Garraghan’s Word: a plea for SAFC stability of the Wenger, Ferguson kind

Daniel Garraghan: a busy new pair of hands at Salut! Sunderland
Daniel Garraghan: a busy new pair of hands at Salut! Sunderland

In his second piece of analysis in a few days, our new contributor Daniel Garraghan gives generous mention to the S word. But he makes it clear what kind of stability it is that he believes Ellis Short and the fans should seek from the new head coach …

The time has come for period of stability and continuity at Sunderland.  While that should not mean Gus Poyet is totally immune from the sack, what is desirable is that Ellis Short has this time picked the right man so that there is no need for another change of manager, and that Poyet can build a successful side.

Stability and continuity are often noted in football as being instrumental factors in the route to success. Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal seem to exemplify this point.

One: it means a manager has the time to convey his methods and ideas across to his players. This undoubtedly takes time, but once achieved it means that all the players in the squad should know exactly what is required of them.

For example, each player should know their specific defensive duties, and also their remits for attacking – whether to look for a short pass most of the time or to play a more direct ball, say. While the methodology of a manger may simply be ineffective no matter how much it is preached, it is nevertheless coherent to say that every player knowing their role – and having plenty of time to practise it – means there is an increased chance of improved performances and results.

Two: linked with this, keeping the same manager and his subsequent ideas allows players to be brought in (whether it be by the manager of a director of football) to fit with the style of play of the manager. As a result, these players should fit quite easily into the system of the team; integrating new players should be less of an issue, and there should be a relatively smooth transition between players coming in and players going out.

Conversely, sacking managers all of the time means all these efforts are undermined. A new manager often brings in a different philosophy. The players who are currently there have to adapt to another style of play which, as discussed, invariably takes time. Saying that, appointing a manger with the same or a similar footballing ethos to the previous manager can help solve this problem.

Swansea encapsulate this: although Michael Laudrup has employed a slightly more direct style than Brendan Rodgers did, the two undoubtedly share a lot of ideas on how the game should be played. The problem with Sunderland, however, is that managers with similar footballing philosophies have not been employed in succession to each other.

Gus Poyet by Owen Lennox: a man with something to prove
Gus Poyet by Owen Lennox: a man with something to prove

However, despite the obvious merits of stability and continuity, they are clearly not everything. Of course, it is ridiculous and plain wrong to sack a manager based purely on a poor run of form. However, if the methods of a manager are clearly not working and show no sign of working, then it can be perfectly reasonable and logical to change manager. Sometimes a change has to be made to halt an alarming slide which shows no sign of stopping. You cannot keep a manager just for stability’s sake.

Sunderland’s last two sackings arguably fit well into this category. Under Martin O’Neill, things clearly weren’t working; relegation was an extremely real possibility. Moreover, it seems apparent that Paolo Di Canio lacked the man-management skills to cater for Premier League players, and had no desire to change his methods.

What therefore becomes apparent is that there is often a scenario where both options are unattractive in their own ways, and one may simply have to choose the lesser of two evils. Go with continuity and you can run the risk of stagnating and failure. Change the manager and you can lose the benefits associated with continuity, having to start from scratch.

Yet there is a satisfactory middle ground: stability and continuity, coupled with the manager’s methods are bearing fruit. This is undoubtedly a lot easier said than achieved, and every club searches for it, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is what Sunderland badly need.

Thus in Sunderland’s search for stability and continuity, the real issue is not whether Poyet is immune from the sack no matter what happens. If there comes a point where what Poyet is doing is clearly not working, and there is no reasonable evidence that it will ever work, then one may argue he simply has to go. That is not the same as saying if Sunderland were to go down, Poyet should be sacked; if there were still signs of progress there, there would be a very valid case for keeping him in the job.

The real issue at hand is whether Poyet and Sunderland can put themselves in a position where there is no need for a sacking, enabling the new head coach to build a successful team – like he did at Brighton – and allowing Sunderland to reap all the benefits which stability and continuity can bring.

Short has got his sackings right so far. Where he has gone wrong is when it has come to hiring managers. He needs to get this appointment right so Sunderland can enter a period of stability. If not, and Poyet has to be sacked, the club are back to square one – and progress and success will remain in the periphery.

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6 thoughts on “Garraghan’s Word: a plea for SAFC stability of the Wenger, Ferguson kind”

  1. Welcome to the robust world of Salut! Sunderland, Dan. You will learn quickly from your encounter with Jeremy, the first lesson being that he’s a debating adversary with decades of disappointment as a SAFC supporter behind him.

  2. It’s a good thing to replace successful managers with someone who has let’s say a similar style. Are you suggesting that we replace a sequence of failed managers with someone of a similar perspective?

    Your point about Swansea is completely meaningless unless you can name a Sunderland manager who left of his own volition to pursue more lucrative employment elsewhere as a result of his success with us. I can tell you now that you will be found wanting. You are not comparing like with like. It is beyond chalk compared to cheese. There is nothing whatsoever in their recent managerial history that makes any comparison rational or reasonable.

    Do you want to continue in the PDC vein with another coach that speaks the truth publically and unashamedly in order to provide some continuity and indeed “stability” irrespective of whether the players feel completely alienated? We may have just the man so we can wait and see on that one.

    To get to your question. Continuity of the systems and processes and logic which lead to failure is bad. Continuity of those things which have worked and have been shown to be effective is good.

    Again though what you are talking about is managers who have done well with the resources at a particular club where there is a universal view almost that they have done well. Why would anyone argue that continuity in circumstances such as those you set out could be a bad thing. Persistence with something that doesn’t work is the logic of the fool. We have failed, ultimately with every manager in living memory apart from two seasons under Peter Reid. Where would you suggest that continuity was lost?

    • I don’t actually think that we disagree too much at all. I would like to clarify my point, which I accept was a bit ambiguous. When I said that Sunderland haven’t in the past replaced managers with a similar footballing ethos, what I meant was that Sunderland haven’t had any footballing ethos in the first place so it follows that we haven’t replaced managers with similar ones. My bad.

      To answer your question of whether we should employ another PDC for the sake of continuity – no, we should not. When I speak of continuity, I mean continuity of a certain style of play, not personality – especially when that personality has caused so much problems.

      My Swansea point should be seen not as a direct comparison to Sunderland, but in terms of a role model, if you like. Thus I do not see it as meaningless. You say continuity of things which have shown to be effective is good. Of course it is. However, is it not a fair point to say that Swansea had to start somewhere?They didn’t just become successful from the first day their plan was thought up. When Swansea first set out to play in that way, they were in League One. Their methods have since proven to be very successful.

      Thus what I would say is that I think there is a lot to be said for trying to stick with a plan of how to play football; whether that be a direct style or a passing style. It seems we have settled on a passing style with Poyet – and even if his appointment does not work out, I think it can make sense to appoint a manger with a similar style, so we can try and get continuity in this sense. Thus referring to my point in the article, if you sack a manager then some problems can be avoided if you appoint a similar manager. I maintain that this sort of continuity is good.

      This is not to say that it will work and that we should now stick to a passing style forever. But I think we should give it a go, and that means sticking with it even if Poyet doesn’t work out.

    • The most important factor driving top level professional football today is ego. For the top level bosses it’s based on prestige; for players it’s money; for supporters it’s putting one over closest neighbours. It’s a MESS. There is one positive for me though. The A-League has started again in Australia.

  3. The “S” word. “Stability.” This is the word that always appears when a manager gets the sack. It is completely and utterly meaningless.

    When do clubs have “stability”? When they are either winning games and winning trophies, or avoiding relegation comfortably (depending on expectations).

    Every club wants to achieve some sort of stability but it’s a completely meaningless term when you are avoiding relegation by the skin of your teeth season after season. Do you think that Ellis Short lies in bed at night trying to discover news ways of creating turbulence Daniel?

    You example of Swansea is also meaningless because the last two (Martinez and Rodgers) both left the club for bigger and better jobs, not because they were sacked as per Di Canio, O’Neill, Bruce and countless others before that. Fergie left on the back of winning the title; that’s “stability.”

    You say that there has been no continuation in philosophies at Sunderland and that’s the problem. There is no philosophy in football, just tackles passes and goals, Nothing else. I suppose there has been some sort of illogical continuity if we can call it that. Poyet’s previous three predecessors all seemed to think you could sell better players than those they were replaced with and still progress. They were as wrong with that as you are with your concept of “stability.”

    • I 100% agree that a reason we are where we are is down to not replacing players properly over the years. I would, however, disagree that my Swansea point was meaningless. My point about them was that they have had a clear vision in how they want to play and when they have replaced managers they have replaced them with managers who play a similar way – surely that’s a good thing? I think continuity is probably a better word, and I should have made it clearer I suppose – would you agree with me that continuity is good?

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