Cats Must Not Fear Relegation Stigma This Summer
It is the time of the year when we all secretly enjoy sneaking out a scrap of paper and pencil and pretending to be the person sat in the Stadium of Light manager's office and plotting the summer transfer business upon which next season's destiny will be decided. We've all done it. Don't deny it.
This week the papers have been awash with speculation that Sunderland are plotting to secure the services of in-demand Blackburn forward Junior Hoilett. Competition is sure to be fierce with numerous Champions League-chasing clubs also credited with an interest, but it was certainly a name that caught the imagination on Wearside.
It also broached an interesting question. Should Sunderland really be looking to entrust their future with players tainted by the recent failure of relegation?
It is a question that seems to crop up somewhere in football every season. There tends to be two schools of thought. The first, that being part of a poor team does not equate to being a poor player yourself, and the opposing view that by signing a player fresh from a relegation campaign you are introducing a dangerous losing mentality and proven failure into the squad. Both arguments have their various merits.
But I don't think that Sunderland as a club are in a privileged enough position to be especially picky. Personally, if the likes of Hoilett, Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis, Michael Kightly, or possibly even Yakubu were to be plying their trade in red and whites stripes next season, I certainly wouldn't consider it a summer wasted.
It can be argued that of the three players from relegated cubs that were signed by Sunderland last season, just one, Seb Larsson, could really be considered to have had a successful debut season at the club. David Vaughan and Craig Gardner have had spells of decent form but generally disappointed. The fact that Scott Dann and Roger Johnson have just endured relegation for the second successive year hasn't really helped shake the stigma either.
Clearly, doing some summer shopping in the bottom three of the Premier League carries a somewhat larger element of risk than usual. That should not and must not put Sunderland off, however. Quality can be found.
Look around the Premier League, past and present, and you will find plenty of quality players touched by the indignity of the drop. Of this summer's England hopefuls alone, Michael Carrick, Glenn Johnson, Scott Parker, James Milner, Stewart Downing, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent, Adam Johnson, Ben Foster, and Andy Carroll have all been involved in a relegation season. This season's PFA team of the year contained two players who have been in teams unable to escape falling into the football league.
If you want to look closer to home, it is certainly worth remembering that Kevin Phillips has tasted relegation no less that three times in his career. How many of us would write him off as a player unable to contribute at Premier League level?
But perhaps the biggest case to be made for not allowing past failures to count against prospective signings is Niall Quinn. To fans now, he is remembered and revered as a player who played a huge part in our proudest Premier League years, and the man who embraced the club with such passion that he insisted upon pulling the club back from the brink of oblivion and restore it to its supporters before bestowing a billionaire upon us and riding off into the sunset. All too easy to forget that he arrived at the club as a freshly relegated supposed spent force, who was the wrong side of 30 and heading for semi-retirement in the Malaysian league.
The basement of the Premier League may not be glamorous, and it certainly isn't where we want to be, but history tells you that many a diamond can be found in that particular rough.