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End Of Season Views From... George Caulkin

Bardsley: Top of the pile again.
Bardsley: Top of the pile again.

Rounding off our end of season spectacular, as far as members of the media are concerned anyway, is someone who needs little introduction. However, I'm going to give him one, as I need to fill some space before The Jump...

Yes ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure that we bring you thoughts on Sunderland's season from the one and only, George Caulkin, he of The Times fame.

George was kind enough to give us his views on the season past, so you can be kind enoughto follow him on twitter @CaulkinTheTimes as well as read his column on The Times' website, sure it costs a pound or something, but its completely worth it. What's a pound these days anyway? A ticket for the 50-50 lottery? You were never going to win, so sign up for this instead, as you win every time with George's column.

Anyway, on with George's opinions...

Player Of The Season?

George: Or, to put this category another way, Last Man Standing. In terms of consistency - whether consistency of playing or consistency of availability - it's difficult to look beyond Phil Bardsley. That said, the left side of the team is full of holes and, had he been fit for the entirety of the season, I think Titus Bramble would have walked this award. Hello, by the way. 

Young Player Of The Season?

George: Given that the entire team is young (something which is overlooked too readily in my opinion - for some reason, youth has come to 'define' Arsenal in a way it doesn't define Sunderland), it would make more sense to recognise the Old Player Of The Season! It's been good to see Jack Colback come through from the Academy and honourable mentions for loanees Nedum Onuoha and Danny Welbeck, but this has to go to Simon Mignolet, doesn't it? He's made the odd mistake, but he looks like a goodun'. 

Best Signing Of The Season?

George: Bramble - 24 appearances in all competitions, 9 clean sheets. Came back to the North East to an uncertain reception, but £1m or so has proved to be a bargain. He's been missed badly over the last few weeks.

Worst Player Of The Season?

George: Harsh, in the sense that we haven't seen much of him but, when we have, Marcos Angeleri  hasn't even looked like a footballer. Gorgeous hair though. (NB: this answer is not racist*)

*Attempt at knowing humour.

Most Disappointing Signing Of The Season?

George: Angeleri, obviously, but the biggest disappointment for me has been Cristian Riveros. I saw him at the World Cup and he looked neat and effective, but it just hasn't happened for him.

Goal Of The Season?

George: WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME ALL THESE QUESTIONS? Ummm. To be honest, I've got a dreadful memory and I'm answering this survey without recourse to my best contact (Google), but the one that sticks in my mind - apart from those special efforts by Bardsley and Onuoha - is Gyan's at Chelsea. That's probably got a lot to do with the celebration afterwards but, at the time - rare victors at Stamford Bridge, sixth in the table, the joyousness and sense of possibility - it felt symbolic of a team really going places. Not to be, unfortunately. 

Game Of The Season?

George: See above, but those unbeaten homes games against the 'glamour' teams at the start of the season were really good to be at; vibrant, dynamic, promising.

Out of ten, what would you rate Steve Bruce’s performance as manager this season?

George: Up to January, 8. Since then ... ? Difficult, very difficult. The decision to sell Darren Bent was partially enforced and wholly collective, as was the decision not to directly replace him. In retrospect, that was a huge mistake, although it was done for honourable reasons (not wishing to lumber the squad, which had been successfully pruned of dead wood, with players who might not last the course). The same applies to building a young team which has lost confidence in the face of misfortune. The injuries haven't been Bruce's fault, but circumstances have meant he'll be beginning next season under scrutiny, although finishing 10th means it's job done in terms of targets for the campaign (most of this was written pre-West Ham); the real shame is that Sunderland were so close to grasping something special. 

Which one moment summed up SAFC’s entire season?

George: Probably from the West Brom game at the Stadium of Light. Mensah comes off after 12 minutes (shock) and is replaced by Ferdinand, who himself comes off injured in the second-half. 

Of the loanees this season, which if any would you like to see stay permanently?

George: Welbeck, but that isn't going to happen. Onuoha, but Manchester City are asking around £8m and that's too much. Elmohamady is already agreed and that's probably worth it. Muntari is a quality player but he hasn't shown it and I wouldn't pursue that. Time to say thank you and goodbye to Mensah - he's a fine defender but you simply can't keep changing your back-four before half-time because of injuries. The Rock? More like the Crock.

Which player should be first out the door in the summer?

George: The fastest one! Sorry. We shouldn't forget that McCartney & Nosworthy are still Sunderland players and a drain on wages. I can't see Anton Ferdinand staying, simply because the manager doesn't rate him. Angeleri will go, as will Riveros, presumably. One of the important things Bruce has done is clear out some rubbish and that needs to continue

Give us one player you think SAFC simply must buy this summer (within reason)...

George: Where do you start? Three strikers are needed, two centre-halves, two full-backs. To my (addled) mind, though, the left side of the team has been a longstanding issue. Going out and finally getting Charles N'Zogbia would address that and set a positive tone for what will be a difficult summer. As things stand, it looks likely.

What was your personal highlight of the season, something we might not know about?

George: I was really fortunate to be at the inaugural Sir Bobby Robson Foundation golf day last month (I'm a patron of the charity). I'm a big softie, I admit, but it always moves me to see people from all corners of the region coming together and celebrating a common cause. It was a pretty stellar guest list, but there was no edge to the atmosphere and a lot of goodwill. As Niall Quinn put it, I'm not sure that anybody other than Sir Bobby could have pulled that off. Some things are bigger than parochial rivalry and the fight against cancer is certainly one of them. 

And finally, any other thoughts or comments on how you feel the season went?

George: No, I think we've covered most of it. I'm glad for everybody connected with the club that they finished 10th, because I think it means something, but I'm sure most people will be glad the marathon is finally over and I'm the same; this job is a massive privilege, but it hasn't been massively uplifting reporting on Sunderland since the turn of the year. Believe it or not, writing about victories, good results and forward momentum is much preferable. A big few weeks lie ahead, but I hope everybody has a good break and comes back energised and refreshed. And best wishes to all at Roker Report!

Thanks very much indeed to George Caulkin. If you've got a spare quid or two, and don't fancy paying through The Times paywall, then definitely head on over the the already mentioned Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and donate. As George said, some things are bigger than local rivalry, and Sir Bobby is still greatly missed by the footballing community.