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OPINION: The sorry state of Sunderland’s squad could be its saving grace this summer

Should we end our Championship campaign in the relegation zone, we’ll plummet into the abyss of League One for the first time in thirty years - is there any glimmer of hope to hold onto?

Could these two be our possible League One get-out-of-jail-card?
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

We’re in a bit of a mess, you may have noticed, and when if we start next season in League One, we desperately need to start afresh.

This can only be achieved when Ellis Short finally removes the ruinous talons he has sunk deep into the fabric of the club. Every time I write an article for Roker Report I do so imagining Ellis Short playing no part in the club’s future. I do this because the alternative is too devastating to consider.

So let’s imagine a brave new world where he has finally sold the club and a new owner is through the door. What squad of players are they due to inherit?

Stay with me as I lay bare the state our squad will be in come summer.

Crystal Palace v Sunderland - Premier League
Injury-prone Williams is one of many loanees with a clear fundamental flaw. No doubt we’ll be happy to see him return to Palace.
Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Firstly, let’s take a look at the loan players who will be returning to their parent clubs: Brendan Galloway, Ashley Fletcher, Tyias Browning, Jonny Williams, Ovie Ejaria, Jake Clarke-Salter and Lee Camp. Ejaria and Clarke-Salter have shown glimpses of promise but they are raw talent and, ultimately, they’re just two of seven loanees that won’t be missed.

Secondly, here’s the players whose contracts run out: Billy Jones, Marc Wilson, Kazenga LuaLua, John O’Shea, Darron Gibson and Ethan Robson. Of those players, only Gibson and Robson have any chance of being offered permanent contracts to stay with the club, and even then, there is every chance they will look for better opportunities elsewhere.

Thirdly, we shouldn’t forget the players out on loan: Fabio Borini, Wahbi Khazri, Papy Djilobodji, Dider Ndong, and Tom Beadling. No chance any of those are sticking around.

Fourthly, we have the players who will be likely pushed out the door: Jack Rodwell, Jason Steele, Bryan Oviedo, and Lamine Koné are a waste of space in our current Championship squad with their bloated wages and minimal talent. Their faces no longer fit at the club and it will be a surprise to no-one when they are all forced out at a cut-price this summer.

Lastly, out of necessity our current squad includes many players who are 21 or under - namely Max Stryjek, Elliot Embleton, Josh Maja, and Joel Asoro. When we name our 25 man squad for League One next season, these players are essentially free spaces and do not contribute to that total.

Promising youngster Joel Asoro proving his worth now, poking home a tidy finish at the weekend against Boro.
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

As you can see, while many clubs are kicking back watching their players impress on the world stage in Russia, our fax machine will be going into overdrive trying to keep up with the outgoings at the Academy of Light. So who will be left after this mass exodus?

Drum-roll please – the only senior players we can surmise that will be left at the club are: Robbin Ruiter, Adam Matthews, Donald Love, Paddy McNair, Lee Cattermole, George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch, Callum McManaman, Aiden McGeady, and Duncan Watmore.

For the math geniuses among you, you’ll have spotted that amounts to a grand total of ten senior players. Ten. To put that in context, that’s the same number of players we start a game with when Jack Rodwell is in the starting line-up.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Jack Rodwell being Jack Rodwell.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

However, the sorry state our squad is in could potentially become its saving grace.

After all, when the new owner comes in they will want a blank slate to work from and not have to worry about moving on the considerable deadwood, for that will seemingly happening by default in just four months.

And it could potentially mean we can start anew.

This is what other teams of similar stature did when they dropped down to League One - so there does exist a blueprint for success next season.

For instance, Southampton created a new role for Les Reed as Head of Football Development during their first season in the third tier. The rest is history; their recruitment process continues to bear fruit whilst they maintain Premier League status (Van Dijk being the latest big-money deal to give the club significant profit - for want of an understatement).

Another example is Leicester, who concentrated on signing youth players either on loan (Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard, Michael Keane) or permanently (Danny Drinkwater, Ben Mee) and built a platform for the future. This allowed them to go from strength to strength as they were promoted first into the Championship, and then into the Premier League - which, of course, they ultimately won!

Harry Kane celebrating with fellow Leicester players after scoring for the Foxes while on loan.
Leicester City via Getty Images

In Chris Coleman we have a manager who fits the stature of our club. With the greatest respect to Simon Grayson, he looked like a fish out of water most days. It is crucial that when a new owner comes in, Coleman is able to give Sunderland a new identity that isn’t just “pushovers”. Like many I’ve grown sick of hearing that word being used to describe our performances.

Coleman should be given every opportunity to concentrate on recruiting players that will be part of our long-term future to join the few that will remain. No more John O’Sheas; no more Lee Camps, the deadwood is being moved on so it’s time to build a team we can be proud of again.

Martin Bain may be just one rung up from Ellis Short in the fiery pits of hell, but at least he planned for the worst case scenario last summer – back-to-back relegations. With so many players tied to short-term deals, we have the opportunity to breathe new life back into a squad that has been on life-support for at least three seasons.

It might just be the most appealing aspect of the club to a prospective new owner - and it might end up being the reason we can start afresh next season.

God knows we need to.

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