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Break it up and start again?

Sunderland’s summer’s rebuild is far from unique. Mark Wood gives his verdict on some of the most important recruitment campaigns of the last 40 years.

Sunderland v Aston Villa Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

“Get rid of the lot of them, they are all useless so send them packing!” It’s a moan you often hear from fans when giving their solution to the on-field misfortunes of a club.

This summer, Sunderland are in the middle of the annual conundrum of “to rebuild or not to rebuild”. But does a big clear-out actually work?

In no particular order, this is a selection of the more memorable rebuilds from the past.

Summer 1997 (Peter Reid)

This was Peter Reid’s first real attempt to construct a team capable of going places after the club’s relegation from the Premier League. With the Stadium of Light just completed, previously unseen quantities of money began to flow into the club coffers, and the cash-armed manager immediately looked to recruit quality. In came the likes of Phillips, Makin, Craddock, Clark and Summerbee, on top of the purchase of Johnstone at the tail-end of the previous season.

Verdict: The expectation was for the club to get promoted and immediate return to the Premier League. In that respect it failed, as we fell one penalty kick short in a play-off final defeat at Wembley. However with a couple of additions the next summer, we swept all before the following season and in two subsequent 7th place finishes in the Premier League.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Sunderland v Portsmouth Photo by Bob Collier/EMPICS via Getty Images

Summer 2007 (Niall Quinn, then Roy Keane)

The club relegated (again) and a new owner in Niall Quinn saw everything thrown together at the last minute. For a start, Sir Niall couldn’t get a new manager in place for the season’s kick-off, and ended up trying to take on the role himself.

With new players needed, he went on a recruitment frenzy of his own. A few games into the season, he then managed to get a manager in the shape of old Republic of Ireland buddy/foe Roy Keane, who looked to bring in the players that he wanted to go on top of his new chairman’s recruitment from a couple of weeks earlier.

Between them, over a few weeks, they recruited players such as Cunningham, Elliot, Ward, Hysen, Connolly, Varga, Miller, Wallace, Kavanagh and Yorke. Probably feeling somewhat thwarted by the end of the transfer window, Roy Keane made further key additions in January.

Verdict: With two rebuilds in the space of a few weeks, you have to wonder how it could have possibly come good? But it did, spectacularly. After a relegation form start in the Championship, Sunderland ploughed up the league like an express train winning promotion by a country mile.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Summer 1993 (Terry Butcher)

Not the biggest rebuild by any means but you have to include this one because it was... well, just so Sunderland.

Bob Murray finally had the (biggish) name manager he had craved, and promptly let him loose in the transfer market in an attempt to get the club promoted back to the top flight. In came Andy Melville, Phil Gray, Ian Rodgerson and Derek Ferguson.

Fans were delighted at the first significant outlay in a number of players that the club had made in years. Terry Butcher was delighted that he was quickly assembling a squad to push the club up into the Premier League.

The new signings were so delighted they bonded together instantly and went everywhere together. Even in a car going the wrong way around a roundabout which they promptly wrote off along with themselves for the start of the season.

Sunderland lost their first game 5-0 at Derby and it all went down the plug from there.

Verdict: It could only happen to us.

Soccer - Endsleigh League Division One - Notts County v Sunderland - Meadow Lane Photo by Phil O’Brien/EMPICS via Getty Images

January 2016 (Sam Allardyce)

Everyone’s favourite winter rebuild from everyone’s most recent favourite Sunderland manager. With the club in desperate trouble in the relegation spots action was needed if we were to stay up. In came Kirchhoff, Khazri and Kone along with N’Doye, Harper and Eboue. A sustained period of good results followed, culminating in wins over Chelsea and Everton which secured the club's status in the top flight and unfortunately sent Newcastle down (coughs).

Verdict: Big Sam, Kirchhoff, Khazri, Kone - all key men for us from January until the end of the season. Where were they all the next season? And nope, Kone is not a misprint.

Crystal Palace v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Summer 2002 (Peter Reid)

Most of the team that had swept all before it from 1997 onwards had gone, and over the last six months of the previous season had looked a shadow of the standards we had become used to, only narrowly avoiding relegation on the final day of the campaign.

Supporters knew action was needed over the summer, but Reid made little activity in the transfer market. Eventually, with time running down on the close of the transfer window, he bought Babb, Wright, Piper and Flo to replace the ageing Niall Quinn, along with Myhre and Marcus Stewart as back up for Kevin Phillips. There was a feel of optimism that the club could kick on again to put the previous season’s ‘blip’ behind them.

Verdict: No other way to put it than a disaster of monumental proportions from one of our most highly regarded managers. Put the club back a number of years.

Summer 2003 (Mick McCarthy)

Was this a rebuild? If you just look at transfers coming into the club, then there were only the likes of Breen, Whitley and Tommy Smith. And if Peter Reid complained he never got to shop at Harrods, then Mick McCarthy positively went down to the flea market to rummage in the bargain bucket.

However, the family silver had all been sold off, and in their place came players who were previously back-up in the reserves were pushed into the first team. So, in addition to the new faces, others who now regularly played each week were Thornton, Oster, Stewart, Poom, Kyle and McCartney.

Verdict: Put it as a success simply because after the departure of all the star names there wasn’t an expectation for them to achieve much. The team got as far as the playoff places and the semi-final of the FA Cup.

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Summer 1984 (Len Ashurst)

He came, he saw, he decided to strip it all down and go for a complete rebuild.

In came players like Berry, Walker, Wylde, Daniel, Gayle, Hodgson and Bennett. The club managed to collect some big name scalps in a run to the Milk Cup final, but after a promising first couple of months in the league, the campaign started to fall apart until the club was relegated from the top flight.

Verdict: He ripped out the high gloss kitchen and replaced it with a camping stove, got the wiring from the duds skip at the back of B&Q, and the woodwork came on discount from a timber yard but was found to be full of holes. Cowboy builder.

Sunderland Photo by Staff/NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Summer 2011 (Steve Bruce)

After the sales of Darren Bent and Jordan Henderson, the manager was armed with some (but not all) of the funds to rebuild the team. In came Wickham, Gardener, Ji, Westwood, Larsson, Brown, O’Shea and Bendtner, which we all hoped would enable the team to push on into the top half of the Premier League. However, someone, somewhere took the decision that key striker Gyan could leave the club on loan three days after the transfer window shut, with no hope of signing a replacement.

Verdict: If some say Sunderland’s problems began the day they sold Darren Bent, then they were even more exasperated when Gyan went. It was the beginning of the end for Steve Bruce, and the team that he assembled continued to struggle in the Premier League in the following few seasons.

Summer 2013 (Roberto de Fanti)

An Everton supporting colleague called out to me in the break room at work that summer:

Colleague: How do you think your team will do this season?

Me: What happens on Championship Manager when you sign 13 players?

Colleague: It all goes tits up!

Me: Exactly.

We had a good laugh about that one.

Interestingly, a month or so later when Di Canio had been sacked there was this exchange with the same colleague:

Colleague: Who do you think your next manager will be?

Me: David Moyes! He’ll be available soon ( The uninspiring one had just got off to bad start to his Man Utd career)

Proper chuckling our sides at that exchange.....

Thirteen players were signed and only four, Altidore, Borini, Mannone and Giaccherini became regulars for the team. Of those only Mannone could be considered a good signing if you look back on their Sunderland careers (sorry Borini fans, but he was mediocre at best after he joined permanently).

Verdict: When you opened your eyes the next morning, it turned out it wasn’t a nightmare after was all real!


Ripping everything up and starting again does not always work, when just a bit of tweaking may have been better.

However, at the moment, because of the lack of squad numbers, we face a recruitment dilemma where we have to bring in more than just a couple of players and are facing a rebuild driven by necessity rather than the want of a better squad.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

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