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Captain's Blog: In Pursuit Of Perspective...

What a frantic few weeks it has been since the season ended. You could be forgiven for thinking it seemed considerably longer than that given all that has went on, however. Jordan Henderson has already left, presumably to finance Bruce's summer rebuilding plans, and speculation persists about possible departures for Lee Cattermole and Asamoah Gyan, too. There has been no end of speculation regarding new players arriving at the club either, with a plethora of players linked and a different player every day being said to be close to signing. Yes, if we thought we were getting a little time off from the football soap-opera then we were being naive. What once was an excuse to get together on a weekend with friends and release some steam is now a 24/7 lifestyle, it seems.

We probably shouldn't be too surprised, of course. If Niall Quinn has done one thing since he returned to the club, it is to show he has a flair for the dramatic. Roy Keane's relentless charge to the Championship title after a very slow start, beating Newcastle at home for the first time in decades before slumping towards relegation and then surviving at their expense, the whole Darren Bent saga. It has been something of a roller-coaster ride. So, in the interests of perspective, allow me to take you on a trip down memory lane to the summer of 2006 to remember how this all started.

First a little necessary scene-setting, and for this I apologise. Life following Sunderland had become even more grim than usual. Weekly meek surrender was becoming a soul-destroying normality as our cheaply assembled and poorly led team became the biggest whipping boys the Premier League had seen since, well, Sunderland. Relegation with a, then (thanks Derby), record low points total inevitably followed. Mick McCarthy had long since been sacked by then and no permanent replacement had been appointed. Towards the end of the season, rumours persisted that Bob Murray, the chairman who was about to preside over his fifth relegation, wanted to sell up. Whispers were abound that Niall Quinn was ready to ditch his cushy life as a football broadcaster and journalist to round up some wealthy friends and buy the club. Many dared not to dream, but early that summer an anonymous club spokesmen delivered the news we were all desperate to hear; "talks between the board and Niall Quinn are ongoing". Things seemed to be gathering pace when, almost 5 years ago to the day, Bob Murray told fans that it would be certain that he "would not be the chairman of this football club at the start of next season" before declaring that Quinn had "always been my preferred successor" and urging the fans to back the Irishman.

There would be no instant gratification, though. Talks were long and, due to Stock Exchange regulations, silent. Negotiations, due diligence, and shareholders consideration all had to be carried out and were all as prolonged and drawn-out as seemingly humanly possible. All the while, there was a season to prepare for with no manager, an outgoing chairman, a skeleton squad, and no one in a position to immediately do anything about any of them. The man who finished the previous season in a caretaker manager position, Kevin Ball, was granted his request to return to looking after the youth team and their interests. So it fell to Kevin Richardson, just about the last man standing on Sunderland's coaching staff, to prepare the players for the new season.

When Quinn was finally in a position to get inside the club and begin his planning, what he discovered was a disillusioned and demoralised group of players more interested in plotting their own routes out of the club than plotting the rebuilding of the club. Deciding to sit down and meet the players individually, Quinn scheduled a series of meetings to be done in alphabetical order. Ben Alnwick, the young reserve goalkeeper at the club, was first in to see the incoming chairman, and immediately submitted a transfer request before leaving with instructions to send the club's senior goalkeeper, Kelvin Davies, in next. Davies complained about the fans "taking their football too seriously here" and submitted a transfer request of his own. Ben Alnwick was recalled, told that he was the new number one, would be given a new contract, and asked if he wanted to withdraw his own transfer request, which he did. So, having dealt with the unexpected goalkeeping crisis, Julio Arca, a former team mate, was summoned as the next name on the list, and promptly produced a transfer request. Quinn gave up and sent the irrepressible Bobby Saxton to deal with the rest of the players as a group. 

The next task on Quinn's 'to-do' list was finding a manager of sufficient enough repute to shake the club free of its apathy. Martin O'Neill, who was without a club after leaving Celtic, was courted but was unable to be persuaded to stake his reputation on the club at that time. Sam Allardyce was reported to be approached, with the hope that the promise of big financial backing would tempt him away from Bolton. Roy Keane, someone with no managerial credentials but a name of genuine prestige was another target, but believed the timing to be wrong. It wasn't until Keane had a rethink a few weeks into the season that the manager position was filled. In the meantime, Quinn himself stepped into the role and struggled. Kelvin Davies got his move, as did Julio Arca, as they were sold to Southampton and Middlesbrough respectively, and George McCartney also left. Quinn looked to strengthen, and hindsight demands we use that term in it's most ironic possible sense, with William Mocquet and Arnau Reira. It wasn't the beautiful football fairytale-style dream we had all desperately dared to believe in – lets just put it that way.

As we know, things turned out great, and that season went on to contain so many great memories and probably become by favourite ever season following the lads. But crikey what a slow and painful summer that was. It was a summer during which we spent more time learning Stock Exchange rules than we did watching transfer rumours. A massive 100 days elapsed between the first concrete reports of Niall Quinn looking to buy the club and his take-over being complete. That time was spent without a manager, without a chairman, and without the kind of planning and preparations they bring. We couldn't attract a manager, we couldn't sign any players, and our existing squad was full of players determined to flee. So when, over the course of this summer, you find yourselves frustrated at our top players linked away, or what you believe to be the wrong players coming in, or whatever, just as I myself have been, cast your mind back to how things were only 5 years ago. After all, our best players being flattered by interest from Liverpool or Tottenham is a hell of a lot better than our best players desperate to get moves to Southampton or Middlesbrough.

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