Watching Sunderland in plight should be a warning to all those sides that think they are too good to go down.
By Matty Lawrence
That accusation can be leveled at sides such as West Ham Utd and Southampton who flirted with relegation, but couldn’t quite seal the deal, and Stoke and Swansea who had the trap door opened and a Huddersfield FC size 10 boot firmly implanted upon their behind on their way out of the EPL. Could one of those two teams “do a Sunderland?
”Sunderland, a massive, former, power house from the North East of England, who have had back-to-back relegations and find themselves mired in the rigours of League One when the season trots back around again in a few months. There have been prior warnings in the last couple of decades: Manchester City, our record-breaking champions of the 2017-18 season, was in third tier hell just a couple of decades ago. Add to City, European Cup winners Nottingham Forest and top tier winning Leeds United and you have quite a triumvirate of clubs who languished in League One not so long ago.
So, why did Sunderland think they would be any different? Bad ownership, bad management and a whole host of bad players led Sunderland Football Club down the garden path of relegation and into the quagmire of ties against the likes of Fleetwood Town and Accrington Stanley.
Sunderland have parted company with numerous managers in the last few seasons and Chris Coleman was the most recent to go when he failed to stave off relegation. Ellis Short, the American owner, has engineered a massive downturn in fortunes for the football club since taking over in 2008 and the incoming consortium have a massive task on their hands. Loyal indigenous fans demand EPL football as a bare minimum and that is at least two seasons away. The best they can hope for is Premier League football in the 2020-21 season, way off on the footballing horizon.
Short’s neglect of Sunderland AFC mirrors the country’s neglect of the North-East. The economic plight of the North-East of England is a fitting metaphor for the downward spiral of SAFC and it’s going to take more than a person at the helm with a weak underbelly and a lack of a discernible plan to drag either out of the clutches of the repo man. Let’s dial it back a notch and at least make a football comparison with the club: Sunderland AFC is Jack Rodwell and, boy, have we heard a lot about Rodwell, but rarely in relation to the sport itself.
A Rod (well) For Their Own Back
For those that don’t know, Rodwell was a precocious talent when he made his debut in the top flight with Everton just over a decade ago – doesn’t time fly when clubs are continually airlifting cash into your bank account? Jack Rodwell had only just begun his professional career at Everton when his (and his agents) head got turned by the newly-monied Manchester City FC in August 2012.
City paid a whopping £12m to Everton for the young prodigy and the rest should have been history. Unfortunately, the only thing that was history up to this point was Rodwell’s career. Pretty much two years after their purchase and just a handful of EPL starts later and Rodwell had been flogged (in all senses of the word) on to Sunderland for £2m, plus exorbitant wages, less than they paid to Sunderland.
And here is where the problem begins for Sunderland AFC and ends for Rodwell and his bank manager. Rodwell signed a lucrative £70,000.00, five-year contract, so reports go. Sunderland, in their haste to get their man, forgot to insert any relegation clauses into Rodwell’s contract. Last season, Rodwell was still receiving that tidy sum while playing Championship football. More to the point, I guess, was Rodwell was receiving that sum to NOT play Championship football.
The afore-mentioned Coleman and Rodwell were at loggerheads for the final few months of the season: Rodwell wanted to leave because he wasn’t playing, so Sunderland agreed to rip up his contract, but no club in their right mind would take over Rodwell’s vastly inflated £70K a week wages. There was a stand-off. In this situation, there is only one winner, the player. (We have seen it previously with Winston Bogarde at Chelsea who sat on a reported four-year, £45K a week salary while rarely kicking a ball in anger).
There is nothing that Sunderland could do to crowbar THEIR player out of the door. Pay up his full contract, or the player is, 99% of the time, going to hunker down. You can make the player train with “the kids,” or treat him deplorably, but, ultimately, the player is the one laughing all the way to the bank.
Let’s be honest, who can blame him, or any other player in a similar situation. I have read and heard numerous fans and staff at Sunderland AFC bemoaning the player and his lack of respect for the club. Well, where is the respect of the club towards the contract that I’m pretty sure Rodwell didn’t force them to draw up.
They instigated the contract and he dutifully signed it. Jack Rodwell didn’t force Ellis Short to run the club on a shoestring in the last few seasons. Rodwell didn’t force Short to employ the plethora of dreadful managers, or hold a gun to his head while the club brought in numerous overpaid prima-donnas at a whim. And Rodwell certainly didn’t force Short to pull his finances in the latter stages of his reign and bring the club into the depths of the third tier of the English football pyramid.
Fans too moan and shout (rightfully so) at escalating ticket prices and merchandise, but want Rodwell to give up his money. If they won’t, why should he? All of their ire should be directed at the fool who placed the contract in front of Rodwell. Jack Rodwell should be applauded for standing his ground and not giving in to the alleged bullying and mistreatment from staff and the club as a whole. You reap what you sow, and it will be a good number of years before Sunderland AFC get a bumper crop again.