Two years ago, Sunderland were the laughing stock of the English Premier League. The Black Cats finished the 2005/06 season with an embarrassing 15 points – a record only topped by Derby this past season.
A new era began at the club in 2006, though, as legendary midfielder Roy Keane was appointed manager of the club. Under Keane, Sunderland recaptured their good form and ended up winning the Championship – giving the squad a chance at redeeming themselves in the Premier League.
This summer has seen a revitalization of the club. I would go as far as saying Roy Keane is beginning to wake this sleeping giant (the club has, after all, won the top flight of English football six times). The signings of players like Craig Gordon and El-Hadji Diouf signal the club’s intent, and this season could see a change in fortune for Sunderland fans. Here are the four reasons why:
1. Roy Keane. The former Manchester United captain learned from one of the best in the business at Old Trafford and is now becoming an assertive figure himself. Keane has brought the best out of players through his motivation and has shown that he can unearth gems as well. In Kenwyne Jones, Keane has an exciting striker who has proven he can score goals. Keane has also made other great signings such as promising goalkeeper Craig Gordon and pacy winger Kieran Richardson. This season we’ll see if his gamble on the eccentric El-Hadji Diouf will pay off.
2. The fans. Sunderland are known around the nation for having some of the most passionate fans. The Stadium of Light holds 49,000 of these crazed fans, which means a consistent fanbase brings financial stability to the club.
3. The veterans. Like his old Manchester United sides, Roy Keane has built a squad which blends youth with experience. Experienced heads like Dwight Yorke and Graham Kavanagh are great to have around because they can offer invaluable advice to the less experienced players in the club. In times of trouble, you can always count on these veterans to step up.
4. The youth. Every team needs youngsters in order to ensure long term stability, and Sunderland fans will be excited at the younger prospects that the club have. Even key members of the starting eleven are young; Craig Gordon is only 25 years old – for a keeper that’s like being 18 or 19, so he still has about 10 years at the top.
Richardson, one of the most exciting players Sunderland has, is only 23 years old. With his pace, the sky is the limit, and a powerful shot will allow him to pick up a few goals this year.
The third key youngster is Jones, the 23 year-old striker from Trinidad and Tobago. Jones impressed greatly in his debut campaign at Sunderland last season and will be looking to better his goal tally this term, though he will start the season as a spectator thanks to a knee injury.
It is these four reasons that make me certain that Sunderland is on the verge of making that next step up. Perhaps not this season, but within the next few years, Sunderland should be a side challenging for a spot in European competitions. With a solid financial backing, a good manager, great fans, and an excellent blend of youth and experience, the sky is the limit for the Black Cats.
Brian Lofrumento writes at Premiership Talk.