The extraordinary success of Norwich City and Sheffield United has this lesson and challenge for Sunderland and others

Chris Wilde has overseen a remarkable rise up the divisions
Chris Wilde has overseen a remarkable rise up the divisions
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Ignore the noise.

Stuart Webber, Norwich City’s Sporting Director, has that on a sign in his office.

This weekend, the Canaries will compete with Sheffield United for the Championship title.

Both have already secured their Premier League status for next season.

That kind of accolade might seem a long a way off for Sunderland at the moment but they, and just about every other club outside the top tier, should take a great amount of heart from what Daniel Farke and Chris Wilder have achieved.

For two sides to win automatic promotion without any parachute payment is remarkable and a timely reminder that money only matters if you spend it right.

That Sunderland were relegated last year with a wage bill approaching £50million is another.

What makes the race for promotion in the second tier all the more interesting this year is that the three sides setting the pace have taken radically different paths.

Leeds United have invested realtively heavily but not in players or wages, but in an elite coach and the expensive staff that comes with him.

Norwich are not exactly a rags to riches tale given that they have had two spells in the Premier League relatively recently, but the way they adjusted to the end of their parachute payments is nothing short of inspirational.

A raft of talented youngsters from their academy have broken through and excelled.

Others, such as the Murphy twins and James Maddison, have been sold for a small fortune to help balance the books.

Under Webber and Farke, the lower-profile leagues across Europe have been mined for undervalued talent.

Selling star local product Maddison for £20million may have stung, but replacing him with the magnificent Emiliano Buendia for less than a tenth of that had proved to be a moment of genius.

The key to their success was last season, however, which brings us back to that sign adorning Webber’s wall.

Sunderland fans will remember that remarkable early-season game when the Black Cats won 3-1 thanks to a talismanic performance from Aiden McGeady.

Norwich controlled the ball for the vast majority of the game, but did little with and made some routine defensive errors.

It was that way for much of the season in which Farke and Webber were regularly questioned.

Webber ignored the noise and has seen that faith repaid in some fashion. He has now overseen two separate promotion campaigns without parachute money.

Sheffield United have gone a different route entirely but with equally impressive results.

Chris Wilder has had to battle against off-field uncertainty at times, his squad made up entirely of British and Irish players.

The core of the squad remains very similar to the side that stormed League One two campaigns ago, supplemented by proven Championship campaigners in Oliver Norwood, David McGoldrick and former Black Cats academy product John Egan.

An exceptional team spirit and an eye-catching 3-5-2 system have seen them produce one of the best campaigns in the club’s history.

Two very different paths but both underline a key message.

The financial big-hitters can be beaten but it takes a coherent strategy, time and absolute conviction. It’s worth reflecting on, whether or not Sunderland get over the line this season.

They have one more reduced payment from the Premier League this season that will be vital however the play-off campaign ends.

Long term, however, they simply have to plan for life without that help.

Stewart Donald has often spoken of weighing up how the Black Cats could compete in the second tier, the inference often that outside investment could be crucial. That is probably true, but it is about far more than that.

Sunderland will have to box clever and understandably given so much upheaval over the last year, they are yet to build the kind of identity or structure that has powered Norwich and Sheffield United this season.

It’s something that Jack Ross knows better than anybody, and he would relish a full summer to get started.