SUMMER IS A CHANCE TO REBOOT - PHIL SMITH
The glorious scenes in the swirling sleet of Burton provided a temporary escape from what has so far been another miserable season.
A familiar second half implosion on Saturday was a brutal reality check.
The hope remains that when Chris Coleman’s contract expires in 2020, he has rebuilt Sunderland’s football operation, overhauled the squad to give it a pacy and youthful glow, as well as making the Black Cats a competitive team in the top tiers of the English leagues.
It will take outstanding management to achieve even a third of that.
For now, it is quite simply a case of surviving.
Much talk persists of ‘deeper problems’ and Simon Grayson became the latest manager to say as much during a recent appearance on the EFL Matters podcast.
He also, however, hinted at a simpler and more accurate explanation of Sunderland’s woes.
The summer business shifted some of the under performing players from the books, but the wages earned by some meant that the club were not able to go far enough.
The squad remains unbalanced, with too many injury prone players and nowhere near enough pace or technical ability.
David Moyes got few things right during his time in charge, but he was absolutely correct to assert that Sunderland needed a more robust squad this season. That plan wasn’t executed.
The incoming transfer business done for the most part compounded, rather than solved, that problem.
Coleman came into this job fully aware that the money would not be available in January to make significant amendments.
He was fully aware, too, that it would not be any easier to off load the higher earners in January than it was last summer.
The short-term brief was always going to be to dip into his contacts book for loans and then attempt to squeeze whatever he can out of the current cohort.
Nothing in his first three games has changed that, the good or the bad.
Next summer, money will still be tight, with parachute payments dropping and no prize assets like Jordan Pickford to sell in order to soften the blow.
Coleman has been assured, however, that there will be more wriggle room and it is at that point that he will hope to make more significant changes.
There will be some incoming transfer money, with Fabio Borini and Jeremain Lens making their loan switches permanent, while a full season of first team football in Ligue 1 should mean the Black Cats can shift Wahbi Khazri and Papy Djilobodji permanently.
They will hope for more permanent outgoings, while Coleman will have a blank canvas in terms of loans.
Crucially, a number of first team players will see their contracts expire, including John O’Shea, Marc Wilson, Billy Jones and Darron Gibson. Coleman may decide between now and then to keep some of those players on, but it could provide an ideal opportunity to change the profile of the squad players perhaps more suited to his long-term vision for the first team.
There are no guarantees and given Sunderland’s woeful recruitment record of late, many will be sceptical that Coleman will be given the backing he needs.
That, however, is some way down the line.
For now, it as all about survival and stopping the slide.