Jack Rodwell has found himself the unwitting poster boy of the haphazard transfer policy which has underpinned Sunderland‘s turbulent past decade.
Rodwell joined Sunderland from Manchester City in a £10million move in 2014 which was seen as something as a coup. But the transfer has proved disastrous, with the three-cap England international playing just 104 minutes of league football in his final season as the Black Cats suffered a second consecutive relegation.
The 27-year-old will bear the brunt of the blame himself having reportedly earned £70,000 a week on Wearside and still over £40,000 a week in the Championship, but it is striking that until his contract ended on July 1 he was one of the longest-serving players at a club that is in seemingly never-ending upheaval caused by the constant chopping and changing of managers.
For five consecutive seasons between 2011-12 and 2015-16, Sunderland changed bosses to steer them away from the threat of relegation, only to sack the new man midway through the following campaign when that spectre loomed once again.
This was sequence was broken in 2016-17, when David Moyes replaced England-bound Sam Allardyce, and there was almost a sense of resignation in the way the club stuck with Scotsman as their season whimpered towards eventual relegation.
The turbulence did not even there, however, as Moyes departed in the summer, only for Sunderland to burn through another two managers as Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman oversaw their descent into the third tier, leading to the appointment of St Mirren’s Jack Ross.
We’ve looked back at the transfer activity of every Sunderland boss since Steve Bruce to highlight the lack of continuity a club can find themselves in when they constantly switch managers mid-season.
Bruce was in charge of Sunderland for the best part of two and a half seasons, and was given the backing to sign a total of 26 players on permanent deals, including hefty fees for the likes of Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and Connor Wickham.
Heading out of the door, 29 players departed permanently during his reign, with Bent and Kenwyne Jones bringing in eight-figure fees.
As noted by the Daily Telegraph, Sunderland signed over 90 players in the 10-year stay in the Premier League. Only five of those were sold at a profit, and three of those were signed by Bruce: Bent, Wickham, Simon Mignolet and James McLean.
O’Neill arrived in November 2011 but was only able to sign two players on loan during his first transfer window in charge. By the time he was sacked in March 2013, however, the Irishman had been allowed to sign 10 players on permanent deals, with Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson proving the most expensive at £12million and £10million respectively.
Not a single player O’Neill signed was subsequently sold at a profit, with Fletcher eventually joining Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer. Nine players signed by his predecessor Bruce were shipped out either permanently or on loan.
The first Sunderland manager to operate under a Director of Football, Di Canio was initially assisted by Roberto De Fanti before he moved upstairs to be more involved with recruitment.
It clearly did not have the desired effect, as few of Di Canio’s 11 permanent signings went on to have an impact at the Stadium of Light and De Fanti was sacked after less than a year in the position.
Jozy Altidore and Emanuele Giaccherini both cost around £6million, while the player churn was becoming increasingly evident as seven Bruce signings and two O’Neill signings were allowed to leave.
De Fanti, however, defended his work in an interview with The Guardian: “When I came in the situation was a disaster. We only had 12 or 13 players under contract [who] Paolo considered at Premier League level.
“Nine would be out of contract in one year and we had to rebuild a team. No players were emerging from the academy. [Phil] Bardsley and [Lee] Cattermole were outcasted by Paolo, and Ellis [Short] decided that, because of financial fair play rules, the things that had been going on in the past were not proper and had to be dealt with differently.”
He added: “Our net spend at Sunderland was £7million. Cardiff and Fulham had over £30million – they were both relegated and we stayed up. Nobody pointed that out, it was always ‘the spending spree of De Fanti’.
“Spending spree? We spent less than almost everyone in the Premier League, only West Brom spent less. I can accept criticism, but that really is nonsense.”
De Fanti was sacked midway through Poyet’s first transfer window in charge, with Lee Congerton not appointed his successor until two months later, meaning Liam Bridcutt was the headline signing of that January.
Given the summer working alongside Congerton, Poyet would end his time at Sunderland having signed 11 players permanently, including the deal to sign Rodwell from Manchester City.
Patrick van Aanholt would also join, becoming the fifth and final signing in the Premier League who would go on to be sold at a profit. The swap deal involving Jermain Defoe moving to the North East with Altidore returning to MLS could also be considered a big success.
In clearing out the deadwood, five Bruce signings left, alongside four each of O’Neill and Di Canio’s buys.
Advocaat masterminded Sunderland’s survival in 2015 without the benefit of a transfer window. Congerton’s final window in his role saw five players join on permanent deals in the summer, the highest profile being Jeremain Lens and Fabio Borini.
In what would turn out to be Advocaat’s only window in charge of the club, three players were sold – including Wickham to Crystal Palace – and a further three players left on loan, including Santiago Vergini and Emanuele Giaccherini who had been signed by Poyet and Di Canio respectively.
Two months after Sam Allardyce replaced Advocaat, Congerton was placed on gardening leave ahead of the January transfer window.
He later joked with The Chronicle: “(Before) I was the sporting director at Sunderland I actually signed a contract in Ukraine after leaving Hamburg, but the civil war started. Maybe I would have been better going into the civil war than going to Sunderland.”
Allardyce is possibly the only manager in recent years to come out of Sunderland with his reputation enhanced, although that was swiftly undone by the sting which led to his resignation as England manager after just one match.
Like Advocaat, Allardyce had just one window to work in, but he steered the club away from relegation thanks to the signings of Jan Kirchhoff, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri. Costel Pantilimon was the only player to be sold, but eight players signed by previous regimes left the club on loan.
Remarkably, Kone and Khazri are still on the books at Sunderland, despite their relegation to League One.
While Sunderland toiled toward the bottom of the Premier League for the duration of the season, they bucked the trend by not changing managers mid-season, instead keeping faith with Moyes, at least until relegation had been confirmed.
The former Manchester United boss often cited a lack of funds to invest in his squad, and of the 15 players signed by previous managers he moved on, only Van Aanholt collected a significant fee.
Even so, Chelsea flop Papy Djilobodji joined in an £8million move, while Didier Ndong was a record signing at £13.6million from Lorient.
By this point, Simon Wilson was overlooking recruitment in a newly-created role as chief football officer. But the former Manchester City Strategy and Performance Manager also departed upon the club’s relegation.
“Whenever a manager comes in, you are dealing with the legacy of the previous regime, and the regimes aren’t long enough, typically, to really correct it,” Wilson told BBC Sport.
“We certainly felt the effects of Sunderland’s history of managerial turnover in both the squad and infrastructure. It was probably pieces of four or five managers rather than one.”
The people to take over at Sunderland recently have had to blur the lines between bravery and stupidity, and Grayson left Preston with the challenge of stopping the rot and guiding the club back to the top flight.
Seven players joined permanently, with James Vaughan’s £500,000 capture from Bury the ‘highlight’, while four more players arrived on loan.
Only goalkeepers Pickford and Vito Mannone commanded transfer fees of the nine players to depart permanently, while the likes of Borini, Lens, Djilobodji and Khazri could only be loaned out.
Grayson was sacked in October.
Coleman is a hero in Wales after guiding the side to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, but he left that job to become the man who took Sunderland down to League One last year.
To cut Coleman some slack, Kazenga LuaLua was the only permanent arrival (on a free transfer), while four players arrived on loan.
Of the players to leave, Ndong’s loan move to Watford and Vaughan’s departure at a £200,000 loss back to League One pretty much sum up the Black Cats’ transfer policy.
There is a sense of a fresh start at Sunderland after Stewart Donald completed his takeover of the club and Ross was appointed manager, but the 42-year-old faces a huge task to transform a squad which still includes a number of Premier League earners.
Rodwell, Lens, Borini and John O’Shea’s departures will help ease the burden, while Chris Maguire, Jon McLaughlin and Alim Öztürk are all low-key arrivals to date.
At the time of writing, Sunderland’s squad is made up of the following: one Steve Bruce signing, one Paolo Di Canio signing, one Gus Poyet signing, two Dick Advocaat signings, three Sam Allardyce signings, four David Moyes signings, three Simon Grayson signings, three Jack Ross signings and a handful of academy talents.
Eight managers, 23 players, three relegations and a whole heap of problems which need solving.
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