I’ve got a bad back you know, so you’re lucky to have a column this week. At least I think I’ve got a bad back. You’ll have to ask my agent. Anyway, here goes ...
When Sunderland scudded Everton to secure survival in May, it was with a starting XI that if kept together would probably have finished this season in mid-table obscurity. Boring to some, but a welcome stride forward to most.
For the seventh successive game Sam Allardyce named an unchanged side because it was working. There were only two defeats in the final 14 games. The Everton result was not a surprise. Manchester United and Chelsea had also been beaten. Points were taken from Arsenal and Liverpool too.
More importantly, in a vital game at Norwich, a very similar side to Middlesbrough, Sunderland gave a 3-0 battering. The same Sunderland XI would more than likely have done something similar three days ago. Easy to say, but hard to think otherwise.
On Sunday only three of that XI began the first home game of 2016-17.
Sunderland have had a lot of luck since the Everton game; all of it bad. Matters were worsened by the FA’s disgraceful and unnecessary procrastination in employing Allardyce. But how much do they help themselves?
Kirchoff, Cattermole, Larsson, O’Shea, Borini and Jones are injured, as is Lamine Koné: allegedly. But what of the others who served the club so well last season?
With peculiar timing, Younès Kaboul, 30, has gone; sold to direct rivals Watford for £3.5m. Or to put it another way, a third of what Everton paid for Ashley Williams, 32.
Kaboul has left the club in circumstances that have only been explained to us by taxi drivers and people who believe taxi drivers.
As usual, people who buy season tickets have been told nothing officially other than “personal reasons.” It isn’t unwarranted for customers to ask why they are currently paying £500 a pop to watch the under-23s.
We hope all is well for Kaboul and there may be solid reasons for enveloping his move in mystery. As we don’t know the reasons we can’t properly comment. But it’s difficult to imagine how revealing the reasons publicly could make things worse for anyone.
Similarly locked in Kremlin-like concealment is the ongoing inertia over Yann M’Vila’s non-move from Rubin Kazan. If the Russians are asking for truly ridiculous money for a player they don’t want and who can leave on a Bosman in January, then Sunderland may have acted wisely.
But again, we are not given details. What’s the difference in valuation? In a world where Georginio Wijnaldum, an inferior player of the same age, is sold for £25m, we would be most interested to find out.
It should also be remembered that Rubin are far wealthier than Sunderland and unlikely to lose a game of chicken.
What is M’Vila worth – and not just in cash? We can never know how many points would have been wrung from the first two fixtures had he played in them, but it certainly wouldn’t be fewer.
With M’Vila as with Koné, albeit in differing circumstances, Sunderland may have to abandon their principles for their own sake. It’s unpalatable, but the club is not in a strong negotiating position.
Then there is DeAndre Yedlin. I was never a huge admirer, but I have no evidence of a better right-back in the current Sunderland squad.
And why is it so difficult to sign a decent player in that position? A striker perhaps; but a right-back?
In just three months, Sunderland have gone from being a team that no one relished playing against, to one that loses at home, deservedly, to a club that was once closed due to lack of interest.
Their own manager expects nothing more than yet another relegation fight.
So far, so farcical.
Swift and decisive action, as distinct from panic, is required. Perhaps by the end of this week there will be several new arrivals; ones of proven Premier League calibre.
Experience suggests that the best hope lies with bargain buys actually turning out to be bargains. For a change. It is far more of a hope than an expectation.
You can’t get stirred for optimism round here. It wouldn’t be so bad if anything felt new.