First team regulars are have either left or never returned, replaced by players the public eye can only deem unpredictable or underwhelming. The optimism of last season’s tail-end suddenly, ominously, predictably distant.
What’s more, the rickety bridge that holds Sunderland’s brittle squad could yet see its keystone come loose – a keystone known as Lamine Kone.
As we’re all well aware, Kone flirted with a move to Everton not too long ago, having been snapped in Merseyside with a fan, ahead of an apparent £18m move away from the lads. Such allegations could only cause unrest for a manager that was already struggling to bring players in, let alone keep them. From there, the events that would transpire saw Kone release a public statement to the people of Sunderland claiming he should have been offered a new contract, but wasn’t, and therefore he could only assume his time in red-and-white was over.
A keystone figuratively and literally holding the side together with spirited performances and the morale of ~TeamKone, to suddenly become debris blowing away from Wearside. No longer important enough for the financial tyrant that is Ellis Short.
That’s what he’d want you to believe anyway. But it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to figure out the true motives behind the aforementioned statement Kone released. Questions had already been raised as to how tight the purse strings in Ellis Short’s pocket were, so by playing on this by claiming he should have had more money thrown at him, the fans were likely and blamelessly bound to assume this was the board’s fault.
But it’s not. Moyes spoke, loud and clear, before the press stating he was to be offered a new contact following the conclusion of the summer window, rendering the Ivorian’s statement a blatant lie, and clear attempt to alienate the fans from the new manager, all for the self-satisfaction of an even more extortionate pay packet. Naturally, Kone denied he said anything shortly after Moyes disclosed this information.
A war hero the season prior, a wounded solider just weeks ago, and a mercenary now.
This would be the start of what is now a clear battle of wits between a mutinous Ivorian and a bold, yet anxious Scotsman.
Kone pulled out of Sunday’s defeat at home to Middlesborough with a ‘bad back’, despite the fact the true condition of his back remains ambiguous; you wouldn’t be alone in assuming he faked the injury out of protest, a completely unwarranted, ungrateful protest at that.
If anyone’s backs are truly hurting, it’s the backs of the fans and of Moyes – the Ivorian has drove a knife into each and every one of them.
But just how is Moyes handling this situation?
If anything, what he has done so far to quash the arrogance of Kone is commendable, but cracks are starting to appear in the armour; and weakness has been shown on the Scotsman’s part.
Admitting the true nature of Kone’s contact negotiations to the press conference was certainly the right thing to do, the fans could only see Moyes in a good light for being genuine and honest about a very unnerving predicament.
What’s more, banishing Kone from the club following the latter stages of the unrest was bold – as I’m sure we can unanimously agree that it is imperative that the manager asserts himself. No player should ever be bigger than the club.
But Moyes is slipping up, he’s getting nervous, frightened – quite clearly - that losing such a big name and talented player will throw the club into irredeemable disarray. Despite expressly stating he would offer Kone a new contract after the transfer window ends, he went back on his word and offered him one just a few days ago – a contact which the Ivorian declined.
With this, the Scotsman has lost a battle on two fronts. Not only has he failed to secure the future of a quality player on Wearside, but he’s revealed to Kone his sheer desperation to get his signature, desperation that led him to prioritise the Ivorian’s presence over the promise he made to the fans.
He let the player be bigger than the club, even just for a moment.
This pitiful excuse for a transfer window has only a handful of days left, and whilst we wait eagerly for new signings, we also wait to see how short Kone’s time with us is, as well as what Moyes is truly made of.