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The Case Files: How to get Sunderland promoted; No need to spend a lot but it can take some time

Getting out of the Championship into English football's elite top-tier is notoriously difficult. It always has been in truth, but the riches of the Premier League have now made promotion to the pinnacle of the game so desperately sought-after. A vast array of clubs - some big, some small - have gone up in a vast manner of ways in recent years. Here's how they did it.

The Case Files

Prior to his now climactic meeting with Ellis Short, David Moyes boasted that he intended presenting a selection of case studies on those sides the Black Cats may be able to emulate in order to mount a promotion challenge.

It obviously went down a bomb because moments later the dismal Scot was on his way having tendered his resignation.

But he's gone and we must look to the future. So perhaps those arriving for interview for the vacant manager position will bring with them a PowerPoint presentation as to the models Sunderland could employ in order to lead the club back to the promised land of the Premier League.

Here's an overview of how to get promoted. Or at least how a selection of sides achieved it in recent years.

The Data on spending

With Sunderland likely to have a mediocre budget this summer, it should come as good news that sides who gain promotion rarely spend much as figures from the present decade illustrate.

Spending in promotion season*

With clubs who have gained promotion spending an average of just £9m in the season they went up, it's definitely a case of how you use it rather than the size of your transfer kitty which is important.

Though it is worth noting the expenditure of Burnley and Newcastle in recent seasons on assembling a side which enabled them to bounce back into the Premier League, it is worth noting that an expensively put together squad doesn’t necessarily equate to Championship success with some pretty cheap sides in terms of total value gaining promotion.

Squad value*

When you consider that Sunderland's depreciated relegated squad is roughly rated as worth £80m - £100m depending how you value it, a side assembled for half of that figure would be about the average going rate for a promotion team.

With that in mind, there's three ways to get promoted in Sunderland's position - bounce back straight away, slip up through the Play-offs or steadily assemble sufficient squad ability to get up after several years of building. Here's the case studies.


The Automatic Bounce-Backs

Since this decade began, only three sides have returned to the Premier League via automatic promotion in their first season following relegation - West Brom, Burnley and Newcastle. Here's how they did it.

2009-10 West Brom

Roberto Di Matteo bounced the Baggies back into the Premier League with the third most expensively assembled squad - at £55m - in the Championship in 2010.

Most people's favourites to return to the top-tier that season, luck and good timing played a part with Di Matteo inheriting a squad with a strong spine from Tony Mowbray. Key performers from the back end of the relegation season hit the ground running in the Championship and the Baggies only spent a net £1m to ensure they gained promotion.

Roberto Di Matteo celebrating West Brom's second-place finish in 2010

2015-16 Burnley

Bouncing back at the first attempt, Burnley reinvested sales of Danny Ings to Liverpool and Kieran Trippier to Spurs wisely, bringing in Andre Gray who hit 23 goals to fire the Clarets to promotion.

In his fourth season at Turf Moor, Dyche oversaw his second promotion with Burnley. Joey Barton and Matthew Lowton were brought in to provide some additional Premier League experience and home form was the bed rock of the title-winning campaign. The Clarets’ squad was ranked 8th most expensive in the division that year at £36m with a net spend of £4m.

Charlton Athletic v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship
Burnley fans celebrated promotion in 2016
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

2016 - 17 Newcastle

Newcastle benefited from a huge £85m of revenue from players sold-on from Steve McClaren’s expensively assembled squad. They invested a fair chunk of the money received with £54m spent on incomings, and £10m fees lashed out on both Dwight Gayle and Matt Richie.

Squad values in the Championship last season were at their highest ever with Newcastle's valued at over £100m and Aston Villa's at £70m. Norwich, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday all assembled line-ups worth over £50m as the Toon-inflation hit the second-tier with sides trying to compete with the Magpies.

Bouncing back on a tide of Benitez-hype that only Newcastle fans could engineer, even the Magpies’ jolliest fans grew jaded by the incessant nature of a Championship campaign with the Toon grinding out results more often than not.

Newcastle United v Barnsley - Sky Bet Championship
Newcastle, promoted as champions last season
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The Play-Off Pushers

Some currently established Premier League sides have found their way into the big league via the lottery of the Play-offs.

Swansea, Crystal Palace and West Ham are the trio to have notably made the most of the Play-off route by cementing their round-about jump into the Premier League with a prolonged stay thereafter.

Swansea achieved promotion 'on the cheap' in 2009-10 with a squad valued at £26m and a net spend of just over £1m.

Likewise Crystal Palace were promoted via the Play-offs in 2012-13 with a team assembled for just £22m whilst netting a decent profit of £12m from the sales of Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United and Nathaniel Clyne to Southampton.

By contrast a year earlier, Sam Allardyce's West Ham bounced back from relegation via the Play-offs with a squad valued at over £100m with a net spend of a couple of million as they refreshed their squad only slightly.

West Ham United v Blackpool: npower Championship - Playoff Final
Sam Allardyce celebrating promotion via the Play-offs in 2012
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And of course Huddersfield achieved promotion recently via the Play-offs in their fifth season in the Championship following a decade in League One and League Two.

Having spent next to nothing, but ensuring a systematic back-room structure is in place to support a very capable first team manager, the Terriers are the new blue-print for sides hoping to reach the riches of the Premier League on a modest budget.

Huddersfield Town v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final
David Wagner is being widely hailed for leading Huddersfield into the Premier League via the Play-Offs
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The Slow-Burners

In truth, most sides who gain promotion have been building for it for a while. Middlesbrough went up in 2016 after finishing in fourth place the previous season and Brighton will take their place in the top-tier in August having unsuccessfully appeared in the Play-offs three times in the previous four seasons.

Here's two more examples.

Cardiff City 2012-13

Having featured in the play-offs for the previous three seasons, Malky Mackay finally led Cardiff into the Premier League after dominating the Championship and finishing eight points clear at the top. The promotion campaign was the Welsh club’s fifth in the second-tier.

With a transfer outlay of £22m set against an £11m balance of outgoings, the Bluebirds incomings included Sunderland’s Frazier Campbell and Jordan Mutch in an assembled squad worth £35m. With Vincent Tan taking over the club two years prior, enormous changes took place behind the scenes - none more so than changing the colour of the team’s strip from blue to red.

Cardiff City v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Vincent Tan
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

The destruction was too much and Cardiff returned to the second-tier within twelve months.

Leicester City 2013 – 14

Leicester’s fifth consecutive season in the second-tier saw them dominate the Championship and gain automatic promotion. Managed by Nigel Pearson, the Foxes broke records for total points haul, most wins and various other notables for various runs they embarked on.

Hull City v Leicester City - Premier League
Nigel Pearson during his Leicester days
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Reaping the rewards of leadership from the Srivaddhanaprabha family and a recruitment department headed by Steve Walsh, Leicester spent next to nothing – about half-a-million pounds - with Riyad Mahrez the only fee paid in their promotion campaign on a squad valued at 27.5m. Spend in the previous season was at a similar level though the Foxes’ finances from that season have been subject to investigation.


So, promotion - it doesn't have to cost a lot but it can take some time.

Automatic bounce-back, push through the Play-Offs or a slow burn? Which - if any - will it be for Sunderland?

*transfer fees and squad values sourced from transfermarkt.com