Black Cats on the booze
There are problems at Sunderland – big problems. The squad simply aren’t good enough on the pitch and, of even greater concern, they have too many players that do not have enough respect for the game.
It is no secret in football circles that there is a drinking culture at Sunderland that extends right through the core of the team. I've witnessed it in full swing as I’ve been in the same places drinking with many of them.
I can vividly remember being in Marbella when one Sunderland player ordered a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne for £75,000. Seriously. A waiter bought it out on a trolley and it took three of them to pour it every time he wanted to top up his glass.
And last season, after the team had been hammered on the Saturday, a friend sent me a picture of half a dozen Sunderland first-team players all holding up cigarettes and pints of beer in a pub during an all-day session on the Sunday.
You may also be shocked to discover how much some of these players are earning. There are whispers of £50,000, £60,000 and even £75,000-a-week contracts knocking around. The worrying thing for Sunderland’s owners is that if the team are relegated, which club would want to buy their players, both in terms of taking on a contract of that size and the quality of the player?
I knew that the players had not warmed to Paolo Di Canio. It would have been a most inconvenient culture shock for many of them on the day the Italian strode in with his double training sessions and penchant for fining players at the drop of a hat.
I heard that on the day the former West Ham United striker left his job as the manager of Swindon Town, his former players went out to celebrate.
Last season, the owner of a huge club told me that he was chatting to somebody at boardroom level at Sunderland who told him that they’d offered Di Canio £3 million to keep them in the Premier League as well as full settlement of his contract if he was sacked. The maths stacked up of course; it was a £5 million stake to win £100 million.
The Sunderland players, the core of that team, clearly have no interest in changing their ways. There are examples of this behaviour throughout football, perhaps most notably Fabio Capello’s insistence that the England team needed to knuckle down at tournaments and concentrate fully on the job in hand for the time that they were involved.
It would no longer be a holiday camp and, after all, it was only six weeks out of their lives. Surely they could handle that? They repaid him with what was, quite frankly, a collection of hugely sub-standard showings in major competitions, despite the fact that they had qualified for each tournament pretty comfortably.
"Kada krene dobro, svi sanjaju o novoj tituli, već posle dva-tri vezana poraza organizuju se demonstracije i traži se nečija glava i između nema ničeg: ako ste navijač Njukasla, ili ste na sedmom nebu, zagledani u svetlu budućnost, ili se valjate po podu u bolovima većim od kamena u bubregu, proklinjući dan kada ste rođeni na severu ili zavoleli crno-bele boje"