An old cliché is that football is a cruel game. Football rarely gets crueler than when a team gets relegated. TV images show ashen-faced adults trying to console crying kids and people trying to wonder where their club goes from there. Sunderland have had a truly miserable Premier League season. They were relegated with a whimper having barely put up a fight all season long. But, as they were being relegated, there was a lot of fighting talk about how being relegated may actually end up being a good thing for them. One of the things that can confuse people who have started following the Premier League relatively recently, is how it can be that a club can finish low in the league but still consider that to be a successful season? After all, that club will have lost far more games than they won and conceded far more goals than they scored. But, that club also gets to call itself a Premier League club for another season. They get all the prestige and riches that go with it; the 17th placed side in the Premier League gets about £97m more than the winners of the Championship. Not only do they get more TV money; they also get more money from sponsors and as a result, can probably attract better players. That’s why Watford, who ended the Premier League season in 17th having won 11 games this season, will be happier than whoever misses out from being promoted in the playoff final between Reading and Huddersfield, who have won 26 and 25 games respectively. So why is it then that people think a spell in the Championship may be good for Sunderland? Relegation from the Premier League isn’t quite as devastating as it is in the lower leagues. Sure, losing Premier League status can be embarrassing, but it’s really not the end of the world. It is a loss of prestige and the club and players will take a financial hit, but they will also receive payments from the Premier League that lessen that blow somewhat and, depending on the club, player contracts may be unaffected. But, unlike the lower leagues, there shouldn’t really be the human cost of job losses and massive wage cuts that comes with relegation. So why is it then, that a lot of people seem to think relegation can sometimes be a good thing? There is a school of thought that relegation can be good for a club. A relegated club, even if they lose a few players, should still be one of the strongest in their new league, and stand a chance of being promoted back, but the difference being that they re-enter the Premier League as a winning club, and can carry that momentum and confidence forward. What’s also influencing this school of thought about Sunderland is what has happened to their local rivals Newcastle. Newcastle have been in a mess for quite some time and were relegated last season. In the latter stages of last season, they made, unusually for them, a really smart appointment when they hired Rafa Benitez as their manager. I’m not Benitez’s biggest fan, but he was exactly what Newcastle have needed in that he is really good at re-organising and modernising a club. While Benitez arrived too late to keep Newcastle in the Premier League, he did enough in those games to foster an optimistic mood around the club, and he was able to guide Newcastle to winning the Championship. Depending on what happens transfer-wise over the summer, Newcastle should be a far more formidable team next season than they were two seasons ago. Similarly, Burnley came straight back into the Premier League last season following relegation having learned from their mistakes and this time added some quality rather than just relying on the players who got them promoted (which is what I think was Middlesbrough’s mistake). The result has been that Burnley never really looked like they were in any danger of being relegated. But, those clubs are the exception rather than the rule. The reality is that regaining Premier League status happens quite rarely. Newcastle are only the 6th relegated team to win automatic promotion back to the Premier League the following season in the past 10 years (a few others have come back up via the playoffs). So, can Sunderland be one of those exceptional teams? On current evidence, you’d have to say no. Sunderland weren’t bad just this season, they have been swirling round the drain for a few years now. The club is in quite a lot of debt. They have an owner who wants out, with no apparent takers. Unless they recruit smartly over the summer; they won’t go into next season with one of the strongest squads in the Championship. By and large, their recruitment over the past few seasons has been appalling. They have spent a load of money over the last few seasons, with barely anything to show for it as they have had to cut their losses on nearly everyone they bought. Their two standout players last season were a 34-year-old striker, who’s now left on a free transfer, and a young goalkeeper who seems likely to be sold this summer. The result is, to quote Craig Hope of the Daily Mail a squad of “has-beens and never-will-bes”. Similarly, their record with recruiting managers has been one awful decision after another. They have been often made on the hoof, with no real consideration other than somehow managing to survive another season. The fact that, despite how terrible they’ve been this season, they wanted to keep David Moyes as manager speaks volumes about little a plan they have for the future. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely down to Moyes that Sunderland were relegated as he inherited a poor group of players, but he didn’t help matters with some awful transfers of his own and then there was no money to make meaningful changes in January. Being a bad team doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t survive in the Premier League. With the right coach organising and inspiring, a team can claw its way to safety. Look at Hull, who had about as chaotic a pre-season as any team I can remember and were completely unprepared for the first half of the season, hired Marco Silva, and all of a sudden they started to look like a good team. While they ultimately were relegated, the fact that they came from so far back to coming close to staying up says a lot about how Silva galvanised that team and even though Silva won’t be leading them next season, they will probably enter next season with a great deal of confidence. In contrast, Moyes’ general demeanour has been one of despair. His players apparently nicknamed him the ‘energy vampire’. He started the season by saying Sunderland were in a relegation fight after two games and ended it by threatening to hit a female reporter after he didn’t like one of her questions. In life, it can be that some good can come out of a shitty situation. It usually happens to people who are well-organised and adaptable. It’s the same thing with football clubs, the ones who make a success of relegation are the ones with a clear plan, stable ownership and a willingness to try something new. Sadly, none of those things apply to Sunderland, so relegation for them could be a long, painful experience.