Yet, the Daily Mail's piece yesterday stooped to new depths of incredulity, even for a club now used to negative press. Written by Martin Samuel, one of the country's best paid and foremost football writers, and thus a man with a huge influence in the national media, the article laid waste to Sunderland's rebuilding job this summer. The club were lambasted for their decision to dip into foreign markets, with numerous examples of northeast talent from a bygone era - Paul Gascoigne, Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson are just some of those named - somehow used as justification for Samuel's criticism of the club.
It would not be too difficult to dissect the piece and point out numerous holes in it. For a start, Sunderland are far from the first side to embrace foreign markets; indeed, given their recent penchant for buying British players from relegated sides, they may well be one of the last in the Premier League to do so. Furthermore, the fact Samuel actually lists a number of homegrown players on the club's books serves to weaken his argument, even if they haven't received much first-team game time (as nor have the foreign players he so detests the presence of). Never mind that Adam Johnson, a local lad, was given the captain's armband against Arsenal on Saturday.
However, dissecting one piece does not serve much purpose right now. Sunderland are likely going to be the target of angst-ridden pieces until Di Canio leaves the club or his side are relegated, whichever comes sooner.
Instead, it is perhaps better to consider whether or not Samuel's moan constitutes something of a wider 'agenda' against Sunderland. Rather unsurprisingly, a brief foray into the Daily Mail man's past writings suggests it does.
Perhaps Samuel's memory is fading, but he would do well to have a glimpse at this piece he wrote back in May 2009. To read it today without bursting into fits of laughter is an achievement, given how it relegates the author's most recent piece to the backwaters of rank hypocrisy so overwhelmingly. Countering complaints about the influx of foreign players in the English game, Samuel offers up the following gems:
If an English player is good enough, he will still get in, and if he is not, he should not be there. Crude protectionism is unnecessary. The idea that chairmen wish to continue importing players for tens of millions when a kid could be plucked from the local council estate and made into a star for nothing is utterly ludicrous.
There are so many myths about the English game, so many holes in the argument that we should be embracing some bygone era when every team was stuffed with dazzling local lads and we were kings of the world. How many Englishmen started for Liverpool when they won the European Cup in 2005? Two: Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.
We hear talk of a loss of identity, but the DNA of any club relies on more than the birth certificate of its managers and players.
So what, exactly, has changed? Why does Martin Samuel suddenly believe it is possible for Sunderland to pluck a young lad from the streets of Wearside and transform him into a world-beater? Back in 2009 Samuel was actively encouraging the foreign influx, yet now, he sees fault with Sunderland embracing it?
It is interesting, too, to consider this piece from February 2013, a mere seven months ago. In it, Samuel argues in defence of QPR and Harry Redknapp's hefty spending in this year's winter transfer window. QPR, struggling at the bottom of the league, are defended for opening the chequebook and signing foreign stars such as Chris Samba and Loic Remy. Of course, this surely has a knock-on effect on the club's young Englishmen trying to make a name for themselves. Samuel pays little attention to that, instead stating that the club's dire straits mean their actions were more than justified:
Criticism of Rangers chairman Tony Fernandes for spending big in the transfer window is akin to castigating a drowning man for trying to swim.
No matter that Redknapp was bringing in players from abroad, the club's situation merited it. Yet, Sunderland's situation is not too different from that of QPR's: the club came within inches of relegation last term and needed a change of strategy in order to increase its chances of avoiding such a fate this term. For whatever reason, it is alright for QPR to embrace foreign markets, but not the Black Cats. Then again, a quick sift through Samuel's writing history finds a huge swathe of articles supporting the choice of Redknapp as England manager so, dare we say it, is there some sort of bias in play here?
Samuel's criticism of Sunderland looks all the more strange when we consider this piece from June 2011. In it, the Daily Mail's star man looks sceptically upon the preference of Damien Comolli - then of Liverpool and previously of Tottenham Hotspurs - for buying British players. Referencing the signing of Jordan Henderson in particular, Samuel looks derisively at the decision to sign homegrown players:
These are huge, expensive calls that are being made by Liverpool's director of football. He will be acting in accordance with Dalglish's wishes, of course, but even so, on spending, the buck will stop with him.
Furthermore, Samuel accepts the risks inherent in such a strategy:
...this is a risky strategy and the consequences of failure [at Liverpool are] far greater than last time at White Hart Lane.
Clearly, the author believes the purchase of English players to be expensive and a possible misstep. Yet, when Sunderland choose to ignore this risky strategy, or fail to magically unearth a local hero, Samuel is up in arms. How can he state the strategy to be risky for a club that is in no danger of relegation, then expect one that perennially flirts with demotion to embrace the same plan?
In this article from December 2011, Samuel actually offers sympathy to Sunderland, though it is directed towards then-manager Martin O'Neill. O'Neill, Samuel states, is hamstrung by the club's status:
There are only two ways Sunderland can challenge the elite: the first is to buy a way in, which is no longer permitted [due to UEFA's Fair Play rules]; the second is to produce young players of such brilliance that massive improvement occurs organically.
Samuel then goes on to state that the latter is effectively a fruitless pursuit, as:
At the first sign of promise, one of UEFA's anointed few will swoop and the player will be lost. Where is Jordan Henderson now? Where is Wayne Rooney? Andy Carroll? Phil Jones?
So, back in the O'Neill days, Samuel warned Sunderland against the strategy of producing homegrown youngsters, knowing full well that their days on Wearside would be numbered if they did come good. What has changed since then? Sunderland's manager, perhaps?
The examples of hypocrisy from this one particular journalist go on and on. In this piece from July 2012, far from criticising big clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester City for fighting over young, foreign talent, Samuel rather actively encourages such a tussle, claiming:
One form of entrepreneurial capitalism [City] consumes another [Arsenal]. It is a tough world, but not unfair.
It is unfortunate for Arsenal that richer clubs like City wish to poach their talent but, hey ho, that's the way the world is. Not once does Samuel bemoan the lack of English youngsters being given a chance by these clubs; instead, he prefers to encourage ruthless competition. That is all well and good, but if those clubs are free to embrace the policy of fighting it out for the best young talent - regardless of nationality - what makes Sunderland any different? Why are Sunderland not invited to the party?
Samuel's piece criticising the club is another in a long line of anti-Sunderland and anti-Di Canio editorials. It is unlikely to be the last. But really, when the author displays such rank hypocrisy, as has been highlighted here, should we really consider these articles to be anything other than biased hatchet jobs?