SI­MON’S DONE HARD YRADS BUT TOUGH­EST TASK AWAITS!

Pro­mo­tion ex­pert Grayson bids to put heart and soul back into chaotic Sun­der­land

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW - By Chris Dunlavy

LIMBS still aching from a gru­elling 145-mile cy­cle to Am­s­ter­dam, Si­mon Grayson took a call from Jeff Stelling.

The Soc­cer Satur­day pre­sen­ter was in the midst of his an­nual March for Men char­ity walk, in aid of Prostate Can­cer UK, and wanted to know if Grayson fan­cied join­ing him on a leg through North York­shire. The 47-year-old agreed – and swiftly re­gret­ted it.

“It was hell,” ad­mits the former Le­ices­ter de­fender, who tramped from Ripon to Bedale in June, just three days af­ter re­turn­ing from the Netherlands.

“I’d just done a hun­dred-odd miles on the bike and thought ‘What’s an­other 24?’. But bikes I’ve trained for. I wasn’t used to walk­ing that far or for that length of time.

“How Jeff man­ages 15 of them in a row I’ll never know. His body must get used to it, but that was tough, far harder than the ride. It’s prob­a­bly the hard­est thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Ideal prepa­ra­tion, then, for a stint as Sun­der­land man­ager. Grayson, a veteran of four EFL pro­mo­tions, in­sists his eyes were wide open when he ac­cepted the post in late June.

They must be on stalks now af­ter the events of the last seven days. An em­bar­rass­ing 5-0 de­feat at home to Celtic demon­strated all of the brit­tle­ness and frailty that turned Sun­der­land into a Premier League punch­bag last term.

Clear-out

Hours later, mid­fielder Dar­ron Gib­son ex­posed schisms in the dress­ing room, drunk­enly telling sup­port­ers that their team were s*** and that too many play­ers “didn’t f ****** care”.

BBC pun­dit Chris Sut­ton has de­scribed the club as a cesspit and says a to­tal clear-out is re­quired. To most fans, that was ob­vi­ous long be­fore April’s craven rel­e­ga­tion. Yet Sun­der­land are flat broke. In May, the ac­counts for the year to July 2016 showed a £137m debt, the 11th high­est in Euro­pean foot­ball.

Of that to­tal, £68m is owed to owner El­lis Short.

Hav­ing failed to find a buyer over the sum­mer, the Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire is now un­will­ing to sink fur­ther funds into the club.

David Moyes de­cided a bud­get re­build was beyond him and bailed out. Now, Grayson must at­tempt to glue the shat­tered rem­nants of this fa­mous club back to­gether.

“I knew what I was get­ting into when I ac­cepted the job,” in­sists Grayson, who guided Pre­ston to 11th in the Cham­pi­onship last sea­son.

“There are se­ri­ous is­sues here and they were never go­ing to be fixed in a few weeks or months.

“This club has been suf­fer­ing for many years. They’ve gam­bled to stay in the Premier League, bought the wrong kind of play­ers and it hasn’t worked.

“That’s why the club are in so much debt. It’s been badly mis­man­aged in terms of the money that has gone out.

“What we’ve got to try to do is get some sta­bil­ity back. On the field, that’s my job.

“But a lot of peo­ple need to do a lot of work be­hind the scenes to get this club into some sort of or­der. “It’s been in a bad, bad state.” Gib­son lam­basted a num­ber of play­ers in his post-Celtic rant, among them Lamine Kone, Jere­main Lens and Wahbi Khazri. Grayson says the Ir­ish­man has been “dealt with”, but the truth in­her­ent in his sen­ti­ments is born out by the home­grown na­ture of Grayson’s sign­ings, Pre­ston winger Ai­den McGeady, Bury striker James Vaughan and Black­burn keeper Ja­son Steele. “For­get the com­ments,” says Grayson. “Re­gard­less of what any­one says or thinks, I’ve al­ways said the play­ers I want are Bri­tish-based and know the Cham­pi­onship.

“Ja­son Steele has played 200 games in the Cham­pi­onship. James Vaughan has played for me be­fore. So has Ai­dan McGeady.

“It’s al­ways been my in­tent to sign peo­ple who know the league and aren’t here for the money – as a lot of play­ers have been over a num­ber of years at Sun­der­land. They’re here to play for the shirt, to rep­re­sent the fans. That’s some­thing that has sadly been miss­ing for a long time here.”

More will fol­low – pri­mar­ily a front-line striker – but Grayson is can­did about the class of player Sun­der­land can cur­rently af­ford.

“From day one, I said we’d have a re­al­is­tic bud­get,” he says. “By that, I mean it’s not go­ing to be near the top and it’s not at the bot­tom.

“But the days of spend­ing £10m on play­ers are a long way off. We’ve brought in six play­ers this sum­mer and spent just over £1m.

“That tells you where we are. We have to look at frees, at the loan mar­ket, at lesser fig­ures than we have in the past.”

Re­al­is­tic

Nor will he see any of the £30m Sun­der­land trousered from the sale of goal­keeper Jor­dan Pick­ford to Ever­ton.

“I’ve heard peo­ple com­pare us to New­cas­tle last sea­son, but it comes

what state the club is in,” he says.

"They sold a few play­ers, got £50m in and al­lowed Rafa Ben­itez to rein­vest the money. We sold play­ers but weren't in a po­si­tion to spend it. That's the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two clubs at this mo­ment in time.

"They could fo­cus purely on pro­mo­tion. The re­al­ity here is that, in the short-term, we have to look af­ter this club fi­nan­cially. Some­where down the line, we’ll look to re­dress the bal­ance.”

Few man­agers know the Cham­pi­onship-like Grayson. And un­like the ma­jor­ity of his pre­de­ces­sors at the Sta­dium of Light, he also un­der­stands the club.

"My mum and dad live in Bedale, which is about 60 min­utes from Sun­der­land,” he ex­plains. “I grew up round there, so I’ve al­ways known the area quite well.

“And my brother, Paul, is over­see­ing all the cricket at Durham Univer­sity now. We’ve both ba­si­cally grav­i­tated back to­wards home!

“One of my best friends is a teacher who works with my dad at a school.

He’s a mas­sive Sun­der­land fan, as are a few of my mates.

They’re all de­lighted I’ve got the job. I think they’re ex­pect­ing free tick­ets and in­side in­for­ma­tion but they’re get­ting nei­ther! Re­mem­ber, I man­aged Leeds when I was 38-39, so I know what it means to sup­port­ers in a one-club city.

“They’re a work­ing-class base who de­mand en­deav­our and de­sire as a min­i­mum. If the play­ers show that, then they’ll not go far wrong.

“I’ve said to each and ev­ery player that what­ever went wrong in the past is con­signed to the his­tory books. All of them will be judged by what we do now, this sea­son.

“But who­ever is here has to earn their money by giv­ing a lit­tle bit of their heart and soul back to the club. That is long over­due.”

PICS: Ac­tion Im­ages

HAPPY DAYS: Si­mon Grayson is drenched in cham­pagne af­ter help­ing former club Pre­ston to pro­mo­tion INSET: In his cy­cling at­tire and pitch­side with new club Sun­der­land BE­LOW: Jeff Stelling, of Soc­cer Satur­day

INS AND OUT: From top, Jor­dan Pick­ford, now with Ever­ton, Ja­son Steele, Ai­den McGeady and James Vaughan LEFT: Dar­ron Gib­son, who was ‘dealt with’ af­ter his out­burst

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