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Sunderland’s nostalgia trips are not healthy - we need to look to the future

“Our habit of lusting after former players is something that we have yet to break. At some stage, we have to move beyond it and into a new way of thinking,” writes Phil West.

Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

As the sight of the new season begins to appear on the horizon and preparations begin to ramp up, it is a long-established tradition that the transfer rumour mill goes into overdrive, and stories ranging from the exciting to the bizarre start popping up wherever you look.

Suffice it to say, this has certainly been true of Sunderland this summer. Whether it was Ross Stewart’s protracted move to Rangers or the possibility of Ravel Morrison arriving on Wearside, we’ve found ourselves at the centre of many intriguing whispers that have led to much debate among the fans.

Recently, it is former striker Fabio Borini who has been linked with a return to the Stadium of Light for what would be a third spell at the club. Indeed, on their Monday morning roundup, Sky Sports News intimated that Borini would be willing to accept a pay cut in order to engineer a move, and that the cost to the club could be as low as £1 million.

This came on the back of Borini’s wife allegedly ‘liking’ an Instagram post linking him with a move.

In the grand traditions of modern-day sports reporting, it quickly became the classic case of putting two and two together and coming up with seven: Player’s wife likes social media post > journalists jump on it and package it up as an exclusive > said player is nailed on for a return.

Social media chatter aside, it would be a tempting prospect, would it not?

The notion of bringing back the man who was once the brief scourge of Newcastle, and whose goal made us believe, for thirty glorious minutes, that League Cup final glory was within grasp when we played Manchester City in 2014.

FBL-ENG-PR-SUNDERLAND-NEWCASTLE Photo credit should read Ian MacNicol/AFP via Getty Images

On the other hand, the Borini link something that is fraught with negatives, not least the fact that his recent goalscoring and fitness record is lamentable, as well as the fact that his attitude during his second spell at the club was less than positive.

There is a peculiar fascination among our fanbase with lusting after former heroes and imploring the club to ‘bring them home’ whenever a certain player is made available, whether through free agency or being transfer listed by their current club.

Remember how, on the back of a smattering of social media posts, Victor Anichebe suddenly morphed into prime Didier Drogba, the missing ingredient who we simply had to bring back to solve our goalscoring issues in the midst of our League One exile?

More recently, it was Phil Bardsley- a solid and effective figure on his day, for whom there seemed to be a clamour following his release from Burnley. ‘He would do a job for us’, was the all-too-familiar clarion call. Even last summer, there were whispers that Vito Mannone was pencilled in for a shock move, which ultimately didn’t materialise.

The reality is that in addition to highlighting the above examples of former Sunderland players who were linked with a move but never returned, there have been countless cases of former red and white favourites who did opt for a second tour of duty on Wearside, only for it to eventually turn sour.

When Michael Bridges returned in 2005, six years after swapping Sunderland for Leeds, he barely resembled the goalscoring dynamo he once was. One year later, Stanislav Varga’s move from Celtic was hardly a roaring success, and even George McCartney’s transfer from West Ham at the end of the 2008 summer transfer window didn’t exactly yield spectacular results.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Birmingham City v Sunderland - St Andrews’ Stadium Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images

Possibly the most glaring recent example of the theory of ‘you should never go back’ was Jermain Defoe, whose sentiment-clouded signing in January was arguably one of the biggest debacles of recent times. On the other hand, at least we got ourselves a temporary boost in attendance for his first game back, as well as some fantastically tacky merchandise, as a result of it.

The wider point regarding such transfers is this: if Sunderland are to genuinely and wholeheartedly move into a new era, we cannot allow ourselves to slip into sepia-tinged pursuits of former players, regardless of how effective they once were, or how high their popularity was on the terraces.

Painstaking work has been undertaken in order to overhaul the club’s infrastructure over the past eighteen months, and it is abundantly clear that the scattergun approach of recent years is being jettisoned in favour of a much more sensible and measured approach.

We have had to endure some substantial hits along the way, but the fruits of the boardroom labours are finally starting to show, and with Alex Neil at the helm, there is an incredible amount of optimism surrounding the club.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The likes of Borini and Bardsley were effective and often very influential for us, but things have moved on. The club they left is very different to the club in its current state, and that is, without doubt, a positive thing. The shady characters of those days are long gone, and it is safe to say that the so-called ‘rotten core’ has finally been eradicated, too.

Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus have earned the right to implement their long-term plan for our club, and in turn, I do believe we must show faith in them. Perhaps this means that unpopular decisions will be made and certain players will be overlooked, but if the net result is positive, those decisions will undoubtedly be vindicated.


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