I don’t think I can recall the black and white tinted portion of the region ever taking so much interest in transfer dealings at Sunderland. Outside of the region, David Moyes’ summer business has raised few headlines or eyebrows – at best it was a steady, if unremarkable transfer window.
Yet, along the road where our near-neighbours are waving their flags and proclaiming the Championship as the Utopia they fully expected it to be, headlines are exactly what Sunderland are attracting. What on earth has got them so excited?
It started with an article in The Chronicle last week. ‘Kron’ journalist, Stuart Rayner, rejoiced in an unsubstantiated rumour that Lorient’s top brass had "nearly fainted" when they received Sunderland’s offer for Didier Ndong. He then proclaimed that it proved the Mackems had reached a state of frantic desperation in the transfer market and that no one wanted to come to Wearside.
Where Rayner got the "fainted" line from is not clear, but it was probably a throwaway comment in this piece from BFM Sports who are sort of a French equivalent of TalkSport.
What he failed to grasp, or more likely chose to ignore, was that Sunderland had been pursuing Ndong since June; a player who had also been tracked by Southampton and Crystal Palace. Admittedly, the fee may have had a little ‘end of window’ inflation added to it, a smattering of the French cashing in on Le Rosbif’s TV-money market. But it was hardly sufficient to topple Bob Stokoe off his perch into the Wear, or that Ant and Dec would be telling jokes about it on this weeks’ X Talent. The price set was a bit Florian Thauvin-ish, but it sure wasn't the most ridiculous thing seen on deadline day.
Most Lorient fans and observers expected Ndong to leave for bigger bucks, but figured it might be another 12 months of development before he attracted the magical €20m figure. Now they’re just scratching their heads wondering what their owner is doing with all of Sunderland’s cash having seen little investment from the earlier Kone transfer.
While Wearside and the true-half of County Durham watched on in bemusement at the cringe-worthy claims therein, The Mag had decided they must get in on the joke and published an article with a headline The Chronicle could only dream of –
"Sunderland’s Latest Signing Defines Newcastle United’s Summer Transfers"
For anyone who saw it, I guarantee you would have done a double-take. It’s only eight words but it just screams at you; but what exactly is behind the scream – I’m not totally sure. The headline actually belies a pretty vacuous little article which says next to nowt; but that was the sole point of it – to get you to click on it.
So, let’s humour them - you see, the writer claims that Sunderland’s signing of Victor Anichebe proves that Daryl Murphy is a class signing for Newcastle; and no – there is not a hint of wit within to indicate that irony or sarcasm have been liberally sprinkled in the text to make everyone chuckle.
The piece itself has little logic you can follow, but it seems to suggest that because Anichebe was linked with Newcastle a few times and that they instead opted for Daryl Murphy, it means Rafa’s summer business was epic and David Moyes’ was rotten. Also of course no one is mentioning that Mr Anichebe once sued Newcastle United and settled out of court.
Admittedly, the capture of Sunderland’s new Nigerian front man has barely registered a heartbeat on Wearside – most fans have shrugged their shoulders and accepted that, having browsed the ‘free agent’ list, he was probably better than nothing; a target man who can hold a ball up, probably an upgrade on Dame N'Doye.
In fact, most of us are dismayed that a summer which started with links to Dzeko, Sahko and Ayew has given way to nobody, nothing and now anybody-Anichebe; but not one soul amongst us feels a little jealous that Newcastle signed 12 players to add to their bloated relegation squad. If Newcastle fans genuinely believe that Sunderland’s transfer business defines them, there’s an image crisis going on over there.
If anyone defined Newcastle and Sunderland’s transfer window, it was surely DeAndre Yedlin. A right back who was coached within an inch of his life by Sam Allardyce, but even Big Sam thought Emmanuel Eboue and Davide Santon were better options than the young American. The watching world cringed as Yedlin was trotted out in front of the baying Geordie hounds and forced to tell them he had "admired" them whilst at Sunderland. Laughable? It was goddam awful forcing the kid to repent his sins and massage a few fragile egos.
Here’s the thing – the motivation behind this new trend is not bitterness at being in the Championship, it’s not even delusion – though there is always a smattering of that lying around. It’s not even laughing at Sunderland’s financial plight as Michael Martin is eagerly promising in the next edition of True Faith (Yes we know Michael – we know how bad it looks, we’ve discussed it in depth, thanks all the same and by the way, the latest published SAFC accounts won't be available until next spring at the earliest, so most of us will have to wait until then to assess the situation properly).
The problem is, these media outlets, who relied on Newcastle as a brand to stimulate their readership figures, are suffering from relegation. No one cares about them anymore. There is no global audience for the Championship, not even a national one for a second-tier team; barely even a regional one. When was the last time you had a chat with someone at work about Sheffield Wednesday’s transfer business? Derby? Brentford? Wigan? How about Leeds? Nope – outside of a Championship team’s local town, city or regional catchment area, no one is reading and no one is clicking and that hurts them.
Which leaves our counterparts with a problem and it leads us onto an emerging trend. How on earth do you fill the void the Premier League left behind? Especially when your strategy for the last decade has been to throw all your eggs in a black and white basket and mock the rest of the region whilst chasing the 'toon click’. So, you get increasingly desperate and pander to the twisted part of your reader in an ever more cynical cycle and you start slagging off the Premier League lot along the road.
Then, you realise that the ones you’re ‘dissing’ are reading in outrage at what you’re writing and you attract a few clicks that way. Publish something ludicrous about Sunderland and if you get lucky they might discuss it on a forum or on twitter and hey look at this – a few hundred clicks from bemused Sunderland fans. And so the cycle goes on; until you vanish down the plug hole, screaming ‘Look at them’ before drowning in your own waste. It’s tragic and it might just kill off a couple of them yet.
So, after I’ve discussed it for five minutes, allow me to be my own worst hypocrite and point out that the only reaction required is to laugh; and once you’re bored of laughing at it – ignore it, because it will go away, and it almost already has.