This is the Sunderland we wanted - and it was never going to come easy
By Michael Graham,
Sunderland failing to land a striker on deadline day is a worry to us all, but it mustn't obscure the bigger picture.
Nobody said that running a football club would be easy. For Sunderland, and the position the club was in just a couple of years ago, it was always going to be even harder.
The reality is that Sunderland are going into the final 18 games of the Championship season with just one striker. That’s a big disappointment and, given how positive we were all feeling heading into transfer deadline day, it’s deflating too.
It’s fine to feel that way about it. In fact, it’s probably natural and I’d question whether anyone claiming they felt otherwise was being entirely honest with themselves.
We have now had a couple of days to digest it all and the club have been forthcoming with their explanations. At this point, both Kristjaan Speakman and Tony Mowbray have spoken to the press and they have presented a united front.
Essentially, they didn’t feel the right striker was available both in terms of quality and character.
That doesn’t help the frustration, but it does shift it a little. While I was previously frustrated at Sunderland for not bringing in a striker, I’m now frustrated that there wasn’t a striker to bring in.
Because, when you carve through the frustration, disappointment and deflation, there is a crucial truth that emerges: This is the Sunderland we wanted.
I have supported Sunderland for 36 years now. Much of that time has been spent lamenting the club for being a soft touch in the transfer market, recruiting poorly, panic buying and allowing players of poor character to relentlessly take advantage of my club.
In 2014 I became a professional sports journalist, and I must have written tens of thousands of words in despair on Sunderland’s various failings annd shortcomings throughout that period as well.
At every point, I have found myself wistfully dreaming of some kind of utopia in which Sunderland get only quality players, get exactly what is needed at exactly the right time, at only bargain prices, and the only players who ever get to play for the club are ones of fine character.
Utopia doesn’t exist, but what we are seeing right now at the club is closest we have ever got to it.
“I think it’s right to say there is a plan and we are trying to create an identity and a culture and I think it’s important that the right players come in that we identify and go through the processes,” Tony Mowbray said .
“I would prefer to go into these games with the players we have got than bringing in any number nine because he has a number nine on his shirt.
“If he doesn’t fit the culture and identify and what we are trying to coach into the team, I think it’s more important to keep on doing what we are trying to do.”
And who would argue with him there?
Ever since things started going wrong under Peter Reid more than 20 years ago, cultural problems at Sunderland have blighted the club. Even with Roy Keane in charge you had bad characters such as Anthony Stokes, El-Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda undermining from within.
There is no question it has played a major role in not only preventing the club from reaching its potential, but also dropping well below any minimal acceptable level as well.
I have no doubt that there will be people reading the words from Kristjaan Speakman and seeing it as ‘spin’ or 'excuses.' There will be those hearing what Mowbray has said too and seeing him simply as a diplomat and yes-man. Some will be reading this article and will likely disagree with it to such an extent they label it as ‘happy-clapping’ or wilful propaganda. If that’s you, no one here is going to tell you what to think. You are perfectly entitled to feel however you do about your club.
All I am here to do is tell you how I feel. While I wish Sunderland had another available striker or two going into the rest of the Championship season, I am not seeing the failure to acquire them on deadline day as a dereliction of duty form the club.
Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m seeing it as a reiteration of their promise to instil and protect a culture at the club of which we can all be proud. No more compromising on standards. No more panic buys or Jack Rodwell types who see OUR club as a chance to line their pockets without giving anything back. No more winging it in terms of tactics and the on-pitch identity. No more settling, no more ‘they’ll do.’
That is the Sunderland we all wanted, and anything worth having was ever going to come easy.
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