Sunderland AFC. 9 years (we have only just snuck into 2016 after all). 9 separate full time managers. Since Mick McCarthy departed in March 2006 Sunderland fans have seen Niall Quinn, Roy Keane, Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neil, Paolo di Canio, Guy Poyet, Dick Advocaat and now Sam Allardyce all charging around the home dugout at the Stadium of Light. The longest serving Sunderland manager in that time is Roy Keane. 100 games in charge with the Championship title in his back pocket, it reflects both the clubs and funnily enough Roy Keane’s greatest period of success in the last decade.
It would be wrong to suggest that managerial instability didn’t occur before Ellis Short took out right charge of The Black Cats. The manner in managerial departure certainly has changed since the American-Irishman took outright control of the football club in October 2011. It has almost become cyclical at the Stadium of Light since the departure of Steve Bruce. A manager will be sacked after a poor run of results, normally just before Christmas or Easter and then the new man in charge will get the famed if not scientifically proven ‘new manager bounce’ and lead Sunderland to safety. That change of voice on the training ground must have particular resonance in the North-East because this could now become the assumed game plan for securing Premier League football that any Sunderland fan must now endure.
*A little side note – I must be honest now to say that I don’t know many Sunderland fans, but I would love to know at this point whether they would rather stay in the Premier League on the basis that it is the Premier League or go and spend a season or two in the Championship and try to regroup with a better set of players and build something a little more organic. Answers on a postcard please or more practically the comment section below… No one really sends post cards anymore do they?
HOWEVER, is Sunderland’s stay in the Premier League drawing to a close? It seems silly saying that after a 3-1 victory but such a victory came against an Aston Villa side which is fast becoming one of the worst seen in the Premier League era. Sunderland find themselves 4 points off safety, with the worse defensive in the league and with Swansea away on the horizon, the clichéd 6 pointer can rightly be bandied round. The mid-week game at the Liberty Stadium could well be the crossroads for Sunderland as a football club.
Big Sam must have known that life was going to be hard on at the helm of the perennially sinking ship and even he has admitted in the last week that if he knew the ship really was doomed, he wouldn’t think twice about stealing the life boat. A massive issue though that any Sunderland manager must face each time round is that Sunderland have one of the most bizarre squads assembled in the Premier League.
If each manager roughly has one, at most two transfer windows, Ellis Short always bankrolls them to a pittance. The accumulative effect of this transfer policy is that Big Sam has a squad with about 5 different tactically identities. It has become the ultimate Premier League square peg. Advocaat brought in Jeremain Lens, Yann M’Villa and Ola Toivonen. Gus Poyet brought in the likes of Jordi Gomez and Will Buckley. Di Canio purchased Emanuele Giaccherini who career has Sunderland career has been nothing short of awful. Add into the pot the likes of Lee Catermole, Jack Rodwell, Adam Johnson, Steven Fletcher, and Wes Brown amongst others and you have a squad of players assembled over a three year period being coached by their fourth permanent manager. Many are either past their best or were deemed surplus to requirements from their respective clubs. Sunderland don’t have a lot of players today who hold any potential for either development or selling on. It seems a long time ago now that Jorden Henderson was dominating the middle of the park at the Stadium of Light before on to pastures new in Liverpool and despite coming through the academy it surely won’t be too long until Duncan Watmore’s future lies elsewhere. Beyond these two limited examples of ambition, Sunderland’s strategy in the transfer market and as a club seems more content on treading water in 17th rather than becoming something more sustainable in the mid-table.
For all of these fading stars, Sunderland’s wage bill must be bloated beyond belief. Even at the end of financial year of 2014, Sunderland had the 8th highest wage bill in the Premier League, in a year they survived relegation by the skin of their teeth. With the departures of the summer, I find it hard to believe that Sunderland now operate with a substantially lower wage bill than these figures and as a neutral observer looking in at the club you have to wonder if a spell in the Championship might be in order to shed a lot of excess weight from the Sunderland budget, regroup and try to build something more organic, more sustainable like Southampton or Crystal Palace.
I guess for 41,000 or so that saw their team beat Villa, it is more a question of if they go down will Sunderland come back up again?