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SAFC second-tier rebuild began some time ago, & this is where we are headed next

It's becoming starkly clear that Sunderland have been planning for the Championship for months. So what has the club been plotting behind the scenes whilst its public face insisted survival was possible? And where are we heading next as planning becomes implementation?

Sunderland v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

David Moyes may have been insisting Sunderland could stay in the Premier League right up to the bitter end, but he was probably doing so with fingers crossed behind his back.

Because it sure looks like the club have been putting plans in place for this Championship rebuild for months.

It turns out Sunderland hired recruitment specialist Rob MacKenzie back in March but news of his stint acting on a consultancy basis only emerged yesterday via the pages of The Sun.

The appeal is obvious. The 31-year-old Loughborough University graduate initially made his name during a three-year spell with Nigel Pearson's Leicester - when the Foxes inhabited the second-tier before promotion in 2014. So MacKenzie has presumably been brought in for his knowledge in unearthing talent for the Championship and specifically for his experience in the league to which we are now heading.

As for The Sun, the moral-less tabloid clearly has some inside track into backroom Sunderland AFC having been the first to break the news of several appointments at the club since last summer.

Indeed, it was The Sun who announced the impending arrival of Simon Wilson from Manchester City back in November - way ahead of his January unveiling as Chief Football Officer. And it was the same source who were first to reveal Ged McNamee was to step down as academy manager before breaking the news of his replacement, former Rangers man, Jimmy Sinclair.

Whoever the newspaper's mole is, chances are it's a similar source to the one who caused such angst back in March 2014 by leaking team news to the tabloid - a diplomatic episode that led to the title being banned from the club for a while and led to The Sun dubbing the Black Cats "Derland" due its removal removal from Sunderland.

Everton v Hull City - Premier League
The Sun is now banned at Everton as well as Liverpool
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

But back to the present season, and as David Moyes grew increasingly exasperated with his Sunderland squad for not responding to his methods, presumably plans began being concocted to structurally re-engineer the club in light of a relegation which now looks to have been inevitable since 2017 dawned.

As a temporary upswing in form during November and December gave way to a rotten Christmas period and miserable new year, the Sunderland boss and those above him clearly saw the writing on the wall and began plotting for the drop.

Indeed, Moyes himself has been spotted with increasing frequency at second-tier stadia around the country seeking to unearth budget gems from second-rate sources.

He's been to Tannadice to watch Dundee United and Hibs in the Scottish Championship, then he popped up at Blackburn Rovers over the Easter weekend and he's also been spotted at Brentford and Falkirk during the course of the season.

Not much top league action there.

AFC Bournemouth v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

We've heard the word rebuild uttered by Moyes and by Martin Bain so often now that the concept has lost its impact.

They call it semantic satiation - a psychological phenomenon in which repeating a word or phrase over and over causes it to temporarily lose all meaning for the listener. That's the notion of rebuild at Sunderland right now. No one can really grasp what it is they're trying to sell us.

Regardless, something is going on and has been for a while. The plan is of course obvious - at its simplest level - to turn Sunderland into Southampton. Luring players with potential to Wearside in the hope a certain percentage can be sold on for profit.

Groningen v Sunderland
Unearthing more Jordan Pickfords than Ryan Nobles - that's the key. The former Sunderland youngsters pictured here in 2012
Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Coupled with the rhetoric of Moyes, that means developing Sunderland into a hub for young British-based talent.

And it has potential exploitative benefits. The biggest Premier League teams are now frantically searching for - and overspending on - Brits to fulfil home-grown quotas and there's no sign of that abating in the near future.

But it takes time and patience. In fact it takes lots of time and patience to develop youth products into profitable assets. And with Sunderland losing a whole load of money and set to continue with austerity measures for years to come, the short-term goal of bouncing back into the Premier League quickly must be achieved.

And whether there is sufficient leverage and market gain to be had from this British-focus remains doubtful. It is simply a strategy that remains largely untried and untested in the multi-cultural depth of English football.

There will still be Africans, Frenchmen, Germans, Americans and Australians coming in bulk to be developed by clubs in this country and Sunderland must still operate in those markets - regardless of what David Moyes says.

But what Sunderland simply must capitalise on in attempting to attract all of them, is the single biggest asset this club has - its support and the region from which it springs.

The North East of England is a land where young players can come and transform into men - quite literally in the cold - in front of tens of thousands of gritty supporters who will demand sweat for the club. But they will also be looked after within the warm communities of Wearside and County Durham. There is nowhere quite like it.

And that's how you sell Sunderland to the parents of young talent who may not be as familiar with this club as they are with the global TV-exposed big six in the Premier League.

The most successful clubs in that top-tier simply do not possess a fan base as passionate as that which Sunderland does. They may win titles and trophies but still the red-and-white army takes more with it when it hits the road than most of them, and it retains a rich hardcore of support at home that can not be matched outside of the north east.

Scouting, analytics and recruitment consultants can only do so much. The player journey and utilising the core strengths of the club to maximise individual potential and subsequent profit remain utterly untapped at Sunderland. That must change.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League
Sunderland fans - literally *the* unique base on which to build the club
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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