Every football manager will assure you that if they had a good owner backing you up, then you can fulfill the promises they made the club, the fans and especially themselves. Because a good owner is a rarity these days. For every ‘Steve Gibson‘, there are ten Vladimir Romanovs.
Steve Bruce will certainly be relieved that Ellis Short is of the former type. Sunderland’s American owner is a silent, media shy man who is very happy to let Niall Quinn and Bruce handle the everyday running of the club. And he has been investing consistently in improving the squad as well. Well the picture looks quite rosy. But I’m sure Steve Bruce will be feeling the pressure to deliver this season.
It’s been four seasons since Sunderland got themselves promoted to the Premier League and they have managed to remain a fixture at the top-most level. But have they been consistent? May be in being inconsistent, yes. Both Roy Keane and Steve Bruce have not delivered what they would have liked to with the resources available at their disposal. Maybe, the player recruitment policy of both former Manchester United teammates might have something to do with the consistent inconsistency shown by the Black Cats.
Lets take a quick look at the numbers. Keane signed 13 players once the club achieved promotion, But Keane’s problem was he dipped only into the Championship to recruit. Almost £40 m was spent on players like Michael Chopra, Rade Prica et al., who just couldn’t hack it at the top tier and have left for a pittance. The next year saw a further 7 players coming in for about £25 m and 6 going out for only £4 m. And this was the season in which Keane found out he was not upto the task and quit. How Sunderland survived that season is a tale for another time.
In came Bruce and immediately set about on a squad overhaul. 7 came in and 12 went out. Almost every Roy Keane signing, save Craig Gordon, Kieran Richardson and Kenwyne Jones found their way out. Bruce signed some quality players in Darren Bent, Loric Cana and Lee Cattermole. But Sunderland finished only 14th and this was despite Darren Bent banging in 24 goals to finish 3rd in the overall goals scored tally. This was because Sunderland as a team was just not consistent enough. And the last season saw further bulk overhaul with 6 coming in and 12 going out. The surprise was the sale of the captain Loric Cana after just one impressive season and top scorer Darren Bent who preferred a move to Aston Villa who were fighting relegation at that moment compared to Sunderland who were comfortably in the top 10. It is another story that Sunderland started on a losing spree and were almost dragged into the relegation quagmire. What started as a season with so much promise, exemplified by the thrashing meted out to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, quickly spiraled down to yet another mediocre season.
This year Bruce has again been along his merry ways of signing by the numbers. Ahmed Elmohammady, David vaughan, Kieran Westwood, Seb Larsson, Craig Gardner, Connor Wickham, Dong Won Ji, John O’Shea and Wes Brown have all been signed with a total outlay of around £24 m. At the time of me posting this blog, Bruce has signed young Irish winger James McClean as well. The sale of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool for £16 m has helped a bit.
All this wholesale chopping and changing has not helped Sunderland one little bit. Ellis Short might be willing to give Steve Bruce the time to perform, but surely Bruce himself will be feeling the pinch at the Stadium of Light by now. Sunderland have slowly become one of the mid table clubs who are happy to remain there. Maybe that’s why Darren Bent opted out. Maybe he saw Villa as a genuinely top 6 challenging club, something Sunderland was not. Maybe that’s why Charles N’zogbia didn’t prefer a move to wearside, eventhough it was Steve Bruce who signed him when he was incharge of Wigan.
This season, Steve Bruce will hope to deliver atleast a top 8 finish and build on from there. Failing that, there are loads of young and hungry managers available in the market that even Ellis Short might be forced to say ‘enough is enough’.