Cast your mind back to Saturday 13th May 2017. With the final whistle blown; a 2-0 home defeat to Swansea City was confirmed, bringing down the curtain on Sunderland's pathetic home campaign. Two away fixtures at Arsenal and champions Chelsea hardly filled us all with any sort of optimism that we could pick up any more points. We lose 2-0 at The Emirates and are thumped 5-1 at Stamford Bridge. We exit the Premier League with a whimper.
I remember scanning around the Stadium of Light that day; the empty seats, the sadness, the apathy. Our once vibrant home reduced to a shell of its former self. Only seven or eight players stayed to acknowledge the remaining supporters, and only at the insistence of Captain John O'Shea.
This day had been coming - for a long time. We know each contributing factor that has caused our dire predicament, and how much blame is attached to those people; something that dwelling on here will do no good. That day at home to Swansea was the beginning of the end. What exactly can I say that has prompted me to write this? Allow me to explain…
I awoke Friday morning to find news of our squad (or what is left of it) returning to pre-season training at The Academy of Light. I read on various media platforms that Fabio Borini will not be joining in, as the club have given the green light for him to move to AC Milan. This is the same AC Milan who - thanks to new investment - is throwing money around like confetti. Why they actually want to sign Borini is anyone's guess. Nevertheless, it stirred something in me. Those mid-season feelings of hate and disgust towards David Moyes and our current crop of players have suddenly resurfaced even though I thought I’d buried them along with the entire 16/17 campaign.
Fabio Borini, has somehow, managed to ply his trade at Chelsea, Liverpool, Roma and now AC Milan. All at the age of only 26. I find that astonishing. How he has accomplished that is way beyond me. We all know that he has a highly inflated opinion of himself, but what exactly is that based on? 17 goals in 93 Sunderland appearances?Two league goals last season and a quite frankly mythical ‘Mag Slayer’ moniker? Do me a favour.
Borini came here from Liverpool for personal gain, wanting to play his way into the future plans of his parent club, and fair play to him for that. The 2013-14 season was a bizarre one to say the least. A run to the League Cup final resulting in a magical day at Wembley for half of Wearside, ending in a miraculous escape from relegation after we looked dead and buried with six games to play. I acknowledge that Borini played his part in that. He had fire in his belly and looked a completely different player to the one I’ve seen on Wearside in the last two years.
He was in and out of the Liverpool side the following season, but since his permanent move to Sunderland he simply hasn’t wanted to be here. Murmurs of discontent have failed to dissipate, and as soon as the season finale was upon us, Borini was already making headway to jump ship. First up, going back to Roma was mentioned, then it was Lazio, Napoli and finally AC Milan where he has joined on loan with a clause stating Milan have an obligation to buy the misfiring striker. His agent is Roberto De Fanti, which makes the whole thing even more remarkable. My brain has struggled to process it all. Borini will surely point to this move as justification for his opinions on his own abilities, something else that I cannot understand. Borini and his team of people need applauding for tying up such a deal.
If it is possible for my love of a player to go full circle, it certain has done with Fabio. The goals against Newcastle, ‘The Knife’ celebrations and the apparent love for all things SAFC has evaporated in an instant. Throw into the mix Jeremain Lens and his constant whinging, his seemingly relentless abhorrent attitude towards our club, its fate and its supporters; Papy Djilobodji, who incredibly, also wants to move back to the Premier League; and the entire Lamine Kone saga too. I can honestly say I’ve never loathed a group of players so much. Factor in David Moyes and the hate cranks up a level.
With the takeover talks disintegrating in a matter of hours, the club moved swiftly to appoint Simon Grayson as manager - something that I believe is a very welcome move. We were never going to attract a stellar name, but what we do have is a boss who has all the right attributes to stabilize our club as we embark on a difficult Championship season. We all know how desperate we are for signings, but Grayson will need time to asses the existing players and move on the many players who do not want to be here. There is a lot for the new manager to sink his teeth into, but judging by his opening comments in the media yesterday, it seems that he's up for the challenge of managing SAFC.
Currently, everywhere I look within that Sunderland squad I see negativity, contempt, ineptitude, and carefree, workshy attitudes. I cannot see Simon Grayson putting up with players who simply will not pull their weight here. Roy Keane continually mentioned the ‘character’ of the players he signed, or was looking to sign. The players he brought in got us into the Premier League, and kept us there before the Irishman acrimoniously departed. It is incredibly clear that the personalities and make-up of our imports have been the wrong fit for SAFC - which looks to have gone on for far too long.
This has to change if we are to move forward. Lens, Borini, Kone, Djilobodji, even Adnan Januzaj, (all full internationals by the way) the whole lot of them have blood on their hands. What rankles with me is the fact that they simply don’t care. Their lack of work rate and shocking attitudes made it all the more unbearable. Don’t let them tell you that they think otherwise. None of them care about the fortunes of our club, and I cannot wait to see the back of them. When things are going well it’s all rosy and great. Flood twitter with #TeamKone all you want, but it won’t wash with me. We need actions and results on the pitch; not a social media hashtag to promote your narcissistic self. I, like many others, have had it with these types of players.
Whether you want to hear it or not, the Duncan Watmores and the Lee Cattermoles are the types of players who the club needs for its 46 game slog next season. We’re done with overpaid mercenaries who want to leech from our coffers, put in little or no work on a Saturday afternoon, and feign injury when they simply haven’t got the stomach for battle. They pointed the finger at everyone but themselves for our poor season; they exonerated each other from blame.
I have long since accepted Jordan Pickford leaving for pastures new, likewise Jermain Defoe. None of it even hurts anymore. How awful of a statement does that sound? I hated Darren Bent for the way he left SAFC. I hid under the duvet for a week when Julio Arca departed; Espanyol I could have handled, but when he joined Boro, I struggled.
Gone are the days for heroes; of Ball, Quinn, Phillips and Arca. Players come, and players go; most of which aren’t here long enough to achieve hero status. Jermain Defoe may be the last we see on Wearside for a while, unless some minor miracle happens next season. Don’t debate the likes of Borini, Lens and Kone leaving; don’t give them the time of day. Embrace it, hail and celebrate it.
Look at it is as another contributory poison leaving our club, clearing the way for brighter days ahead. They’re self-centred and cowardly individuals and we don’t need them.
Together we’ll move forward without them and make our club great once again. Don't mourn them with a black armband, simply forget Borini and co. With the takeover now dead in the water, and finally a new manager appointed, this summer is only the beginning; the first step on the ladder to recovery, stability and better, happier times. Yes, it will throw up uncertainty, but we're not immune to that. In fact, we're fully qualified to deal with it. Once again, it will be another roller-coaster ride of a season for SAFC in 2017-18, and Simon Grayson has his work cut out. He'll be under no illusions of the task at hand, but we will have our days in the sun once again I have no doubt.
Why would a professional footballer with heart and integrity not want to be part of that?