The Stadium of Light side’s decade-plus stay in the Premier League is over, squashed by a series of insipid results in a last-place season.
The latest loss was Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Bournemouth, one in which the Black Cats battled but couldn’t find the necessary moments that provide points.
[ PL PREVIEW: Watford vs. Liverpool ]
It’s a long road back for Sunderland, one of three teams who will not be considered instant favorites to return to the top flight. Here’s three distinct parts of a path back to the top for the Black Cats. It could take a while.
1) Embrace the fate… — First and foremost, Sunderland needs to accept that its failure was all its own doing. This wasn’t “unlucky”. The Black Cats’ five wins came against teams that hardly lit the league on fire this season: Hull City, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Leicester City, and Watford. They have a minus-34 goal differential, are one of three teams to allow 60-plus goals and have scored a joint-lowest 26. Bad.
2) …And that it’s bigger than Moyes, Big Sam, almost any manager — It’s cute to point to the “heroics” of former managers Sam Allardyce, Paolo Di Canio, or Gus Poyet, but those bosses had more to work with than David Moyes did in this season.
You have to go 65 players to reach Sunderland’s top player through advanced stats site WhoScored, and 39 on Squawka. The former is Jordan Pickford, a player who will be in significant demand as an England U-21 player. The latter is a 34-year-old striker Jermain Defoe, and his rating is based on a hot start to the season (Defoe didn’t score following a brace on Feb. 4, a run that include nine goalless matches for his side).
Both seem gone, and other strong players seem close behind: Papy Djilobodji, Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone, and Didier N’Dong will have suitors, and represent some of the only strong buys in recent years. Will any consider staying?
And Patrick Van Aanholt isn’t coming through that door, while Adnan Januzaj, Jason Denayer, Seb Larsson, and Jan Kirchhoff are out of contract. The Black Cats are going to have to find a way to attract talent to the Northeast when London is the center of football.
3) Follow your neighbors – Now here’s where David Moyes, or whoever, has to convince Ellis Short to open his pocketbook. Newcastle United did it last summer with Rafa Benitez, and pretty much cruised to promotion at its first chance.
Newcastle had better resources to exploit in selling Giorginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, and Andros Townsend to the tune of nearly $90 million, and did it along with the feat of convincing notorious bottom-liner Mike Ashley to reinvest almost all of it to get PL somewhat outcasts Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, DeAndre Yedlin, Ciaran Clark, and Isaac Hayden, who have shined in the promotion bid (A clever loan for Christian Atsu didn’t hurt).
Sunderland doesn’t have any elite young attacking talents and will only make so much money off Khazri, Djilobodji, Defoe, and Kone. And Moyes’ embarrassing “slap” comments make it harder to expect enthusiasm if Sunderland keeps him on board.
But let’s assume there isn’t a better candidate than Moyes to guide the ship — and Sunderland hasn’t had a wealth of options in hiring its bosses at Premier League level — it makes sense to give him and his staff the chance to bring in players who are not his former also-rans at Everton.
Completely speculating, but if Sunderland finds its Ritchie and Gayle, maybe it can buck the trend. It wasn’t Newcastle alone, as there’s a decent standard of finding players from the upper levels to get there: Glenn Murray helped Brighton this year, and Joey Barton and Michael Keane at Burnley in 2016.