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Identity or Insanity?

Guest Blog: @rossrobson looks at Sunderland's identity and ponders whether we're still at square one in respect of planning for the future.

Tony Marshall/Getty Images

In recent months we have heard the word "Identity" bandied around in the media, mainly to accuse Sunderland AFC of lacking one. What does this actually mean? The dictionary definition of Identity is as follows - "the fact of being who or what a person or thing is".

That would suggest that a football club's identity is defined by what it is and what it is doing.

So, just what are Sunderland AFC doing?

Since returning to the Premier League in 2007 we have seen 9 managers in 9 seasons, over 100 players recruited and a similar number depart (if you include loans).

Each managerial departure (excluding caretakers) has largely been due to poor performances and the threat of relegation, yet each time a manager has departed we have miraculously avoided relegation. Each new manager brings a new philosophy, a new backroom team and a new opinion on the playing staff. Fast forward 9 months (or fewer in some cases) and the manager, the philosophy and the backroom team are deemed surplus to requirements and are moved on.

Every year we recruit a new manager, who is given limited funds with which to "overhaul" the playing squad again replacing average players he doesn't like with average players he does like.

Depending on who you believe, Einstein may or may not have been quoted as follows:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"

So, what is the point? What are we trying to achieve? Premier League survival is clearly the minimum and after the profligacy of the Drumaville and early Short years the club is also attempting to wrest control of the finances.

Something has to give - reducing the wage bill whilst maintaining a playing squad capable of competing is difficult to achieve. Each year we hear about Financial Fair Play and Wage Ceilings. We hear blame shifted to previous managers, owners and directors of football. We hear about having to sell before we can buy - invariably from the latest new manager to be given the task of keeping us up.

We then are told about players running down their contracts and "freeing up space" in the wage bill. However, for every player that leaves (for the most part) they require a replacement of equal or better quality. Convincing players like that to join Sunderland does not come cheap.

Essentially, Sunderland are replacing average players with average players usually at a premium and expecting different results. When those different results fail to appear, the manager is given the chop and replaced with the next cab off the rank.

Where does the cycle end? A club cannot simply change its identity overnight. Does the owner have a plan? Should the absence of any "football people" on the board be something to be concerned about?

Presumably, the preferred model would probably be a successful academy producing 2 or 3 first team players every year, combined with a settled spine of the squad and 1 or 2 quality additions each year, together with a backroom set up that allows the natural cycle of changing a head coach every 3-4 years without causing upheaval. Add to that the departure of 1 or 2 of the saleable assets at a huge profit and everyone is happy.

A model like this takes time. Granted we have had 9 years to evolve in this manner, but the raw facts are that we are very much still at square one in terms of planning the long term future of the club.

The only way to achieve anything like this model is to have consistency and stability. How can a club be expected to grow and evolve when the decision makers change every 12 months? The argument against retaining managers will be the threat of relegation. Keane and Bruce were jettisoned relatively early into the season, as was DiCanio albeit for different reasons. O'Neill and Poyet were shown the door when the club was in dire straits and relegation was a probability rather than a possibility.

At this point you have to weigh up whether relegation would really be such a bad thing? Yes income streams would drop, crowds would most likely drop and these days, relegation to the Championship by no means guarantees a swift return.

It would certainly help with the wage bill reduction and the "clearing of the decks" that we appear to require every season but often fail to do. It might give us a platform with which to evolve the club and to introduce young, hungry players into an environment that is less pressurised and (arguably) easier to win games in.

I am not for a moment advocating relegation, but in the interests of stability and continuity I wonder whether the owner should not fear it as much as he appears to do and keep his finger off the trigger come March/April.

If we want an identity then we have to start planning for it. If we have to suffer the ignominy of relegation as part of the quest for stability then so be it.

We always walk that division anyway

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