Salut Reflections: envying Man City and Swansea as Sunderland settle for passion

Jake detects thinking
Jake detects thinking

I read with some amusement all the patronising tweets that flew in the direction of the Bradford fans and players in the aftermath of the mauling they received from Swansea in the Capital whatsitsname Cup final on Sunday, says Stephen Goldsmith.

I didn’t feel sorry for them, they earned their place there and deserved to be treated as equals on the day. The same rule applies for the keeper being shown the red card, why shouldn’t he have been? The question on our collective lips was obvious, however, and Salut! Sunderland’s Gareth Barker speaks for us all when he asks…


On the 2nd of October 1999, Sunderland were in the process of cementing their position in the top half of the Premier League – in and around the top dogs of the country after an incredible rejuvenation under Peter Reid. On this particular day the victims were Bradford City, they were slaughtered by Kevin Phillips who hit a hat-trick during a comprehensive 4-0 hammering. The same day saw Swansea City humbled at home, by Mansfield Town, 1-0 in the fourth tier of English football.

It’s fair to say that on that day if you were a betting man (or woman as this is a progressive football blog!) then you wouldn’t have taken a punt on Swansea City winning the league cup just over a decade later. The irony is that you would have got poorer odds on it being Bradford City on the receiving end of a 5-0 thumping in the final.

In the same time scale, Manchester City have been relegated to the third tier, won a thrilling play off final (in my mind thrilling play off finals are over rated), been promoted back to the Premier League, played in the Champions League and happen to be the reigning league champions.

All of these things should give us hope. The problem with Sunderland, however, is that it’s not even a case of “never the bride” but more of a case of “you might be a plus one to the evening do, but you will have to come after the buffet”.

The question is why?

There’s a simple answer in Manchester City’s case. I won’t even insult you by writing the word down.

As for Swansea, the chairman of the football club has been very keen on building a football philosophy there. Each manager has played exactly the same system, exactly the same style. It is fair to say that Laudrup has brought a bit of punch to things though and we all know about Michu. I heard John Hartson talking on the radio last week and he said that if a person was being interviewed for the manager’s job and they said they wanted to go with two up front, then the chairman would kindly show them the door.

They have a system and are creating a legacy. It appears to be working.

I pick Swansea as they are a relevant and recent example of a side that in recent times are more successful than us. Unfortunately, there are many others. I won’t bother listing them as it’s far too depressing. Even Middlesbrough have been to a European cup final!

Jake as Tony Roffe's caption writer
Jake as Tony Roffe’s caption writer
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Our thing at Sunderland seems to revolve around passion. Passionate supporters, passion on the pitch. The combative central midfielder, eyes bulging, chest out, smashing into the opposition’s new Italian signing and sending him three feet in the air. That familiar ‘GET IN THERE!’ rumbles from crowd. We all love it.

The problem is that later in the game, the said Italian signing will usually shake that challenge off, stride toward the edge of the box and nonchalantly pop the ball into the top right hand corner of the net. He’ll wheel away in arrogant celebration because it’s just what he does. No big deal.

I believe we’re at the stage where the myths now perpetuates themselves:

* You need a strong character to play up there.

* The supporters demand success, the expectation levels are huge.

* You’ve got to play for the shirt at that football club.

Gareth in a dugout somewhere
Gareth in a dugout somewhere

We have become “that” football club. Now I quite like being that football club sometimes. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could add a few of those arrogant Italian/Spanish/French players who popped the ball in the top corner on a regular basis to play alongside those midfield beasts?

Roy Keane spoke in his book about the expectation levels when it came to playing for Ireland. They were expected to be plucky losers. Never mind, they gave it a go, poor old Ireland.

I think there’s an element of this at Sunderland, based on some of the “myths” I mentioned earlier. I think it’s always the expectations that get brought up when it comes to Sunderland, that “certain type of player” etc when managers bite the bullet (Not, I’d like to add, the degree of Geordieness). Invariably managers will go out and sign players to fit the bill. What they lack in quality, the often make up for in effort. Eventually that effort isn’t good enough to win lots of football matches, because the quality isn’t there.

I think this then leads to the one or two flair players we do have being picked on in a sense. They are the only ones who look like making something happen, when they don’t, it becomes particularly frustrating:

* He’s lazy.

* He’s had his head turned.

* He doesn’t care about this football club.

It’s all a bit of a conundrum really. How do we fix it?

I think the Swansea ideology is not a bad way to go about it. I don’t mean passing teams to death, but I mean the structure. Let us hope Ellis has a long term plan in place that works towards building a side that can not only sustain itself financially, but begin to really compete for trophies and to have a chance of finishing higher up the league. It would be nice to retain the grit that reflects the people of the area and combine that with the skill and the pace and the spectacular. It would be nice to be able to appreciate that from the terraces too and feel comfortable with it.

On the other hand, I think the progress of the club has been relatively decent. We’re on the verge of our longest top flight stint since the 1950s, we look financially secure. I don’t know if it’s okay to complain without feeling a pang of guilt, but when you see teams lift trophies and they have been in the fourth division in very recent history, then I’m sure it’s okay to feel a touch jealous. I think this is even more the case when we have never been in the fourth division in our entire history. Oh, they’re also Welsh, coming over here, taking our trophies.

Let me finish by mentioning something that is slightly off topic , but ties in with what I’m saying regarding the people of the area.

My grandmother passed away this week. During our last conversation I spoke to her about the fact she lived through the Second World War. This still blows my mind for some reason.

I was talking to her about what it was liked to be bombed (cheery!) and whether or not they had an air raid shelter. She replied: “An air raid shelter? No!”

“What did you do then?” I asked.

“We just ducked,” she said.




18 thoughts on “Salut Reflections: envying Man City and Swansea as Sunderland settle for passion”

  1. I see what you’re saying Mick and agree to a large extent.

    The fact that this our best run in the top flight since the 1950’s is alarming. In my lifetime, Reid was the best I’ve seen but even that ended in carnage!

    I would say we’re now mediocre, when previously we were mediocre to poor!

    I think Bardsley is a good example if the type of player I was describing. I think Cattermole has a bit more about him, he does have quality in there. He’s just never in the side long enough to express it unfortunately.

    Could be interesting now we have these string links in Africa. Would be nice if we had first dibs on the next Okocha or Weah!

    It’s difficult to know if it can and will ever change. I think it’ll be even harder now to break into the upper echelons of the league and stay there without millions of pounds being invested.

    I’d love to see us in Europe one time!

    • Bardsley is a very limited player, who, like his former Man U team mate, Richardson, peaked very early, and subsequently failed to progressl. Cattermole is a slightly better example of this type of player. As I have said previously on this forum, Cattermole could be a useful player if he played to his strenghs, and stopped trying to be Bryan Robson. At the present time, Sunderland are a slightly better team without him, because he contributes absolutely nothing in terms of creativity, and is a constant liability in view of his indiscipline and poor decision making.

  2. I was using Cattermole purely as an example of the kind of player which creates the syndrome Gareth was talking about. I know he’s not the point of the article; but the reason we never achieve anything is precisely because we are always buying players who are not quite up to it. Players who are high on effort but low on skill. Many of them get away with it – and have their own fans – because of the passion thing.

    Sunderland fans have put up with mediocrity for decades – for so long that it becomes difficult to recognise it even when you see it. We have and we will put up with almost any old shite as long as it gets stuck in and gives at least 100%. The only thing that Sunderland fans won’t put up with is a lack of effort. So effort itself gets rewarded, even if it gets us nowhere.

    I’ve been going since 1962 and I’ve seen far too much of this. We continue to be mediocre because we keep standing for it.

  3. On the topic of Cattermole, I’m a really big fan of his as it happens. I think he gives us drive and tempo. It’s such a shame that he just can’t get fit enough and you have to wonder if he ever will.

    I think Swansea have an opportunity to stay in the Premier League for many years to come and challenge for things. They have created a system within the club that means managers and players are, to an extent, interchangeable. I would hazard a guess that they have scouts around that know of a number of players who could replace and be effective as Dyer for example. Laudrup has brought some punch to things though, and I’d imagine it was his knowledge of Michu that brought that player to Swansea.

    I think Michu is a top class player, but would he look as good at Sunderland? Could he play in our team and be as effective?

    Goldy, when you say about the NE clubs being unique I know what you mean. But, why is it that both clubs are so unsuccessful in comparison to their set up, fan base etc?

    It really doesn’t make any logical sense.

    • “..both clubs…”

      Only two?

      Which was the last NE club to appear in a European final? Which NE club has actually won something this century?

      • But you do accept it’s a NE club!
        (Unlike a different Yorkshire club whose 40th anniversary of becoming a runner-up is approaching. That part of Yorkshire is definitely down south)

      • Ha! Yeah, they are a NE club, but they never really come to mind when I think of proper north east sides. I don’t really see it as a derby either.

  4. Goldy, you offer a sense of perspective…think Pompey fans may agree with you..there but for the grace of God. So very sad. On a lesser level Sheffield Weds are showing how hard it can be in lower levels. We’ll be right as our Kiwi cousins say…ultimately it’s not meant to be easy…..would like a smidgen of smooth with the rough. Made up for Swansea and Bradford

  5. I’ve been over too many times about Cattermole, all i will say is don’t underestimate how important work off the ball is regarding shape and squeezing space. He’s better on the ball than people think and as a direct counter proposal to Malcolm’s very good analysis, is that i feel people cant see his talents now because they have made their minds up already and see what hey want. Maybe it’s the coach in me being too vocal.

    Anyway, that’s not really what Gareth’s (good) article is about. I agree that it’s extremely enviable what has happened to Swansea. Martin O’Neill done it with Leicester too. Suppose that makes it worse!

    What I would say is that you feel that if Swansea lost a few players as a result of their success and the replacements couldn’t sustain the performance levels, then they could easily go down and never return. You always feel we will always be back around if we were to slide down again. I know Leeds are doing their best to prove not all big clubs with history and large fanbases can bounce back, but they were mismanaged to catastrophic levels and I can’t see that happening to us. The uniqueness of us and Newcastle suggest to me we’ll always be ok.

    Any consolation???? Well I tried!

  6. It’s the Emile Heskey problem. I thought he was crap and yet some of the better football managers rated him highly. Cattermole has captained every club he has played for. This must suggest he has qualities. The problem seems to be attitudinal. He’s impulsive. My view’s that he needs to grow up fast. The current lack of a ball winning midfielder will be addressed this summer I suspect. If MON finds someone who is tenacious with better distribution…..Catts could be redundant…..I hope he matures

    • You and Emile Heskey – me and Peter Crouch. Although I think the same about Heskey too, maybe I haven’t forgiven him after he played consecutive games against us for Leicester and Liverpool, scoring for Leicester and then a week later taking a tumble in the 3rd minute after a Mickey Gray tackle which got them a penalty.

  7. I agree with much of what you say, but part of the problem you outline is exemplified by the way people (including many on here) continue to support Cattermole. He is exactly the kind of player we don’t need, if we are to break the cycle. He’s the epitome of the “get stuck in” type of player who suits the kind of football which is about passion over skill and finesse. Sunderland have had too many of these over the years and it’s part of what has held us back. Comparisons are often made with Nobby Stiles – and there’s a place for Nobby Stiles in football. But Cattermole is no Nobby Stiles, who had much more to his game. And as a captain, Cattermole is no Kevin Ball.

    I get sick of hearing people say that he provides “bite” in midfield. So what? There’s a lot more to football than bite. Roy Keane provided bite, but he was also a tremendous footballer with a football brain. Cattermole has no brain at all. His first touch is so poor, his second is usually a tackle. And he’s useless at tackling. Barging and clattering into people isn’t tackling. Launching yourself, from 2 yards away, into tackles you have no hope of winning is just stupid. That’s why he gets booked so often. It’s not because refs have it in for him. They’re only doing their job. It’s because he’s inept.

    As even his fans know, he can’t shoot to save his life and hardly ever creates a chance. Even in his best games he is no better than “canny”. In a team which is already capable of playing boring, slow-moving football which struggles to get midfielders into the box, we don’t need another one who sits deep and does nothing but hit people and move the ball 5 yards around the centre-circle.

    To go back to your article, he wouldn’t get a game for Swansea – and we’ll never have a decent midfield with him in it.


    • The thing about any Sunderland player is that there will always be loyal fans who see a greatness in players which is not always apparent to a more objective spectator.

      With loyalty comes a protective attitude, an aversion to seeing their favourites criticised or maybe just the desperation that makes people feel they see certain players as providing a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem.

      Before Christmas lots of supporters thought that playing Wickham, Ji and Noble in various combinations would solve the goal drought. At this stage we’ll never know but truthfully how many of us really think that we would have been better off following that policy?

      Cattermole has strengths. He has energy and can disrupt the opposition midfield. He is capable of a telling pass or through ball. But, and here I agree with you, these contributions are outweighed by the liability he has become and ultimately I don’t feel he improves the side.

      The quandary MON has is using the players he has to best effect. The reality is that the whole squad is capable of putting together a good performance but only a few are consistent.

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