Every cloud … you know the rest. One silver lining is the return from self-imposed exile of Jeremy Robson. To the immense relief of many, Salut! Sunderland imagines, here is an almost exclusively back-to-basics assessment of past failings and the hefty challenges facing Paolo Di Canio. Next, we’ll be getting medals or brownie points in the post from SAFC’s corporate machine for nobly sticking – or reverting – to football …
They used to say a week is a long time in politics. Now, a weekend seems a long time in football, especially when it comes to Sunderland.
Few of us expected to get anything other than a drubbing against Man Utd last weekend. As it turned out, we didn’t even get that. A paltry, 1-0 defeat. Managers don’t get sacked for that, unless they are at Southampton or Reading perhaps.
Very few of us would have gone for a double at the bookies with a fiver on the 1-0 loss paired up with a certain P Di Canio becoming our new boss before Monday’s breakfast.
Ellis Short must have thought long and hard about the next appointment. The “safe choices” of Bruce and O’Neill had cost us a fortune and done nothing whatsoever for our league position.
What can we draw from this? Well, what we know everyone has been saying for years. There was a point in time a couple of seasons ago when things seemed to be heading in the right direction for once. Rather than finding ourselves replacing poor players with decent ones, we seemed for a short time at least to be replacing decent players with genuinely good ones.
Two players in particular stand out. Kenwyne Jones and Grant Leadbitter. Lee Cattermole arrived for Leadbitter and we suddenly saw the real threat posed by an emerging Welbeck, Bent and Gyan. All of which boosts were unfortunately short lived.
Too many players (with the exception of a few that did well for Stoke) have left us only to continue ineffective PL careera.
Even the likes of Kieran Richardson have struggled to get a game elsewhere. Michael Turner is also in and out of the Norwich side. Very few players have left Sunderland in the last decade and gone on to be a success in the top flight. Obvious exceptions are the aforementioned Welbeck, but he was only on loan in any case, Sorenson some time before that plus the sole product of the Academy, Jordan Henderson.
Following the career path of players once they leave Sunderland tells us one of two things. Firstly, that their abilities have suddenly dipped, or secondly and more likely that they were not good enough in the first place. A few names to think about. Etuhu, Chopra, Halford, Elmomahamady, Stead, McCartney, Murphy, Meyler, etc, etc.
In so many cases, average players have been sold/released simply to make way for more expensive and often hugely inferior replacements. For every one of the players listed above there is at least one replacement that cost a whole lot more, and equally produced just as little, or even less in many cases. I’m yet to be convinced that Danny Graham is as effective as even Daryl Murphy, or whether Alfred N’Diaye is any better than Dickson Etuhu was.
Steven Fletcher is better than Chopra, Stead or Murphy. In fact better than all three put together but he is the single notable exception. Even proven players with a real pedigree such as Adam Johnson have struggled. Johnson has not really produced any more than the heavily criticised Egyptian who now seems to be performing reasonably well for Hull City in the division below.
Given the paucity of real talent in the current squad (thanks for that Martin), it would be difficult to imagine that Di Canio could acquire players even worse than some of those who appeared consistently under O’Neill, However, this is Sunderland. There are possibly still new depths to which we can sink. Let’s hope not.
Many of our fans feel that we have to pay well over the odds to attract top quality players to the North East. That may be true. Back in the days of Murray and Fickling, the fact that Sunderland was a real “family club” was the mantra used during Reidy’s days to attract better quality players.
Things have moved on from that particular period, and Sunderland AFC is no longer that “family business” if indeed it ever really was. We seem to have been caught up in a spiral for the last decade and a half, where we our buying policy has been to pay over the odds for players that are not even average.
To some extent this was recognised some time ago by Ellis Short (during Niall Quinn’s time as chairman). Our wage bill was astronomical for a club struggling in the league. He was told to cut the wage costs. So Short has been at the forefront of the initiative to reduce spiralling costs.
This may even have contributed to some of the most bizarre transfer activity seen under O’Neill. A fortune spent on Fletcher and Johnson, whilst digging around for free transfers, and out of contract crocks.
O’Neill assumed incorrectly that he could build a team with a couple of key signings of genuine ability and of real quality and supplement the rest of the squad with “has beens” such as Saha, McFadden and imports from places most of us couldn’t find on a map. His loan signings were worse than his permanent signings (Danny Rose, excepted) and the likes of Bridge and Kyrgiakos should never have worn a Sunderland shirt. Kadar Mangane probably never will.
Regardless of what political views our new manager may possess, and regardless of what you may think of him, his propensity to kick the backsides of underperforming players and let them know when he thinks they are “donkeys” will no doubt have caused some serious buttock-clenching amongst certain members of the squad.
It’s not my place to be offering advice to the new boss, but I am reminded of comments that Peter Reid made during his time about potential transfer targets. He used to say to himself (and to us), “is he better than what we have got?”. Reidy was laughed at sometimes for expressing this point of view, and he made mistakes like every other manager we’ve had since, but he made arguably rather fewer than most.
Whatever our first overseas manager may do, let’s hope that he can learn from the past in a few different ways. For us, let’s just hope that he’s better than we’ve had, and that the players he brings in are a lot better than what we’ve got.