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Root & Branch: Is a complete overhaul required in order to fix Sunderland’s horrific problems?

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Part One - the playing staff. Are loan players a waste of time? Have the club been let down by its players, and have the club let them down in return?

Sunderland v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images

It’s a term I’ve encountered a number of times, but I’ve always wondered where the phrase ‘root and branch’ emerged from. The basic gist of its usage is to suggest a thorough overhaul of something perceived as being rotten or broken - little wonder that it’s often used to describe the enormity of the task facing our crippled club, then.

After a small amount of research I found out that it’s actually a biblical phrase used in the King James Bible, in a section named Malachi:

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

I’m not a very religious being in the slightest, but the phrasing is powerful enough for all to see, and you can understand why so many fans use the phrase to display their frustration, anger and desire for radical change.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
The man to head a root and branch overhaul of the club?
Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

That being said, the aspiration for such a massive change is one that will present enormous difficulties - especially if current ownership remains on Wearside. Ellis Short seemingly doesn’t have the want or whim to enact wholesale change at the club, and should he remain beyond this season then fans have every right to worry about the club’s future.

Martin Bain, brought in to remedy our financial woes, also seems to be struggling and unable to find a way to support the club’s managers in their attempts at assembling sides capable of finding even the most limited forms of success. Whether he has the appetite or ability to navigate a systematic overhaul of the club remains to be seen, though multiple decisions made by him during his tenure at the club will leave many with the belief that he’s not the right man moving forward.

This is, of course, not news to anybody. However, in the event that Short and Bain do leave the club in the coming weeks - and are replaced by new ownership capable of totally reinventing Sunderland - there are several areas of the club that will need to be in order to ensure that we can move forward and grow.

Finances are obviously a major issue, as too are the club’s scouting and coaching practices, which could certainly be developed and reshaped in order to see greater success - and these issues will be discussed in the coming days.

Today, however, the club’s under-performing squad is under the microscope as we pose the question: what needs to change moving forward?

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League
Almost everything depends on whether Short leaves the club.
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

It goes without saying that the current playing squad have disappointed this season as we wait for our second relegation in as many seasons to be confirmed. Many of the current side will leave in the summer. Seven are merely here on loan and will undoubtedly return to their parent clubs, while many more could well leave the club for a host of reasons.

Listening to this week’s Roker Rapport Podcast I found the conversation about loan players and their effectiveness to be an interesting discussion. Essentially, the question was posed as to whether loan players have been effective this season - the response was a resounding no. Moving forward this needs to change.

It feels like Sunderland have tried to build a successful side out of loan deals since relegation from the Premier League - likely due to financial constraints - but it simply hasn’t worked. Did any of this season’s borrowed men improve the side? Not really, and in turn we’ve also potentially damaged their careers.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

How irritated must our young players be when they have been made to sit by and witness these loanees fail to do anything of note? Gordon Armstrong argued in the podcast below that when things aren’t going right it’s an opportunity to give younger lads a chance to shine - and we’ve really failed in that respect.

Some argue that if these young lads aren’t being given a chance, then it’s likely because they’re not good enough and that’s a fair comment. However, as a club we don’t give these lads a chance to develop elsewhere first (more on that tomorrow).

Instead, we loan in players hoping they’ll be good enough to somehow rejuvenate a flatlining club; it’s incredibly short-sighted and has genuinely hurt the club’s chances of developing home-grown talent on a large-scale. Moving forward loan players should be limited to one or two astute deals that give us a chance of developing top talents in need of first-team football both from other clubs and within our own ranks.

Furthermore, the over-reliance on players like John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole has been a major issue. I hold no grudges or ill will against either player - they’ve always donned the shirt and tried their best for the club, even if the quality has been lacking.

However, to lean on O’Shea week after week at the age of thiry-six, and Lee Cattermole who has struggled with serious injuries in recent years - something he noted almost forced him to retire - has been just barmy.

Ultimately, we’ve relied on players too heavily without ever finding adequate replacements capable of improving the team and easing the pressure to perform on players who have struggled to make a difference.


The club needs to be progressive in order to fix serious problems within. The reliance on loan players and aged pros has been a major part of our downfall and these worrying issues have to be resolved.

Tomorrow’s focus will be on recruitment and coaching - how can we improve our side on such a limited budget going forward? It’s tricky, but certainly can be done.