I've sat and pondered many things since May, and particularly with a sizeable gap in the football calendar this year courtesy of the absence of an international tournament, I've had more time than usual to stew over all things SAFC.
Many supporters have spoken of the similarities between our current situation and that of the last second tier campaign that Sunderland embarked upon - the very memorable and entertaining Keano driven roller-coaster that was the 2006/07 season. A lot of people have made the comparison, but the more I think about it, the less compelled I am to agree. There are similarities of course, but after giving it some thought, not as many as I'd previously estimated.
We dropped out of the top flight in 2006 simply because we weren't good enough. Money from the board hadn't been forthcoming to say the least and the players that were brought in couldn't cut the mustard in the Premier League. Kelvin Davis, Alan Stubbs, Jon Stead, Andy Gray, Christian Bassila and Anthony Le Tallec; a horror show of a squad resulting in a wretched season that yielded only three league wins and a goal difference of minus-43.
The pre-season that followed however, marked a change in the club’s fortunes, quite literally; as Niall Quinn swept in on a magic carpet, armed with funds from his Drumaville consortium to heave the club from its knees, injecting life into everyone connected with SAFC. Bringing in Roy Keane provided a huge shot in the arm and the feel good factor was back. Sunderland were on the map once again, and slowly but surely Keane's side gathered momentum to somehow finish the campaign on top of the pile, a prospect which seemed a million miles away after the now infamous 2-0 League Cup defeat to Bury in the August 2006.
If you cast your mind back to the Drumaville takeover and to the appointment of Keane in particular, I cannot help but think that the current fortunes of SAFC are actually in stark contrast to what they were back then in the summer of 2006.
By that, as well as the contrasting financial situation between then and now, I also mean the mood of us supporters and the uncertainty surrounding how we will indeed start this new season upon us.
There was cause for optimism and belief back in '06 but there was scepticism too, inevitably when we'd appointed a man with zero managerial experience. To get us up, Keane spent the best part of £11m across the remainder of the summer window and the following January, on players he'd worked with, trusted and who he felt had the character he was looking for. That fact that Simon Grayson is having to do much the same now is about the only obvious similarity I can find between the present day and Keane's first window.
There is much more anxiety and uncertainty today, and we simply haven't got much in the way of finances to go and acquire six or seven players to pad out the squad whilst adding the necessary quality at the same time. We cannot waste what little resources we have and Grayson is having to be shrewd and savvy when it comes to his recruits; bargain hunting, free transfers and the loan system are the only options available to him presently and it would look like, the foreseeable future.
Having said all of that, it is by no means all doom and gloom. There is another side to our situation. I spent an hour or two looking into what exactly previously promoted clubs had actually spent to get into the Premier League, and the things that I discovered surprised me a little.
The common misconception in the North East initially upon relegation was "oh, aye, it'll take £50m to get promoted." But that may not be the case at all. Yes, fans will point to Newcastle spending £55m last season to do just that. Having recouped £85m though, the Magpies could swiftly fund a squad to try and win the league. Those lot up the road have a bit of a track record here too. They had assets to sell after relegation in 2009, and bounced back up at the first attempt then as well.
Sunderland aren't in a position to do that. Yes, we can point at the likes of Lamine Kone, Jeremain Lens and Wahbi Khazri as players who would bring in a fair penny or two, but due to our financial situation, Ellis Short will be extremely reluctant to use any incoming funds to reinvest in the team. Simon Grayson hasn't seen a penny of the Jordan Pickford money, and nor is he likely to.
The good new is that, looking at the past ten seasons, and at the thirty clubs that gained promotion from The Championship, the average amount spent per club per season, was £9m. (That is without taking into consideration any loan fees). If we consider only the past five seasons, then the amount increases slightly to £12.4m; due to added TV revenue and prize money trickling down from the cash-laden Premier League.
That surprised me. I didn't think it would be so low. Huddersfield spent less than £4m last season as they utilised the loan system to its full, bringing in players from top flight clubs and from Germany to create an exciting young team. When Leicester were promoted in 13/14, the only fee they paid was for £425k to Le Havre, for a certain Riyad Mahrez.
If, like Newcastle, or Middlesbrough this summer, you have something of a war-chest to fund a promotion push, to say it helps massively would be the understatement of the century, but recruiting the right types players, for the right fees and deals is paramount to success. The likes of Blackburn and QPR are current example of what can happen if clubs continually get it wrong. I've said before that the motives players have for coming to Sunderland AFC have been the wrong ones, and that needs to change. Thankfully, under Grayson, that seems to be happening. He's certainly made the right noises in recent weeks. I have faith that he will get it right.
What I've learned from a financial perspective in recent days, is I think a little reassuring; that we can indeed still have a good campaign in our first season back in the second tier. We've tried so many times in the past to chuck money at the situation and it's backfired spectacularly, for which we are now paying the price of those countless forgetful transfer windows.
It is time to change tack. To be honest, we have little choice. There are bargains out there, Simon Grayson will be working incessantly to find them. If it is a season of transition then fair enough. If it is a season where we mount a play-off challenge, then I'll be elated. If we look like we're going to trouble the top two spots then I'll be ecstatic. We want to be proud of our club once again, and as I've found out this week, it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to do that.