Welcome back to Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked. Part 1 is available here if you’re just joining the party.
One tiny lesson I’ve learned over the years is that no one appreciates a prophet in their own time. If you’re predicting doom and you’re wrong, you’re an idiot. If you’re predicting doom and you’re right, you’re an asshole. Guess what happened to Sunderland’s beating heart?
Six weeks injured, that’s what. With MAX POWER on the sidelines, we had to press forward as best we could. To be honest and kind of spoil things, it worked out better than I expected. So I guess I’m only half a prophet: both wrong and an asshole, apparently.
The January transfer window was fairly drab. I brought in one loan and let a few fringe players leave. Conor McLaughlin left for 20k to Shrewsbury, Brandon Taylor for 10.5k to Wigan, Grant Leadbitter on a free (but I’m paying 5k a week in wages (ugh)) to Hull, and Remi Mathews for 20k to Derby. I would have gladly sold McGeady at this point, if only to get his wages off the books, but I couldn’t find anyone to take him.
As the end of the transfer window neared, Jake Vokins went down injured. With us paying his wages and him about to miss two months, I made the call to terminate his loan and get someone else in. I was successful in getting Neco Williams from Liverpool, and the sharp-eyed among you may immediately see the issue. Vokins was one of our two left backs. Williams plays right back. I thought I was going to get another loan in to cover the left, but it didn’t work out, and I was stuck playing the second half of the season with Denver Hume starting and Carl Winchester giving him rest whenever we could afford it. Not ideal.
January and February weren’t great. With Power injured I shuffled my midfield and gave Carl Winchester more minutes to mixed results.
Along the way, we had one of the most bananas shootouts I’ve ever seen. An even dozen spot kicks for each side, ending when the original takers came up for their second kicks and Lewis-Potter faltered while Sunderland’s own Chris Maguire proved himself to be a steely-eyed missile man.
Neco Williams, at least, was stellar, with an average rating of 7.09 across the season. Unfortunately, I agreed to play him as a wingback, which I interpreted to mean “right back in the wingback role” but Jurgen Klopp interpreted to mean “playing in the wingback position in a back three.”
Dude chased me about it twice! Look, I don’t have beef with Klopp, but the man isn’t going to dictate my entire formation. I more or less told him to sod off, figuring I’d get my revenge in a couple seasons when I saw him in the Premier League. Or that he’d deny me future loans. Which… eek. (Ominous foreshadowing alert: hold this thought.)
We moved on from the spotty January / February form to a run of green so beautiful the Irish would weep. That included making it to the final of the “Papa John’s Trophy,” which was so critical to the Sunderland board that they didn’t even have it in my season objectives.
A trophy? Named after mediocre chain pizza? I mean, I’ll take it, I guess.
Oh, and it even paid a little bit. Not as much as we immediately paid out to the players in bonuses, but better than a cross straight to the jewels.
It also led to this bit of weirdness.
I couldn’t honestly care less about Scowen getting yellow cards in the Pizza Cup, but the discipline policy says that he has to be fined, so he got hit with losing a week’s wages. It feels pretty steep, but he took it just fine. I would have been pissed in his shoes.
The run of green continued. And continued some more. Did I expect to win the league? Yes. Did I actually win the league? Also, yes.
We didn’t just win the league. We won it in style and comfort.
We ended the season with a couple meaningless draws and an equally meaningless loss long after the league was won. Job done.
The thing about this Sunderland squad is that it’s Pretty Good. Not brilliant, but well-balanced. I added a couple loan upgrades, put the players into roles where they could succeed, and they did a job. I know people on the Football Manager Show podcast are down on it, but it’s totally fine for League One.
Ross Stewart scored 30 goals. Max Power–sorry, MAX POWER–had 14 assists (while missing two freaking months). They’re both in the squad from day one.
As we go into the Championship, my goals are what I reckon to be realistic. We’ll probably finish midtable, far enough from the relegation zone that it won’t be a real worry and close enough to the playoffs that my virtual supporters will be simultaneously delighted and frustrated about what might have been.
I’m about to go raid the transfer market, by which I mean bargain shop like it’s Christmas Eve, I have no presents, and Aldi is closing in 10 minutes. We’ll be hunting for free transfers and loans with maybe a cheap buy or two if I can fit it into my budget.
The real worry is the budget. We started the season with about 7.5m in the bank. We ended it with 441k of debt. The board claim that I’ll have a wage budget of 249k (I’m spending 166k at the end of the current season) and a transfer budget of 3.5m. If I can keep the spending down, we might just about break even on the season.
Oh, never mind. Y’all hold on while I go open Kyril’s chequebook…
I’m on holiday this week, England is in the midst of a covid outbreak, and I have lots of writing procrastination to do, so expect more updates ahead of schedule. Until next time, nerds!