These days, it seems almost impossible for us fans to keep up with the ever-changing beast that is Sunderland AFC, never mind anyone. We still thought it was about time we checked in with the wider perception of our beloved club though, so Dropping The Gloves returns.
It returns with a cracker, too. Do you enjoy cogent analysis of teams and players? Do you want to know more about all those fancy foreign players who get linked with these shores whose names sound familiar but have never really graced your gaze? Of course you do. Those sort of things are like Pizza - everyone loves it and if they don't then it's their fault, not Pizza's.
Well then allow me to introduce to you Joel Ramey, the man behind the frankly indispensable and pretty original Flix & Trix blog. Joel is a Manchester United fan from Trinidad and Tobago and has been endearing himself to the football blogosphere since 2010 with his unique approach of not only offering tactical analysis but solutions too. I have also had the pleasure of working with Joel over on FootyPlace and he certainly lives up to the billing, so we are delighted to Drop The Gloves with him.
You all know the drill by now. A no-holds barred chat in which flattery is strictly forbidden. My forte, I am sure our regular podcast listeners are thinking! On with the show.
Stoke are known for a physical game and strong set pieces, Arsenal for possession football. Do you consider Sunderland to have a similar identity, and if so what?
The teams you listed (i.e. Stoke & Arsenal) are great examples. I'd like to throw Swansea in there as well and Liverpool will soon be in this discussion. When I hear those names and am asked what kind of football they play, I can answer without stuttering. If someone stopped me in the street right now and asked what kind of football Sunderland play, however, I'd say they play the kind of football that uses the round ball, not the oval one and that they pass said ball around a bit and sometimes score.
Truth is, I honestly don't think Sunderland have an 'identity.' I will say, though, that they usually give their opponents a run for their money. But generally speaking they just, well, play. Oh, they use the left wing pretty well with James McClean. Does that count?
How competitive do you think Sunderland can hope to be in the transfer market? Which clubs do you consider their natural competitors for signings?
Errm, well they managed to sign Asamoah Gyan, Darren Bent, Stephane Sessegnon and, of course, the world's best striker in Nicklas Bendtner (how dare I leave him out?!). I think they can compete for players at that level -- above average, but not top class. They can also snap up bargain-buys like James McLean. If they wish to go after the kind of players Manchester's United and City are chasing or even Newcastle United, they'd have to improve their league performance and show a willingness to splash some cash every once in a while. It's also evident that there's a project at Newcastle, thus adding to their attractiveness.
By contrast, I look at Sunderland and I see a club that is just hanging around at the moment. I don't see a project per se and I'm not convinced Ellis Short is the type of owner who'd fling money here, there, and everywhere. But I guess you never know. Before they get players in, though, they need to get some out. A lot out, in fact. I'm still quite bemused by Steve Bruce's transfer dealings last summer. Goodness me... What was he thinking?!
Who are their rivals in the transfer market? Fulham, West Brom, maybe Aston Villa -- clubs around them with similar current reputations.
From your vantage point, what would you consider to be the iconic or most memorable Sunderland moment during your time watching football?
I'm a young fella and only really came into the sport almost a mere 10 years ago. I'd have been into it sooner, but I was just never exposed to it before then. At all. So please forgive me as I unknowingly overlook many obvious iconic moments as well as fail to pick just one. I'll plump for Sunderland's 3-0 humbling of Chelsea. The 2-2 game versus Manchester United at Old Trafford when Darren Bent put them ahead early on and they nearly -- nearly -- won the game is also a nice one. I also liked the thrilling 4-3 game versus Manchester City that ultimately cost Mark Hughes his job at Eastlands. They nearly had them. By the way, I just liked the game, not the fact that a man lost his job in the aftermath! That's the truth, honest. But Sunderland have shown they have fight. You can't argue with that.
Niall Quinn claims that Sunderland have dropped their 'yo-yo club' tag. Do you agree with that and consider Sunderland now an established main stay of the Premier League, or is it a club you would still not be surprised to see involved in a relegation battle?
If Steve Bruce stayed there, I'd have said that they would always be in a relegation battle. His transfer business, well, I'm not quite sure of what to say about it. I mean, John O'Shea?! Wes Brown?! David Vaughan?! Really?! He seemed hell-bent on turning the team into a Championship side and that's just where they would have ended up if he hadn't got the boot.
With Martin O'Neill there now, I see some stability. So yes, I agree with Niall Quinn that the 'yo-yo club' tag is gone. I'd also go as far as saying that the club is a mainstay in the league under him. He's experienced enough to keep the club afloat for the time being. However, the club is just midtable quality at the moment. That needs to be addressed and fast. Otherwise, experience or no experience, Martin O'Neill could find himself in a position where he could do little or nothing to help Sunderland escape a fatal relegation battle
I think all clubs like to pride themselves on quality of their support. Comparitively speaking, and as a neutral observer, how would you rate the Sunderland fans?
I've never been to the Stadium of Light, but from what I've seen via television, I think they're passionate and are always very supportive of their players and their club. Like all other fans, they want their club to progress. They'll sing and shout until their tongues fall out of their mouths to help drive their team on to beat the big boys in the league or they'll groan when the players are making hard work of a winnable game. You always have to admire their commitment to the cause.
I don't hear or read any bad things about them either. That's important and quite commendable when you look at some of the idiotic things fans do these days with all the racist chants; flare, coin, and garbage throwing; laser pointing, etc. The utter stupidity of some people really boils my egg! I truly admire and appreciate when fans are peaceful and just embrace, love, and respect the game, their club, their manager, their players, and each other. That said, generally speaking, I like Sunderland's fans.
Many thanks to Joel for his time and insight. Make sure to make flixandtrix.com a staple of your internet football reading. It really is that darn good. Joel is on Twitter too, and well worth a follow.