Though their form has picked up under Chris Coleman, the threat of relegation just won’t disappear for Sunderland…
Since Coleman arrived their form has improved significantly, but from a very low base. They’ve been inconsistent, but they have managed to get a few wins under their belts. They’re not quite dead yet and there are still enough points to be won to get out of this situation. I accept that it’s going to be very touch-and-go and it will go right to the end because I don’t believe Sunderland will put together a run of results that will get them out of danger with a couple of games to spare. Since the last meeting the situation has improved somewhat even if the league position is still looking pretty grim.
You’ve written an article recently detailing just how bleak the future looks for the club. Can you sum up the immediate outlook at the Stadium of Light?
It is very much a case of the austerity continuing. The club has been run very poorly over a long period, which has resulted in £110m debt and losing £33m in the last set of accounts. That has left the club in all sorts of trouble, particularly when you take into account relegation from the Premier League. Simon Grayson could only spend £1.25m on players last summer and Chris Coleman wasn’t given a single penny to spend in the January transfer market, so you can see just how dire that is. And that is despite the club selling Jordan Pickford for £30m last summer. Even with that kind of money coming in, there still wasn’t money to spend on players and I can only see that continuing for another year or two because the new Chief Executive has inherited those figures and he is the man that has to try and put the club back on an even financial footing. Juggling that while trying to get results on the field is proving very difficult, if not impossible, so far.
He’s been spoken about in the press over the last few weeks, but how much of a problem is the situation with Jack Rodwell causing?
His situation causes a problem on two fronts really. Firstly, he’s on £70,000 per week and that is a huge financial commitment. If you had £70,000 worth of midfielder turning out for you every week then that still wouldn’t be ideal, but at least you have something for your money. Secondly, he has been injured for most of the season and doesn’t want to play for the club any longer. I should make it clear that he has never refused to play, he just doesn’t want to play for the club and wants to move on. Chris Coleman has taken the view that he only wants players who want to play for the club and I think that is fair enough, so Jack is out of the picture. It is a massive financial drain and he has another year on his contract so if the worst came to the worst and Sunderland were relegated, he’d be earning £70,000 per week in League One, which doesn’t bear thinking about. Again though, this was a contract that was signed in 2014 under the previous regime and the club obviously has to honour it, but it is causing a massive problem.
Earlier in the season you said that Aiden McGeady was the best of a pretty poor crop. Would you still consider him the biggest threat?
It is a difficult one as he’s still a quality player, but he has been in and out of the team because the system that Coleman now employs is different to Grayson’s. He’s been a sub more often that not so he probably isn’t the pick of the lot anymore. The big question is, who of Coleman’s signings is going to come to the fore? Ashley Fletcher, the striker signed on loan from Middlesbrough, looked very bright on his debut against Ipswich Town and there’s a lot of promise from the young midfielder they got on loan from Liverpool, Ovie Ejaria. They are the players that fans are looking towards now, but it is still very early days for them.
How are Sunderland likely to set up at the Stadium of Light?
The Manager favours a 3-4-3 setup, playing with three centre-backs and a couple of wing-backs. That tends to be his favoured formation and he thinks that makes them more solid and stable at the back. He does vary that sometimes and has been known to play a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2, but they are all variations on a theme really.
What’s your score prediction for Saturday’s game?
I’m going to say 1-1. I was very impressed with Brentford down at Griffin Park and the way they came back after Sunderland went 3-1 up and threw that lead away. Sunderland were hanging on somewhat and it looked as though Brentford have a real ability to cause problems.