By Simon O'Rourke, Sport Correspondent
2020/21 season preview: Sunderland AFC
It's a bit dramatic to say it's now or never. But it's not that dramatic. This is the financial wasteland of 2020, the world of locked doors and salary caps, and Sunderland need to be up and out of League 1 by the end of the coming season. The ownership issue needs sorting as well. No more messing about.
STORY OF THE SUMMER:
Emptiness and regrets. Last season was Sunderland's unfinished symphony: League 1 voted to curtail the season and the Black Cats' poor run of results before football was suspended in March left them outside the playoffs and doomed to another year in League 1. On one hand, it was incredibly harsh and unfair. But on the other hand, they only had themselves to blame.
Welcome to the new world. League 1 voted to introduce a salary cap this year, meaning every club in the division has the same ceiling (roughly £2.5 million) on their annual wage bill. The bigger clubs in the league, like Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich, voted against it, because they can potentially earn more money (especially when fans return to stadiums) and spend more money. The players' union is also challenging it. But right now, that's what Sunderland are working with. So the Black Cats have had to cut their cloth this summer. Of the half dozen new faces so far, the return of Bailey Wright after a good loan spell last season is perhaps the most important. The return of Danny Graham, from the distant past, is perhaps the most interesting.
Maybe the aforementioned Bailey Wright. But hopefully Will Grigg. The League 1 flamethrower who's never caught fire on Wearside. Signed for a King's Ransom (by League 1 standards) in January 2019 and profoundly underwhelming ever since. He's returned looking lean and mean this season. If he can locate his long lost shooting boots, he could make all the difference.
The big picture is still muddled and actually rather frightening. But, on the pitch, this should go well. You can't ignore the big picture though. The last 5 years have been a living hell for Sunderland fans and their loyalty to the team has been wonderful. But they are no longer loyal to the owner, Stewart Donald. In fact, the majority don't trust him and no longer believe a word he says. Donald's had two opportunities to get the Black Cats promoted and he failed both times. He's (apparently) trying to sell the club and the sooner he finds the right person to sell it to, the better. Donald also insists the club's finances are in good shape. Not everyone believes him. But on the pitch, Sunderland should be looking to win this league. Phil Parkinson knows his onions at this level and the squad (salary cap or no salary cap) should be among the best in the division. But the Black Cats should've been promoted in each of the last two seasons and they found ways to mess it up. It's all very well saying Sunderland has no business in this division, but this division seeps into your bones. They must not fail again.