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Survival Should Prompt Reassessment of De Fanti 'Failure'

Is it time to give the 'transfer bogeyman' a break?


Make no mistake about it - had Sunderland succumbed to relegation this season, the transfer deals done under former Director of Football Roberto De Fanti would have been cited as a principle cause.

That would have been fair enough, of course. I suspect he would even say so himself. You make decisions and you live or die by the results. It's the same in any walk of life.

But now that relegation isn't going to happen, surely it's similarly fair to reassess the role and performance of a man who was generally ridiculed for the job he did on Wearside?

This isn't just a result of some post-survival euphoria here. All the way back in October - before Gus Poyet was even appointed - we insisted that the time to judge the Italian was in May when the bigger picture was known. Well, now we know it.

We know that De Fanti inherited a squad that had finished 17th last season. We know that money was tight and Sunderland's net transfer spend (even including what was spent after De Fanti left the club) was dwarfed by all but one of their immediate rivals.

*figures from

We know that, as things stand, Sunderland have already won more games this season than last, and will at least equal the points haul from last season if they avoid defeat on the final day of the season. We know that this season has seen a first cup final in 22 years, a derby double and memorable wins against Manchester United (twice), Chelsea (twice) and Manchester City.

The temptation is to judge every single signing made under De Fanti's watch individually and arrive at some kind of collective conclusion, and I'd agree that there were a few stinkers in the hoard of players recruited last summer. Jozy Altidore has failed to provide goals, Mobido Diakite and Cabral were exiled to Italy pretty pronto, and Valentin Roberge has been a peripheral figure at best.

However, the counter-argument that both the player and young player of the year, Vito Mannone and Fabio Borini, were brought to Wearside by De Fanti is just as relevant. Marcos Alonso, who was a De Fanti pick before things came to a head in January, has also been a success, and Ki Sung-Yueng and Emanuele Giaccherini have also made important contributions at different times.

There is a danger of becoming too preoccupied with transfers, though. The only question that is really important is: did he provide a squad on budget that was fit for purpose? Whether they were bought, loaned, kept or anything else is immaterial. I suppose the answer depends what the expectations of the season were, but he certainly provided one capable of staying in the Premier League. They are far from perfect, and I'm loath to judge them too kindly, but they did stay up, so there is no debate there.

We also must be careful to not take anything away from Gus Poyet here. He has done a remarkable job and deserves the bulk of the credit, and I don't think many, if any, will offer an argument to that assertion. I certainly won't.

But surely if we were happy to blame De Fanti for the appointment of Paolo Di Canio (despite probably owing survival to him last season), we also must credit him for the appointment of Poyet? That seems fair to me.

It might have left a different taste in the mouth had this squad owed their survival to the failures of another club, which was probably the case last season with Wigan. This squad has saved itself, though, and done the business. Yeah, they left it a little late, but they have earned and fully deserved survival. I didn't think they'd have the courage to do it, and it was great to be wrong about that, but they always had the quality.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not advocating the erection of a statue in De Fanti's image at the Stadium of Light or anything. I'm not quite ready to declare him the new Michael Zorc or Dan Ashworth yet. He obviously struggled somewhere since he isn't here any more.

He wasn't a success here, not for me. That much is evident as far as I'm concerned. He wasn't really here long enough to have the opportunity to be a success for one thing, though you can debate that all you like. He wasn't a failure though either. There was no disaster and many of the heroes this season, Poyet, Borini and Mannone primarily, we owe to him. That's just the reality.

Perhaps now that the oppressive anger under which we have played an entire season has lifted, the time has come to give De Fanti his share of the credit in what has turned out to be a quite incredible season. This is, after all, the squad he built - and we'd have certainly used it to condemn him with had things gone the other way.

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