Let me start this article with a question.
How many clubs in world football are what you might describe as ‘apex predators’?
I’m talking about teams that can seemingly sign players at will whilst retaining their own superstars and being able to fend off the advances of any suitors with ease.
As arguably the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid would surely be at the top of the food chain. Their La Liga sparring partners Barcelona used to be, too, but they’re now trying to keep the lights on at the Nou Camp, and seemingly having to cut their cloth accordingly.
Beyond that? It’s quite difficult to say with any certainty because it’s all relative, but bar a handful of elite clubs both at home and abroad there aren’t many who are immune from the temptation to sell when the big guns come calling.
Following Monday’s meeting - during which Kristjaan Speakman, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, Steve Davison and Dave Jones met with supporters and provided updates on a number of issues - there was a rush to interpret the comments on possible player sales as clear proof of a ‘lack of ambition from our billionaire owner’.
It’s obvious that in some quarters, ‘ambition’ is another way of saying ‘get the chequebook out and lure some big-name players to Wearside’, and that many supporters won’t be happy until that happens.
Speakman, for reasons that are still unclear to me, seems to be fighting a constant battle to prove himself, and Dreyfus has seemingly yet to fully win the trust of the fans.
The ‘selling club’ label is something of a cliche within modern football, and frankly, I don’t see it as a derogatory term.
Every player has a price, and the catch twenty-two of building a squad filled with exciting young players is that they may be prone to being snapped up at some stage. Buying low and selling high has always been a sound business strategy, but the test for us is to strike a balance between financial prudence and ensuring that the squad remains competitive.
During the five years since we dropped out of the Premier League, Sunderland AFC has had to remodel and reposition itself- for its own survival and future prosperity.
As a result of entrusting the running of Sunderland to shysters and inept executives, Ellis Short’s open chequebook policy almost resulted in the club disappearing into the abyss. The old way of doing things failed miserably, and although the thrill of dodging relegation season after season might’ve given us all a short, sharp shot of adrenaline, we were stuck in a cycle and it had to be broken.
On the subject of selling players, it’s hard to refute that Sunderland’s recent record in this area is nothing short of lamentable.
We’ve either had to terminate contracts, allow players to leave for a pittance, or have simply bid them farewell when their contract comes to an end. Scattergun recruitment was commonplace between 2009 and 2018, and financially profitable exits almost never happened, bar a handful of exceptions.
If Ross Stewart does depart, the acid test would be replacing him. Although there would be initial dismay, if a player of equal or greater quality could be found, it would prove that the model is working.
Regarding the medium to long term, the notion that we should simply get promoted first and then worry about whatever comes next is madness.
When we do get back to the Premier League, we need to be ready to compete from day one, and ensure that we are not merely treading water and lured into the old ‘panic buying’ method.
That means a squad of requisite quality and a first-class academy structure. It means a high-class management team and a scouting network that can spot the talents of tomorrow and bring them to Sunderland.
Who is to say that these things won’t be put in place under this regime?
They’ve made very few missteps so far, and the club is in a far healthier state than it was when they took over. There seems to be no appetite to deviate from the plan, and nor should there be.
The stature, history, and potential of Sunderland is obvious to all, but that on its own isn’t enough.
Fourteen years ago, Bolton Wanderers played Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Cup. They also drew with Bayern Munich around the same time, but after a catalogue of financial mishaps and bad decisions, now they’re playing third-tier football, along with former Premier League stalwarts Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday.
The English football landscape is littered with ‘fallen giants’, all of whom are desperate to reach new heights, but many find that the path is harder than they imagined. We’ve set out on that same journey, and although there is a long way to go, there are far more positive signs than there have been for quite some time.
We all want long-term success, but despite the fact that the new way of doing things might be a somewhat left-field approach for a fanbase used to a different policy, if it is seen through to its logical conclusion, there is every chance it could lead to a brighter future for our club.
A club that is thriving, rather than simply surviving.