Premier League survival is guaranteed for another year, we’re guaranteed a slice of the incredible broadcasting revenues that will make England the richest football country in the world and a certain club who play in black and white have been relegated. All in all, it’s been a pretty canny season since Big Sam took over.
The signings in January have proven their worth several times over; Jan Kirchhoff has been an absolute revelation in the defensive midfield role, Wahbi Khazri looks every bit the creative attacking midfielder that we’ve been crying out for and if you’re not a fully paid-up member of #TeamKoné then where have you been all season?
In short, the turn-around in Sunderland’s fortunes since the arrival of Sam Allardyce has been nothing short of miraculous. However, this feels like more than yet another Great Escape. We’ve had several false dawns in the past few years, Di Canio promised to revamp the club’s attitude, Poyet promised to develop a playing identity and style that would excite the fans and Advocaat looked like a man who could attract top quality players to the North East despite the temptation of an easy life in London, but with Allardyce at the helm it feels like there is a genuine sense of hope around the club.
Obviously, there is the form of the team to consider. One loss in eleven games is nothing short of phenomenal for a team that were almost nailed on favourites to go down by the end of February and this speaks volumes for Sam’s tactical nous and managerial skills, as well as his ability to spot a player, given how important the January reinforcements were to our run-in.
That said, there seems to be something going on at Sunderland that cannot be explained by a change of tactics or by the signing of a few quality players. Look at Jermain Defoe’s tears after the crucial win over Chelsea or Younes Kaboul’s barely contained emotion after the win at Everton clinched another year of top flight football. These are probably the most visible examples but it has been a constant feature since Allardyce took over, Sunderland players finally look like they are as proud to wear the shirt as any one of the fans in the crowd every Saturday would be.
It is the one thing that Sunderland fans cannot tolerate, players who don’t care for the club or for this history of the red and white shirt. Too many times we have seen players come and go, capture the fans’ hearts and then crush them with shows of absolute indifference towards the club we all love so much (I’m looking at you Mr D. Bent).
For the first time in probably about a decade, it feels like Sunderland’s players really care. The comeback win at home against Chelsea spoke volumes for the spirit, fight and determination Sam Allardyce has installed in his team and this is all that we as fans can ask for. We know full well we aren’t going to see a team packed with international superstars, £80m signings and players that make the likes of Barcelona sit up and take notice.
What we can ask for is a team of players who wear their hearts on their sleeves, who will push themselves to the limit every week for their club and who will make us proud to be Sunderland fans. Under Big Sam, we might finally be seeing the start of a team that does that.
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