Amid the search for a new manager, takeover talks have stifled preparation for what will be Sunderland's toughest season in years
The finale of the 2015/16 Premier League season was an occasion for renewed optimism around football.
Leicester City had caused the biggest shock in Premier League history, upsetting the established order to clinch a maiden top-flight title. Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham were all left in their wake as a team of misfit toys captured the public's imagination.
At the foot of the table, something else was stirring. Newcastle, cosigned to relegation by their bitter rivals, Sunderland, welcomed Tottenham to St. James's Park.
The 10-man Toon saw off title challengers Spurs. They trounced them, actually - 5-1. A wave of belief that they could bounce straight back up to the Premier League under then-interim manager Rafa Benitez washed over supporters.
"Rafael Benitez stay at NUFC," read signs held aloft by the Newcastle faithful. The 'Rafalution' had begun.
Newcastle United supporters plead with Rafa Benitez to stay at the club. Image: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/PA Images
Down the road, things weren't as rosy with neighbours, Sunderland. Sam Allardyce, lauded for preserving their Premier League status, was snapped up by the FA to begin his ill-fated term as England manager.
In came former Everton and Manchester United manager David Moyes, a target Sunderland owner Ellis Short felt would bring stability to the club.
The Scot was criticised for rightly pointing out that Sunderland faced a relegation battle before the season began and also raised eyebrows around Christmas time when he said he would have reconsidered taking the job had he known there was such little money to spend in the January transfer window.
Sunderland struggled in vain and were relegated after a 1-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth in April. A decade in the top-flight where they had managed a top-half finish just once was over.
But where Newcastle succeeded in inspiring confidence in their fans, Sunderland have failed. The feeling at the end of this season was in stark contrast to Newcastle. No sooner had Sunderland been relegated than the fans began looking at the enormity of the task to climb back into the Premier League.
The journey now looks longer than ever.
Jermain Defoe dejected after Sunderland are relegated from the Premier League following defeat to Bournemouth. Image: Richard Sellers/PA Wire/PA Images
Moyes' resignation at the end of the season leaves the club without a manager and Sunderland announced on Friday that appointing a new manager has been delayed due to talks with an unknown person or persons with regards taking over control of the club.
Jermain Defoe, the club's star striker over the last two seasons, confirmed his move to Bournemouth. Sunderland's other shining light - goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford - was snapped up by Everton.
Where Newcastle managed to hang onto their best players, Sunderland have again failed. In Benitez, Newcastle had a strong and experienced manager to lead them back into the top-flight. Sunderland, without anyone at the helm, lack exactly that.
Reports linked Aberdeen's Derek McInnes to the job, but the Scottish Premiership side announced he would be staying in Aberdeen. A snub to move to a club like Sunderland might show just how unstable the situation is.
Sunderland say no manager will be appointed until talks of a takeover are finished and that they have a set time-frame and are willing to drop the bid if it is not completed in time.
In essence, where Newcastle kept their players and were able to rebuild from a 'strong and stable' platform, Sunderland are showing no such foundations.
One thing Sunderland supporters can count for certainty: an immediate return to the Premier League looks near impossible.
And before panicked cries to spend big in the transfer market (if the club can afford it) and a quick appointment for a manager to start spending said money, this may not be a bad thing.
Tectonic shifts like a change of ownership and the installation of a long-term manager could be exactly what the club need. No more papering over the cracks and surviving the drop by finishing in 16th or 17th position.
The board at Sunderland have a real opportunity to take stock of where the club has gone array in recent years and begin rebuilding by investing in the club's youth sturcture.
It's imperative that, if new owners do come in, they invest wisely in the club. A focus on youth and a stable management team that won't shift from Advocaat to Allardyce, from Di Canio to O'Neill. In the last 10 years, they've had eight permanent managers and two caretaker managers.
Target McInnes has proven his worth in Scotland by guiding Aberdeen to second place finishes behind Celtic for the past three years and a figure similar to the 45-year-old could be the type of manager to help reconstruct the image of one of England's big club.
In this sense, Sunderland have identified the type of manager they want to oversee the club's overhaul.
Restoring confidence in the players and re-energising the club is now more important than ever. Miss this opportunity to take stock and reconnect with an increasingly disillusioned fan base, and the Sunderland may be consigned to the wilderness for longer than they'd like to contemplate.