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Relegation Just Isn't An Option

There's absolutely nothing positive that can come from Sunderland being relegated this season to the Championship. Nothing.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

It's common after Sunderland suffer bad defeats - particularly when you're down the bottom of the table - for some fans to remark that dropping out of the Premier League and starting again as a Championship side could be a good thing.

Supporters of all struggling clubs grow tired of watching players not giving their all, and the knee-jerk reaction is often an acceptance that relegation is inevitable and ridding the club of a certain type of footballer can only be viewed as a good thing - I'll admit, it's something that I've done myself in the past rather flippantly. I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that I've considered just what the possibilities would be should Sunderland go down.

In a perfect world the perfect relegation would see a whole host of big names move on, a raft of youngsters come through and play with the passion and desire that the fans crave, romping to Championship glory whilst regaining our place in the Premier League a far healthier, better ran, cost-effective and relatable outfit.

In fairness, our own history does show that this can be done. You only have to look back to the times we ourselves have won the Championship in recent years as an example of a club making the most of relegation by instantly returning to whence they came with guile and exuberance. Having gone from our lowest ebb as a Premier League club, the tidal wave of ambition and sheer willingness to succeed from a Sunderland legend in Niall Quinn dragged the club from almost certain struggle and financial ruin to, within a season, becoming a Premier League side that has been able to maintain our status for nine seasons. The proof is there - we've done this before. Sunderland, in recent times, have not struggled to bounce back upon relegation to the second tier of English football.

Much has changed since then, and with each passing year the tell-tale signs of just how difficult a task it is to immediately return to the Premier League become more and more apparent. Since our promotion in 2007, Birmingham City (in 2009), Newcastle (in 2010), West Brom (in 2010), West Ham (in 2012), QPR (in 2014) and Norwich (in 2015) are the only clubs that have managed to achieve promotion at the first attempt. Six teams in nine seasons. Although this certainly indicates it's possible, that's a staggeringly low amount when considering the fact three teams each year drop down to that level.

That only tells half of the story, though. The impact that relegation has on the entire club is catastrophic and the employment turnover makes what is already a difficult task all the more complicated.

Teams relegated from the Premier League receive 'parachute' payments which ease the financial burden that relegation has on a club but what it doesn't do is refocus and rebuild a squad of players capable of winning football matches.

When a club instantly returns from relegation it amazes me upon consideration of the size of the task at hand - you either stick by the players that you've got, or you completely rebuild. In sticking by the players you've got, you have to motivate players used to playing in the top flight that might not necessarily want to be there to play more games at a lower level against smaller clubs in front of smaller crowds. In rebuilding, you have to ensure the character and type of player is perfect for the situation you find yourself in whilst crossing every finger and toe that they all settle in instantly and contribute more than any other squad in the league do. It's an overwhelming task.

Expecting your younger players and academy graduates to step up and be good enough to compete rarely ends well either. Having a blend of youth and experience can work but only if the players are good enough, and like with most Premier League clubs very few that are relegation threatened are prepared to give enough of their youngsters the chance to improve at the highest level.

I hark back to the way Fulham rebuilt their squad following relegation from the top flight in 2014 - they sold almost every big earner in their squad, promoted the majority of their youth team to senior football at a challenging level and as a result were almost relegated to League One. Bolton Wanderers - a club synonimous with the Premier League in the last fifteen years or so - were last week served a winding up order with the team perched at the foot of the Championship table. Wigan Athletic are in League One. Portsmouth are in League Two. Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday are two massive clubs that have spent far too long outside of the top flight. What's to say that Sunderland wouldn't suffer a similar fate?

Nothing. In fact, an instant return to the top flight following relegation is almost as likely to happen, but finding ourselves in that situation is one that I can't bare to face. As a fan, I really don't want to see my club play Russian roulette with our short term future any more than we already have done.

Having patched together a squad year on year that just sails close to the wind we're now in a position where, come the summer, the players leaving coupled with the quality that we've gained since January mean we have an unbelievable opportunity to finally build on what we've got an become more than just a club that is almost relegated every season.

Add to that the fact we have a superb manager - a man that has a proven record of rebuilding teams and making them more successful than when he first arrived - and I just cannot stress enough just how important it is that Sunderland survive this year more than in any other year previous.

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