Is New York the concrete jungle where Premier League survival dreams are made of? For Sunderland, it just might be. David Moyes has taken his struggling squad to the Big Apple for some cold weather training, making the most of the fact that they’re not back in action until February 25th when the Scot returns to Goodison Park to take on former club Everton.
Coming just days after a 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of Southampton and with the team rock bottom of the Premier League, many Sunderland fans are understandably upset to see the players rewarded with a week’s holiday – as a look at the replies to any of their New York-related tweets quickly demonstrates. Yet the trip had been planned before that match and it could turn out to be a positive for everyone minus the club’s social media team. 13 Premier League matches remain for the Black Cats to pull themselves out of trouble and something had to be done to shake up a routine that has produced just one win in eight.
The value of team bonding should not be underestimated, especially after three players arrived in the January transfer window. Moyes may already know ex-Toffees Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo and Joleon Lescott, but his Sunderland squad need to build some chemistry with the trio – and quickly. A few days in New York can speed up that process, while it can similarly benefit and strengthen existing relationships. “The big thing for me is to create a team spirit so that they look after each other on the pitch,” Moyes explained.
This trip is, however, about more than just office icebreakers. The team will also literally be breaking ice as they brave the freezing cold New York winter for cold weather workouts that Moyes hopes will toughen his players up for their relegation battle, one which will be fought in the English wind and rain from Middlesbrough to Hull. “The psychology behind going somewhere so cold is that when we come back we will think Sunderland is Dubai,” he said.
Dubai is exactly where Sam Allardyce took his team last season, preferring warm weather training to Moyes’ chilled equivalent. That recharge set Sunderland up for an impressive end to the 2015/16 season, with the team losing just two of the 12 matches that followed their visit to the United Arab Emirates.
New York City will certainly offer a different kind of test to Dubai, but the Scottish coach is convinced it’ll bring similar benefits, having previously taken his Everton sides across the Atlantic. “I’ve done New York before and it works,” he said of his previous mid-season New York experiences. “We’ll train every day and do quite a bit of running in Central Park, as well as cycling.”
The last time he did so was at the beginning of 2011, as a spontaneous last minute decision after his Everton team drew 1-1 against Birmingham City in midweek. “It created excitement and panic at the same time, excitement that you’re going to New York for a few days with the boys and panic that you’ve then got to phone your wife and tell her,” Phil Neville recalled to the Liverpool Echo. “I found it hilarious. The next day everyone’s coming in with stories of how they broke it to their wives that they were going to New York for a few days, but it worked.” The Toffees climbed from 9th to 7th upon their return, winning five, drawing two and losing two of their final nine matches that year.
So why the scepticism? It certainly doesn’t look good for the players to flee the country after last Saturday’s shambles, but winning a relegation battle is about action and not appearances. If Sunderland do still go down then it won’t be because of this trip, as they’ll be no worse off because of it. The expense to the club is minimal with respect to the Premier League riches up for grabs, while the upside is huge and potentially worth a few extra priceless points.
The New York streets could make Sunderland feel brand new, and that is no bad thing.