Sunderland: The Poisoned Chalice?

Sunderland: The Poisoned Chalice?

A very obvious pattern has developed at Sunderland in recent years. Each season the fans have their loyalty put to the test as the club gets off to an utterly dreadful start to the season. It then takes them until about February until they decide to ditch their manager, if they haven’t already, and bring in someone else to try and save the club from what looks like inevitable relegation. They then survive by the skin of their teeth, that manager then gets money over the summer for an overhaul of the squad and we repeat from there. A club the size of Sunderland, much like its North-East rivals, always looks to be underachieving to me. They have managed to sustain a Premier League position for some years now, which in itself is a victory. But, given the clubs’ stature and its consecutive seasons as a Premier League club they should surely be better than a relegation scrap every year, should they not? With Dick Advocaat leaving his post only 8 games after helping the side avoid relegation last season, the club has an opportunity. This latest appointment could be the most important for the club in recent memory.

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Since Sunderland sacked Peter Reid back in 2002 the club has had 13 different managers (Kevin Ball was caretaker twice). That’s 13 different managerial reigns in 13 years, how can any club expect to grow and develop any sort of philosophy when it changes manager so frequently?  This is the clubs 9th consecutive season in the Premier League since Roy Keane got them promoted after the 2006/07 campaign. But, Keane was relieved of his duty 18 months later and Ricky Sbragia got the job for 6 months. Then Steve Bruce stepped up to the plate and held the job for over 2 years. But, even after leading them to a 10th place finish Bruce was sacked. Martin O’Neill seemed like he might finally be the appointment that takes the club to the next level. His pedigree was clear after his time with Celtic and Aston Villa. 54 games later and O’Neill was out the door. Maverick Paolo Di Canio managed to guide the club to safety after that, but the Italian only lasted 13 games and a full transfer window before they ditched him for Gus Poyet. Advocaat followed Poyet to save the side from relegation and now here we are. Are they a club cursed or their own worst enemy?

What can’t be denied is that when the club has decided to swap managers their first mandate has always been met. They save them from relegation. But, the long term goals of the club won’t be met with this approach. Maybe the board has been too quick with the trigger finger and not trusted their managers enough to guide the team to safety and then get some continuity to the side. Now that Advocaat has stepped down as manager with the club tied bottom of the table with their fierce rivals Newcastle, there is an opportunity that they would be foolish not to take. There are a couple of free agent managers at the moment, ideal candidates for a Premier League job. But, there is one who fits the bill to be the man to bring stability to the Black Cats. One name who should top their wish list that the fans should be happy to see at the helm: Big Sam.

Sam Allardyce seems to have problems when getting the fans on his side. The board and fans at Newcastle seemed to be unhappy with his football, as if they were deserving of something better. Bet they wish they’d kept hold of him with the state they are in now. West Ham fans were determined to get rid of him from the moment he took the job and then guided them into the Premier League and kept them there for numerous seasons. They too apparently deserved better football than what Big Sam was offering. Not that it is a reason for fans not to accept a manager in the first place, but Sunderland fans really can’t afford to be that choosey right now. It would be safe to assume that Sunderland fans want a team that gets results by any means, rather than ‘eye-catching’ football. Big Sam Allardyce is a manager who has made a career out of putting together Premier League teams that get results. He may have previously managed Newcastle, a sticking point that would normally mean Sunderland fans would be less than pleased with his appointment, but he is a former Sunderland player. It may have only been for a season back in the early 80’s but he still did pull on the red and white stripes.

Allardyce is a manager that has never been relegated. Right there is the first piece of criteria that will make him a popular choice for the Sunderland board. That reputation will carry straight into the dressing room. Players will know Allardyce and his past accomplishments that can give them a lift straight away because they will believe in the appointment. From there it will be Allardyce’s patented blend of strong defensive discipline and direct no nonsense football that will keep the club afloat, as it has done with many clubs over the years. The other name I’ve seen crop up for the job is Harry Redknapp, but that isn’t a solution to the clubs problems if you ask me. Maybe 10 years ago that would’ve been a top appointment, but today in 2015 that’s not what you should be looking for as a club.

There are 30 games left of the season. That is plenty of time for Sunderland to turn around their shambolic start to the season. But, they don’t want to be heading into next season after surviving as they have this one and those before it. Unlike Advocaat, Poyet and Di Canio appointing Sam Allardyce means you have an English football and Premier League veteran at the helm. A manager with a clear tried and tested philosophy that he knows exactly how to implement. The club needs stability in terms of squad and manager. Sam Allardyce should be the appointment that brings that to the club. If they do decide to give him the job and they still go through the same motions then it is confirmation that Sunderland are the biggest poison chalice in football management.