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The downward trajectory - a fear we all privately share but aren’t publicly uttering... yet

We've all thought it, could Sunderland plummet straight through the divisions into League One? There are precedents - several of them - and worse still, most have certain themes in common with the Black Cats of 2017.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Matthew Ashton/Getty Images

If I give you a list of clubs, can you tell what what brings them together?

Leeds United, Portsmouth, Southampton, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Wimbledon Norwich, Wolves, Bradford, Wigan, Bolton, Blackburn, Blackpool, Charlton, Leicester and Coventry.

Worked it out?

All of these clubs have been in the Premier League at some point since the year 2000, and have since suffered relegations to the 3rd tier of English football. Why am I bringing this up?

Because, let's be honest, Sunderland AFC is in dire, dire straights. Now I am not saying we should write the obituaries for next season before we have even hired a manager - no, not yet. What I am saying though is that we are heading to League One if the club can not fix the mess it is currently in.

Perhaps we might have more than just a sponsor in common with Blackburn Rovers next season

Worse, I can see eerie, eerie similarities between our club and those listed above.

Relegation always brings about a period of instability, and Sunderland will be no different. But it's the level of instability at Sunderland which is concerning. And that instability is shown in every aspect of the club. Chairman? Wants to sell. Manager? Not appointed. Players? All want to leave/out of contract/no desirable footballing abilities. Day to day staff? Large redundancies. Finances? Insecure at best/large debts/inflated wage bill/large transfer fees still to be paid.

So that's basically every aspect of the football club, and Sunderland do not have a single thing within that suggests this is an entity ready to compete as a football club. The only thing that is stable right now is the current disdain from supporters towards the current regime.

The following examples highlight the precarious situation in which our club currently finds itself.


Leeds United in 2007: The Elland Road former giant left the Premier League with debts of £78 million (in today's football world that is probably £150 million+). They did so with barely any semblance of a playing squad. They did not know who would be manager. Who would be the owner. No staff. Nothing.

Now Leeds were in a far worse situation in 2004 than we are now, but it is hard not to make some compelling comparisons. The fans had become disengaged with the club, which I won't say is true of us Sunderland fans yet - but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find things to be positive about when it comes to our beleaguered club.

The Leeds United situation was a slow burner, it took three seasons in the Championship and a play off final defeat for the club to eventually fall into League one.

Leeds United v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship
A big club with a big stadium. Are there eerie similarities with Leeds of 2004 onwards with Sunderland of 2017 onwards?
Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images

Wolves in 2013: Terry Connor and Wolves were relegated in the 2011-12 season in a similar way to Sunderland. Wolves went on a diabolical run in the second half of the campaign before finishing bottom of the Premier League. But worse was to follow. They hired Stale Solbakken, former FC Koln manager, and kept the majority of their relegation squad together. They only sold three true first-teamers: Steven Fletcher, Michael Kightly and Matt Jarvis, but kept the majority of the players who had perfected a losing mentality the season before.

Wolves owner Steve Morgan made bad decisions in the summer of 2012 as he allowed the club to keep the majority of the inept squad together when fundamental wholesale changes should have been made - as evidenced in the previous campaign.

Similarities to Sunderland right now as we try to recover from a dismal season: a bad managerial appointment coupled with a lingering losing mentality at Wolves is disturbingly familiar to that which engulfs the Stadium of Light right now.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers - npower Championship
Joke club ring any bells? Wolves were relegated to the third tier in 2013.
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Norwich in 2009 and Leicester in 2008: Norwich and Leicester both spent 4 seasons in the Championship after their relegation from the top flight.

Firstly, Leicester had exited the Premier League with barely a whimper in 2004 and then proceeded to finish 15th, 16th, 19th before being relegated again to the third tier. Admittedly the club had struggled with financial problems for years, but Leicester never seemed to shake that losing mentality and then made consistently bad managerial appointments in Craig Levein, Rob Kelly and Ian Holloway - while changes in ownership finally led to their awful demise.

Norwich on the other hand have always had steady ownership with Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones at the helm, but the Canaries suffered awfully through some terrible management on the pitch. 9th, 16th and 17th place finishes would then be followed by relegation to League One in 2009. The club had gone through 4 managers, including Glenn Roeder, who could not stop the ship from sinking into third tier oblivion.

Ipswich Town v Norwich City: Sky Bet Championship
Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones, majority shareholders at Norwich
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

What is clear with both of these clubs though is that relegations came at a time when money had become increasingly tight. Neither club were in a position to spend much on players to rebuild their failed Premier League squads; a position in which Sunderland currently find themselves. Unpicking the financial forecast at the Stadium of Light to predict summer activity is almost impossible, but we do know that money will be incredibly tight - and that does not bode well for our future.

The Others: The key component of the clubs who have been relegated from the Premier League and then relegated again to League 1 is the stagnation each one suffered. Generally a pattern emerges indicating the fateful League 1 relegation will take a few seasons to happen, but ultimately it's no surprise when it does.

Southampton avoided relegation on the final day in 2007/08, but the next season struggled to 23rd and slumped into League One. Coventry City were relegated from the Premier League in 2001 and never got close to the play-offs before their relegation in 2012. The key thing with Southampton and Coventry was that they had spent a long time in the top flight before relegation and both suffered through bad ownership mu h like ourselves.

If we look at the recent relegations of Blackburn and Bolton we again see some similarities with Sunderland. The ownership situation at Blackburn is obviously well known, though Ellis Short is not quite the villain the Venkys are in Lancashire. However, the comparisons between the two are quite similar: both clubs have been relegated with uncertainty surrounding their financial situation whilst their playing squads have been incredibly poor.

Blackburn Rovers v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League
Blackburn's despised owners met their fate when the club were relegated to League One this season
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Blackburn finished 17th, 8th, 9th and 15th before being relegated this season on the final day of a dismal campaign. There is a recurring theme here of slow burning situations where clubs deteriorate before being unsurprisingly relegated. Bolton are a very similar situation to Blackburn in that their financial problems have contributed to their demise. They finished 7th, 14th and 18th before being relegated in 2016.

The Themes

If we look at the common theme between all of the clubs mentioned, most slumps into League One can largely be predicted by researching financial and ownership issues surrounding relegated clubs.

In general, clubs that suffer a double relegation do it over a long period of time. You can’t help draw similarities between Sunderland and a lot of these examples because the key aspects surrounding their relegation to the Championship are the same as Sunderland's current situation now. Financially insecure with an owner who wants to sell or is uninterested in continued investment, with a losing mentality and a frustrated fan base. If the club cannot curtail their current woes then the path is frighteningly clear.

The second major theme is bad managerial appointments, whether it be the manager who takes a club down, or a manager who wasted the club's money and left a terrible squad behind them.

Wigan is a good example of this. Owen Coyle took charge for their first season in the Championship after relegation, but recruited horribly and spent a lot of money. The club briefly recovered, but really did not have the cash to spend on avoiding relegation the following season. The Latics also spent heavily during their spell in the Premier League and left the division with an inflated wage bill and large debts. Sound familiar?

Wigan Athletic v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
Owen Coyle was a disaster at Wigan
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Look at each club that has suffered a double relegation and we see the exact same recurring themes: a club goes down, makes bad management decisions and over a period of time slides down the division until they are eventually relegated. Most of them came down with large debts and wage bills from their Premier League campaigns and never recover financially.

Sunderland seem to be an ideal candidate to fit this mould.

How can we avoid this path?

The key to avoiding all of this will be mainly be decided by who our next manager is. If we think back to our previous relegations from the Premier League - in 2003 and 2006 - we had a strong manager with a large personality to guide us back up. The club can not afford to appoint a manager who will struggle with the pressures of managing our club.

Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy managed to convert all the downward momentum from awful relegations into a positive siege mentality that led to spectacular promotions. I think we can all say honestly that we couldn't see a promotion when we were relegated all those seasons ago, but the club recruited effectively and the managers got the best out of the players. If we do not get it right this time, then struggles in this league will be inevitable.

Luton Town v Sunderland
Roy Keane in charge of Sunderland at Luton in May 2007, the final game of the season as the club were promoted
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

The other key factor is ridding ourselves of our current losing mentality. When was the last time Sunderland won more games than they lost? It was the 2006-07 season when we last gained promotion.

Since the 2010-11 season the club has been used to losing games, and the losing mentality is rife within the playing squad. When you lose for half a decade, it's just hard to stop losing. Therefore, Sunderland need to overhaul the current playing squad because the best way of losing that mentality is getting rid of the players who have bred it. Wolves for example kept the majority of their squad intact, but still suffered relegation. Why was that? The players were not bad, they just did not know how to win. If we are to achieve promotion then we need to get winners in the team.

Do not think that because we are Sunderland - a massive club with a big stadium and impressive facilities - that we can't suffer a relegation to League One in the near future. The evidence is there for all to see - clubs in similar situations to our own have failed to recognize their failures and have paid the price.