International breaks and Sunderland AFC fans share a curious relationship. In truth few of us are 'patriotic' enough to care overly much about the half-hearted curios that emblazon the three lions on their chests, but you won't find many of us complaining about the 'break' from one long, arduous weekend after another.
It's commonly accepted that this time is a blessing at club level, because after all, during this time every club will be given the space and low-energy schedule to hone their relationship as a team, to refresh their minds and legs, and to work on rarest of SoL attendees; footballing ability.
But how many times are we going to be fooled by this same old lie that managers and players alike tell themselves? On paper it seems a grand idea: two weeks of no pressure. No points to try for, no judgement from the terraces or the boardroom, just a calm, bullet-pointed plan to reach optimum ability in the relative privacy of the Academy. But the reality always seems to pan out as so much worse.
The end of the September break saw us stroll in to the Stadium of Light and embarrass our fans with a 2-1 loss to a mediocre Sheffield United, followed by another dire performance that brought defeat against Nottingham Forest.
In the 16/17 season we came from the August/September break to get a pasting, 3-0 by Everton – that signalled a run of three heartless defeats, having drawn with a decent Southampton team just before that break.
In the October break of the same season, we again went from mediocre to awful, drawing with West Brom 1-1 and following that with a successive three defeats after our “rest”.
Let's go back another year to the 2015/16 season: August 31st saw a break given, and what happened following it? We lost three games in succession. The break between October 5th and 18th saw us lose to West Brom, having previously earned a hard fought draw with West Ham before the time off.
After the March international break that season we went four games without a single goal.
Now, I could do this through every season in recent years, but suffice it to say that the pattern that has emerged is not only clear but alarming to say the least. When Sunderland players relax, when the backroom staff think they can relax, they seem to become what we all hope they aren't: absolutely shit. For some strange reason the only thing that seems to galvanise these players isn't rest and relaxation, nor is it training and drills, but rather being in the thick of it. Sunderland AFC have proven conclusively that they cope about as well without pressure as they do with it piled on, the only difference being the inevitable progress made by playing week in, week out with stakes that matter.
Granted, to look at recent results it would be remiss of me to sit here and tell you that our current squad copes well under pressure, but at the very least I can assure you that it does not thrive in an environment wherein the players aren't subjected to the same hard-line given by the fans on a weekly basis.
It seems that contrary to the generic consensus of the Footballing world, if our team take their eyes off the ball for even a moment, everyone suffers. A break in club football it may be, but a 'break' it is not.
Considering that Simon Grayon’s main excuse thus far - at least that one which he gives publicly - has been a lack of training time and the opportunity to find cohesion, to adhere his team to one another, one can imagine the excitement with which the Yorkshireman embraces this latest opportunity. He must be eager to see what sorcery can be conjured in the Academy of Light in the coming weeks, desperate to show the world that he is indeed the right man for the managerial position and that he did in fact make all the right decisions to this point. By all accounts he'll be chuffed with this international break, because he'll have the intention of forging a fresh and dynamic team of go-getters from the ashes of the travelling circus we've been obligated to follow so far.
Well, you and I have some idea of what he – and we all - are in for, but does he?