Seb Larsson had already left Sunderland by the time filming had started on the Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die, as the Swedish international had joined Hull City on a free transfer following our relegation to the Championship.
Despite not being involved in the series, the 33-year-old has taken a keen interest in the show and has given a lengthy interview with fotbollskanalen.se about the series and his life in Sunderland in general.
Although the AIK midfielder hasn’t watched every episode yet, he says he understood the show immediately due to how many people he knew and how the club affects the city:
I have understood what it is about and I have also understood that many like it. It also well depicts Sunderland as a city and the people there, how the football affects and so. Only in the 20 minutes I saw so do you recognize many, know many, and know how it works there.
Larsson was then asked if he felt the passion for football in the city and pointed at the League One attendances as proof as to how much the club means to the people:
Yes, definitely. One knew how much it meant to people. In the beginning when you got there it was someone who said that if the football team is doing well, it goes well for the city, it goes bad so the city feels bad. It may be a little hairy, but somewhere there is some truth in it, that it means so much.
It also proves itself, the team has well up to 20-30,000 for matches in League One. I read somewhere that on Boxing Day, you had the third highest public figure of all teams. Then we still talk a team in League One. So certainly there is a tremendous passion and it was definitely felt.
But why did the club go from the Premier League down to League One in the space of two seasons? Larsson pins the blame at constant change at the club, from the team to the board:
Yes, you, it’s a good question. If you look at it with the ten years in a row in the Premier League and what it means with the support of the fans, the training facility and the arena, then it is difficult to understand why this happened. It shouldn’t have to go that way. When I was there, it came to be that from the time you came, it felt like there was a stability, a basic idea, a goal, which did not guarantee any success, but there was.
But it was huge shifts. You changed direction very often. It was very much changed in the board. It was not just coaches or players who changed, but it was board and new sports managers. One moment we had a sports director, then we didn’t have it, then we had a football director. There were huge fluctuations, and when you didn’t really get any of the fluctuations to work, you always had to start at zero, and we had some seasons where we managed to stay in the Premier League at the end and felt positive and we something to build on. But for various reasons we had to start over again, and in the environment in which it is in the Premier League with the competition, it is not possible to balance far too long.
In the end, it stopped. So Sunderland raged straight through The Championship instead of taking the step back up in the Premier League, which many in and around the club hoped for.
I think you should be aware that there are many teams that have the tough first year you leave the Premier League before you can start building again. Unfortunately, it was a bit too tough for Sunderland and it was sad to see.
But hopefully you can come back soon. I talked a little with Lee Cattermole who is still there and he is very positive about how the atmosphere is in the club and that you have got new owners. He meant that you never wanted to go down in League One, but somewhere it was this club needed to be able to turn all the negative things that were there. It was like a blanket that just choked everything. So maybe remove it and who knows, the club may be able to go up this year and then there are prerequisites to continue.
The Swedish international was then asked what he thought of Ellis Short:
A very nice man. Easy to talk to. As I understand it, he invested a lot of money in the club. The problem arises well when, and this picture I also have, I should not say that he did not care but he was not at all as active. He was quite open to wanting to sell.
Meanwhile, the club suffered because it was as I understood it that he took money from his own pocket and made sure that the club floated on and that is well done, but at the same time the club ended up in a vacuum for a good while when he wanted to sell, no new buyer was found and nothing happened. It was so sad for everyone.
With his contract ending at the end of the 2016-17 season, was relegation to the Championship the reason he left the club? Larsson didn’t think so:
No, I shouldn’t say so. I enjoyed it very well and got strong feelings for the club and therefore I still follow how it goes and really hope that you go up. But I think if we had been in the Premier League then it would have been time for me to leave.
I had been there for so long. I liked very well but had been involved with a lot of coaches here and there, maybe it was time to jump on something new. I think it had happened regardless of league status.
With relegation to the Championship, that meant a lot of behind the scenes staff lost their jobs - are they people that Larsson knew personally? Seb said yes, and that people being made redundant only compounds the misery of demotion:
Yeah. Undoubtedly. I can only talk to myself, but it is a reality that is very cramped and does not avoid anyone over there. When we left the Premier League I was fully aware of what it meant. This means that people lose their jobs and it is clear that it depends on how we perform on the football field.
It is clear that it is a responsibility that weighs down one when you participate and contribute to such a thing. It is one of the things that you think most about. It is of course a football club that can go down, you can get up and there is always a future there, but when it affects people’s work it is clear that it is not great fun to have been part of it and helped to It was so.
Finally, Larsson discusses rumours that the players were unhappy with the documentary taking place. The player say he understands why they would feel that way, particularly for the players who had been at the club for some time:
As long as I was left there was no talk about the documentary. I can understand that players were negative about it. It is a habit, you are used to having certain parts in a team, a football club and a workplace that is private and in many ways I think you need to have some parts that are only for players and leaders within the club.
So even though it has now become a success, I can understand that it may have been a little unnerving and a bit difficult for some in the beginning, especially perhaps the veterans who have been with us longer and have been very uncomfortable at that part.