End of the dark times at the Stadium of Light?
Sunderland set to gain a Brucey bonus?
We live at a time in which constant improvements are deemed necessities. More reliable cars, faster computers, cheaper travel. And football, as with so many of our national traits, displays these demands palpably. After promotion we expect survival. After survival consolidation. After consolidation a top-half finish. After a top-half finish challenging for further honours. If a football club is standing still it may as well be going backwards, and there are no prizes or congratulations for treading water.
Sunderland could be considered as the ultimate Premier League yo-yo club. Not only have they been promoted four times to the top echelons of the English game, their fans have also tasted the highs of consecutive top seven finishes and the lows of gaining only 19 and 15 points in Premier League relegations.
But Sunderland have somewhat halted this trend in recent years. They are currently preparing for their fifth successive Premier League campaign, and finished tenth last season. Have they finally established a semi-permanent place at the top table? If they do so, how much of the credit must Steve Bruce take?
It is easy to recognise Bruce as a manager that simply buys a large amount of players, tries them out and then replaces them if they fail, and it is true that the club’s owners have been more than willing to allow Bruce to make changes. But the truth is that he is merely trying to construct a squad of players that will deal with the rigours of a Premier League season, both mentally and physically. And even if this ‘wheeler-dealer’ tag can be viewed as negative, there have been significant improvements at the Stadium of Light since his appointment. I am pinching the statistic from I can’t remember where,but in the season before Bruce joined the club their strikeforce consisted of Kenwyne Jones, Anthony Stokes, Daryl Murphy, Roy O’Donovan and David Healy.
The improvement in that two year period is glaringly obvious, and this summer Bruce has attracted players to the club that have a record of success, something the club have struggled to do previously. Wes Brown and John O’Shea have thirty domestic and continental honours between them, and that will surely only spur Sunderland on in their progression. Add to this the signing of potential star Connor Wickham, and there are reasons for extended optimism at the Stadium of Light.
Again the manager must take the credit. Upon joining, Brown spoke of the superb set-up at Sunderland, and remarked that as soon as he had spoken to Bruce, there was no doubt as to where he was playing his football this season.
I hope the significance of the first paragraph now becomes clear. There were times last season, principally at the time when Bruce signed a new three year contract, when there were rumblings of discontent around his tenure. His side had struggled with significant injuries but had lost eight games on the bounce. Eventually he guided his side to midtable safety, but there is still a tendency to convert the word ‘safety’ to ‘obscurity’.
Football fans are a demanding bunch, but we must not let desire for success cloud our judgement. Five years ago Alan Curbishley left Charlton with the aim of stepping aside to let his successor try to take the club to the next level. The grass is not always greener.
Sunderland have not shaken their yo-yo tag fully (and a 5-1 derby defeat coupled with a 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge indicates a lingering propensity for unpredictability), but under Bruce they are slowly establishing themselves. Bruce is not a glamourous manager, but he deserves the patience of the Sunderland fans in their clamour for Premier League stability and improvement. Even if he was a boyhood Newcastle fan.