From a Sunderland supporter’s point of view, there is something very satisfying about the sale of goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon to Watford.
It’s not because the Romanian is a bad player either. Far from it in fact. He’s a good goakeeper, and on his day can be very good. There was a spell last season when he was genuinely a key player for the Black Cats as they battled to avoid the drop.
The reason it’s so noteworthy is because there probably isn’t a signing that sums up what Sunderland have become more than the former Manchester City stopper.
He was signed on a free while Sunderland were attempting to frugally repair the wasteful spending of the past, and handed, as tends to be the case with Bosman transfers, a deal almost certainly beyond his actual ability to contribute.
It’s worth remembering that he initially arrived as a number two to Vito Mannone, who had firmly established himself between the Sunderland sticks, yet has been widely reported to be on double the money of the Italian.
Pantilimon is a good goalkeeper but wasn’t good enough to progress the club or give them anything new. He was cheap in terms of transfer fee, yet was overpaid and impacted the club’s ability to make more significant signings.
As such he perfectly demonstrated both the rock and the hard place Sunderland have jammed themselves between – trying to cut back spending while needing to improve.
That, alongside any number of other ‘status-quo’ signings you could mention, is precisely why Sunderland have tread water for years now in the Premier League. It is why they have, season after season, been unable to pull away from relegation worries.
But Sam Allardyce is nothing if not pragmatic. In fact, he is known for his pragmatism to the point of derision in some quarters. It’s no surprise that he has apparently taken one look at the Sunderland wage bill, compared it against the talent he has at his disposal, and decided it’s time to jettison whatever he can and try to find better value.
And I don’t think that there is any real doubt that Allardyce will improve Sunderland. He is just one of those managers you’d back to get it right given enough time. He has everywhere else as long as he has had sufficient time, although perhaps Newcastle United fans would disagree.
The real question is whether or not he will get it right in time to make a decisive difference this season. Sunderland have been playing Russian Roulette with their Premier League status for a while now. This season may just be the round that contains the bullet.
Pantilimon’s departure, though, as insignificant on the surface as it initially looks, may just be a positive sign that Sunderland finally have someone on board able to properly diagnose their perpetual problems.