swansea meaning the best ovation from the home support was not for their own players, but former loanee Ki Sung-Yueng.

There may well be a similar sight at Stamford Bridge, where Marcos Alonso will no doubt receiving a stirring ovation.

The Spaniard arrived late than Ki that season but right from his debut, the semi-final first leg win over Manchester United, he added a clear quality and composure to a left-back position that had been a problem on Wearside for seasons.

That summer a permanent switch looked a certainty, a significant but reasonable fee on the table.

Sunderland looked elsewhere, Jack Rodwell and Patrick van Aanholt joining the club and eating up a major portion of Sunderland’s transfer budget.

Reductive though it may, so much of Sunderland’s abject recruitment can be summed up in the choices of that summer.

Alonso certainly did not have van Aanholt’s raw pace, an asset that did serve Sunderland well in attack. The contrast between the two, however, quickly became apparent as far, far greater than the £3 million or so Sunderland saved opting for the latter.

Hindsight is a fine thing, and despite his performances few would have had Alonso down as an elite level wing-back.

What was abundantly clear nevertheless was his mentality, maturity, intelligence and excellent reading of the game. On all four levels his replacement was found wanting.

There is no greater testament to Alonso’s excellence that despite his lack of speed, he has seamlessly and instantly become a regular for one of the world’s most demanding tactical coaches.

Whether he would have reached that level on Wearside, rather than in an excellent Fiorentina side, is up for debate. What is certain is that the Black Cats would have been far more resilient and consistent with the 26-year-old in their side.

Regrets from the last ten years are many, this merely one of a great number.

It will be a pleasure to Alonso lift the Premier League trophy, but it will be galling too. Another wretched recruitment decision.