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Sunderland: A Club Transformed (Book Review)

I was originally skeptical of diving into Sunderland, A Club Transformed, Jonathan Wilson’s book about the 2006-2007 season for the Black Cats. As much as I respect Jonathan Wilson’s intellect and analysis of topics related to football, there were two red flags for me. Firstly, any narrative about a single season in football tends to be boring and read like a compilation of match reports. In recent years the proliferation of team centric blogs has made compiled match reports of matches easier to access and less unique. Secondly, the author, Mr. Wilson is a Mackem himself and while his other writing is immaculate, I was unsure about reading any Sunderland related content produced by him.

Despite these reservations, I decided to finally make my way through a copy of the book I had purchased before I had a Kindle (which is how I do most of my reading today.) As always, Wilson provided a fascinating read, even if the subject itself appeared to be bland.

The key characters in the book are, of course, Niall Quinn and Roy Keane. Both Quinn and Keane operate under the shadow of former Sunderland Manager Mick McCarthy who had his high profile disagreements when he led the Republic of Ireland side with Keane.

Niall Quinn, a Sunderland playing legend, served as caretaker manager and chairman following a takeover of the relegated club in 2006. After a rocky start to the season, Quinn hired Roy Keane as manager, creating a remarkable change in attitude and results. The book chronicles Keane’s transformation of Sunderland into a slick passing side that had stopped the bad giveaways and poor defending that were trademarks of McCarthy’s Black Cats. The book also delves deeply into Keane’s personal transformation from fiery Manchester United skipper to responsible and respectable Sunderland manager.

Keane’s willingness to trim a bloated squad full of players that had featured under McCarthy and replace them with experienced professionals like Carlos Edwards and Dwight Yorke or promising youngsters such as Ross Wallace is discussed at length.

Perhaps the most impressive and interesting aspect of the book is not the narrative of the 2006-07 season itself, but how Wilson interweaves excellent historical information about Wearside such as references to the Venerable Bede or George Washington’s family as well as relevant and important historical stories about the club and its supporters.

Sunderland was promoted back to the Premier League following the 2006-2007 season, and they have remained in the top flight since. Wilson’s book is must for any fan of English football as it gives the reader important historical context about one of the country’s best supported clubs in addition to dissecting the remarkable turnaround that saw Sunderland win the Coca-Cola Championship after spending the first month of the season at the foot of the table.

Sunderland, A Club Transformed is available on Amazon and at other fine booksellers.

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