Sixer Says: something rotten in the state of Sunderland

Jake: 'this is the place where you find true support, unconditional commitment'
Jake: ‘this is the place where you find true support, unconditional commitment’

Rats live on no evil star. The ultimate palindrome, or at least the one we learned at school. In this outstanding analysis, Pete Sixsmith detects lots of rats scurrying about in the bowels of the Stadium of Light. And he still hasn’t decided what to do with the Man City v SAFC ticket sitting on the kitchen table at Sixsmith Towers (aka swish residence on Busty Bank) …

The noises coming from Gus Poyet
are not very encouraging. Like all sensible supporters he seems to have accepted that relegation is an absolute certainty and that it could be a long haul back to the promised land of the Premier League.

He has hinted at something being “wrong” with the club and that he hopes to find out what it is; failure to do so will probably see him and his staff leave for somewhere that does not appear to be as hapless as we clearly are.

Let me offer some suggestions as to why we are now facing our fourth relegation from the elite of English football, back into the no doubt welcoming arms of the Football League.

It really goes back to 1964 when we gained our first ever promotion from the Second Division. Until 1958, we had played in no other division, but the club really was rotten to the core in those days, with directors being disqualified for illegal payments and a culture of complete underachievement.

After six seasons in the nether regions, we finally made it back to the top level with a side that played the best football in the division, far better than (although not as ruthless or determined as) Leeds United, who pipped us for the title.

The future looked bright – Montgomery, Hurley, Harvey, Herd, Crossan, Mulhall were all exceptional players – and what happened? Manager Alan Brown left over a bonus payment that was not given and we waited until November to appoint a stopgap manager. Imagine Ellis Short and Margaret Byrne picking the team – that’s what happened in 1964.

Since then, we have never spent more than seven consecutive seasons in the top flight. Clubs that we regard as our equals – Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham – have either remained in the top flight or spent the odd season out of it, whereas we come and go and are never, ever seen as challengers for a top half place. In the 50 years I have followed Sunderland we have had three top flight top half finishes. What does that say?

Managers have come in, desperate to awake the club from of its torpor. Peter Reid almost did it before staying one season too long. Dennis Smith gave us our respectability back and brought one or two decent players through. Mentioning the names of some of the others makes me cringe.

Roy Keane showed promise in that he realised that hard work was needed to alter the losing mentality that surrounds us, but he was eventually overwhelmed by it. Steve Bruce looked promising but faded, Martin O’Neill was too old and too far away from the ethos of the club whilst the Di Canio period was, ultimately, an unmitigated disaster.

And now, we have a head coach (he made it clear when he spoke to BBC Newcastle’s Nick Barnes on Saturday that he wanted to be manager, not head coach) who has a philosophy on how he wants to play and who seems a decent man but who is struggling to complete the season with us if the rumours are to be believed.

So, why is it that we cannot build a club and a team that can hold its own in the top league?

In our favour we have a superb stadium and excellent training facilities. There is a fan base that, apart from the top group and a couple more, is as vast as it is large and it is local. The area loves its football and there is a desire to succeed and do well. Surely any player worth his salt would aspire to be at Sunderland. Players who do well are loved and revered and become legends.

But – and this is a big one – the relative success that we have had over the years has been fleeting. We have struggled in the second tier. We have had two awful seasons in the top flight where we did not make 20 points. There is every possibility that we will not make 30 this season. How attractive is that?

Look at our transfer policy since we returned to the Premier League. It is poor. Most of those who have come to the club have been journeymen, players who look upon Sunderland as good source of income without too much expected of them. Not bad players and not cheats, but men who are limited and who, at the end of the day, cannot raise their game and rarely improve.

Keane, Bruce and O’Neill signed lots of these. Danny Higginbotham, Craig Gardner, Steven Fletcher are names that spring to mind. Three decent players but players that only Sunderland were interested in.

Bruce almost broke the mould in his first close season. In came Darren Bent and Lorik Cana. Bent was a sometime England international who would guarantee goals. Cana was the kind of signing that ambitious clubs make. He had a pedigree having played for Marseille and PSG. He started well for us and played 31 games in his only season.

And then off he went to Galatasary. Why? Did he sniff that aura of complacency and failure that Poyet detects around the club? What does his sale and that later of Bent tell us? Did Bent leave for money or were there other reasons?

At the same time as Bent was there, we also had Kenwyne Jones and Fraizer Campbell. Campbell was another kind of player that we rarely sign – a young, ambitious forward who wanted to develop. Not the greatest but one who would do a good job if things went well for him. Injuries hindered his progress and he was moved on by O’Neill and in came Danny Graham. No further comment needed.

How many young players do we bring through? In the last seven years, Leadbitter, Henderson and Colback are the sole representatives of the Academy to play regular first team football. Two have left, the other will in the summer. Other than that, nothing.

Martin Waghorn might have done something for us, but he was sacrificed as we signed Gyan, a player that no other Premier League club was interested in. He was yet another flop and the word gets around. Agents must say to their clients, “they sign ordinary players. They sign flops. They don’t produce their own. Keep away from them. I’ll get you in at Aston Villa or Everton instead”.

Gone away. Back in August?
Gone away. Back in August?

Di Canio had an understanding of the culture amongst the players and the feel around the club, more so than the complacent Bruce and O’Neill, who, as typical British managers, thought they could deal with it by ignoring it. Unfortunately, the Italian went completely the wrong way about altering it, choosing to implement change by revolution rather than evolution and treating all the same way.

Now, as we stand on the verge of what I feel could be a terminal relegation and as we look likely to lose yet another manager, I can see few solutions. We need young, enthusiastic players who are not tainted by the stink of failure that hangs around the club.

We need a culture within the club that makes it clear that you are not a success until you have won something. Take Brown and O’Shea out of the equation and how many players do we have that have actually won titles and cups on a consistent basis?

We need to start to bring our own players through. Southampton do it in spades, so do the likes of Everton and Arsenal. We loan ours out to Boston United and Harrogate Town.

By my reckoning, we will be relegated at Old Trafford, the place where we deliriously celebrated a 2-1 defeat in January. That kind of thing may go a long way to explaining why there is a rotten core at the heart of Sunderland AFC.

23 thoughts on “Sixer Says: something rotten in the state of Sunderland”

  1. Agree totally about Huddlestone Vince. I firmly bellieve that had we kept Meyler and got Huddlestone then we might not be in the sorry state we find ourselves in. When we so desperately needed a creative midfield player in the window we got bloody Bridcutt.

  2. I wouldn’t be so confident that we’re too good for the championship this time round either. This will be a huge rebuilding job, needed obviously , but we could be virtually starting from scratch . It all depends if we can clear out who we want to go, Altidore is an obvious example ,while keeping those who would be a perfect fit for the championship like Cattermole . A big worry is that O’Shea and Brown have another year on their contract ( thanks Bruce !) so if they don’t retire, we’re stuck with them and consequently won’t be strengthening at CB as the funds will go elsewhere .

    • Good point. QPR retained almost all their players and thought they were more or less certain to be promoted. Its looking like they will have to do it through the play-offs?

  3. It’s because subsequent managers have consistently replaced players with inferior, less effective ones. Bent and Gyan replaced by Bendtner, and Fletcher (who had a purple patch admittedly), followed by Graham, and Altidore, and then Scocco who quite incredibly looks arguably even more useless than the rest. It’s a downward spiral where we are propped up by loanees,. You can’t build a team that way. Onouha, Welbeck, Mensah, Bendtner, Muntari, Rose, Ki, Borini, Alonso, Celustka etc.

    Reid, Malbranque and Leadbitter replaced by Vaughan, Larsson, Gardner, Cattermole and now Bridcutt. On and on it goes.

    Poyet has to carry the can because he signed 4 players in Jan, only one of whom (Alonso) has contributed to the league campaign in a positive way. You’d have thought it impossible to find someone worse than Altdore but he managed it. There are better players than Scocco in the Wearside League.

    • My biggest beef this year is why we did not sign Huddleston,the fact a player like that prefers to go to Hull says everything about what even B list players think of this club.

      We barely saw Gyan before he wanted away and Bent gave up becoming a huge hero here to take the money and glory of a “bigger” club.We are a stepping stone for good players and a retirement home for has beens,this has always been the way.

      How do you break the cycle?The managers try but they are up against a certain perception players have of the club.My guess is that it all sounds great initially but once they move here players feel out of the loop somehow, socially and professionally.
      Now if we could only all move to London

  4. Well if you want a definition of a yoyo club,SAFC is it.We are too good for the Championship and too poor for the premiership.

    I still maintain geography and history has a lot to do with not getting the best players here.We do sign some big names, like Bent and Gyan, but simply cannot keep them long enough to build anything around it.So we only get brief glimpses of a good player, who are then gone.

    The managers come spend money and leave in quick succession,the next manager then tries to patch up a team with players he would never have chosen.But the biggest puzzle to me is that when the new manager does go out and spend,his own selection of players ends up playing worse than the bunch he inherited .If you could explain that, maybe we may be half way to explaining why we are perpetual failures in the PL.

    My view is we have never had the right manager,Peter Reid excepted.I am undecided about Poyet now,once they start blaming the bad karma at the club it is usually a sign things have gone seriously awry.

  5. When can we start with our personal wish list for next season? I can think of a good keeper and two strikers who would get us straight up.

    • We already have a good keeper.We need some hungry, intelligent midfielders who can create chances and control the game. How many chances has our much maligned yank had this season? Not many.

      We need a massive clear out including the likes of Gardner,Bardsley,Larsson,Fletcher,Johnson,Cattermole,Colback,Cuellar,Roberge,Diakite,Graham,Dossena,N’Diaye,Giacherinni and Cabral.That’s 15 players plus the loanees like Ki,Borini, Alonso who are worth keeping but will want away.So that’s 18 in all.

      So the squad will be based around the following 15 players Mannone,Pickford,Brown,O’Shea, Vergini,Bridcutt,Whickham,Alitodore,Scocco,Ba, Mandron, Laing ,Egan Mavrais,Watmore.

      Good luck Gus ….you are going to need it .

      • Mannone, Pickford, Bridcutt, Wickham, Ba, Mandron, Mavrais and Whatmore OK. Laing is apparently leaving as is Egan. The others can go

  6. What’s wrong at SAFC?

    1. Can’t meet sky high expectations of supporters;
    2. Can’t incentivise players on £50k pw regardless;
    3.Transfer policy not fit for purpose;
    4. Can’t retain best players;
    5. Should have retained Sess, Meyler Leadbitter etc;
    6. Need a DoF like Quinn or Venables;
    7. Scrap vanity projects like Academy,Africa initiative;
    8. Concentrate on core business;
    9. No character in team esp the captain;
    10. Complete waste of huge PL income;
    11. An absentee owner;
    12 Dressing room clique/drinking culture.

    That’s just for starters!!!!

    • Getting Venebles onboard in any capacity would be a fantastic move, don’t hold your breath then !

  7. That’s the problem with changing managers so many times, they want to bring in new players .Unfortunately for us the only saleable assets have gone and just haven’t been adequately replaced. It’s been a whirlpool of bad transfers that reached its nadir with the Di Saster bros and typical Sunderland luck , safe pair of hands Poyet had an ineffective January window also, Ustari aside.Poyet sounds like he doesn’t want to stop around, makes me wonder if he has remotely anything to strengthen with next season . I hope Short carries on backing the manager , whoever it is, hopefully it becomes a matter of pride for him to get it right finally . He can’t have been failed to have being moved by the hysteria around the cup final . It’s all down to you Ellis, better advisors, no more mercenaries or quick fixes and stamp out the play boy culture once and for all. The crowds will still be there next season , we need you there in person , hands on, lessons learned .

  8. Neil says that Gus would have kept us up given a whole season.If you look at the last 9 games however you can see the depth of the problems we have with our playing staff.They’ve seen off three managers and there is every chance of Gus being the fourth.

  9. It is true that we are infuriatingly inconsistent. Reid and Bruce managed two top 10 finishes each. It’s interesting that they happened in relatively recent times.Then in both cases we failed to consolidate.

    The Sky money/premiership has changed things for ever. Having big crowds means little economically. Was Bruce wrong to highlight the expectations? Are our expectations too high? There seem to be more booing than when I was a kid. People pay their money and can boo I suppose. Smaller clubs playing Roundhead football make more money than bigger clubs playing Cavalier football.

    Is Short beyond reproach? a full season with Gus and we’d have avoided relegation IMO. Hope he stays and changes the culture. Make him manager FFS.

    Funny that my mate, a Gooner, asked if we could swap fans. Stoicism is the Safc way.

    So where do we go from here….down to the Championship I fear….it’ll hurt……we’ll get over it

    • We’ll only get over it if we get out of it. Easier said than done. Reality is starting to bite already. On my annual jollies to Cyprus in September I spend a couple of hours watching us down the local. I won’t be able to do that this year as they only televise the PL. No big deal I know, but that’s part and parcel of being a second tier club.

      • But Cypriots are charming, it’s warm…..why be reminded of the Arctic wind blowing up the Wear? Enjoy the amb and the local tipple.

  10. In the piece I wrote the other day I suggested that Poyet might be the man for the job if we went down and probably not if we stayed up. The cryptic noises that he’s been making indicate that he doesn’t see himself as the right man, irrespective of which division we will be in (not that there’s much debate about that now).

    We were conned into believing that decent and adequate players as well as a couple of good ones that we once had would be replaced by better quality players. We can say with some confidence now that the reverse of this has been the trend, consistently and without exception.

    The Academy or whatever it was called before that (the Youth team perhaps) has produced precious little over the last 40 years. For example, the last goalkeeper of any real distinction that was home grown was Jim Montgomery who is now turned 70.

    The few “good” players that we’ve had want to be away as soon as they got here (Bent and Cana as well as Gyan).Decent players were moved on and either replaced with dross or not even replaced at all. Richardson, Ferdinand, Turner, Reid, Jones, Leadbitter etc etc etc. The list goes on.

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