Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has warned his players they are unlikely to get a better club if their stay on Wearside ends in relegation.
The Black Cats travel to Norwich on Saturday knowing defeat would leave their Premier League status hanging by a thread, and the cull that would follow would be painful, just as it was the last time they slipped out of the top flight in 2003.
But while some players would inevitably leave the Stadium of Light should the worst happen, Allardyce had told them the grass will not necessarily be greener and urged them to make sure their future remains in the north-east and the Premier League.
He said: “It would hurt immensely if the club got relegated, for the club’s sake first, not mine. I’ve had a fantastic career.
“I would be disappointed if I had that one relegation against my managerial career from the Premier League. It would hurt, yes, but it’s more important for the club than it is for me. As a football club, it’s more important for the players than it is for me in terms of my career.
“My career will take whatever way and whatever form it needs to take; the players, most of them will never get a club better than this, in my opinion, with its facilities and its supporters, playing in the top league in the world, and they really need to realise that.
“I can’t see you lads getting a better club than this one, so let’s stay in the Premier League and let’s make the club even better. That’s their big challenge in the next six games.”
Sunderland are currently four points adrift of the Canaries and safety with a game in hand, but they know just how crucial Saturday’s encounter between the two clubs – who play annually for the Friendship Cup, a throwback to their meeting in the 1985 League Cup final – could prove.
Win and they are firmly back in the race; draw and they are at least no worse off; but lose, and the writing will be on the wall.
The Black Cats will run out at Carrow Road having seen a run of four successive draws ended by last Sunday’s 2-0 defeat by champions elect Leicester, but acutely aware that they have squandered match-winning opportunities having got themselves to within minutes of beating Southampton and Newcastle and failing to see off West Brom despite creating a host of chances.
Asked how he had handled that frustration, Allardyce said: “I probably wouldn’t have done in the early days, I’d have probably blown my top and smashed a few cups and broken a few doors. But it’s not relevant for today in the way society has changed to really act like that anymore.”
Instead, Allardyce has considered using Atletico Madrid’s Champions League victory over Barcelona as an illustration of how his players have to approach this weekend’s all-important fixture.
He said: “I watched that game last night and you got this immaculate performance from the opposition against the so-called best club team in the world, and realistically all ends up, every tactic that Atletico used worked better than every tactic Barcelona used, and they won the game 2-0.
“For us playing away from home, the more and more we frustrate Norwich, the more and better chance we have got of winning the game.”