Colin Randall writes: the horrendous events of Manchester, death and injury inflicted by one person with nothing to offer humanity, with the possible help of others, diminishes the appetite for the petty subject of football. But part of refusing to allow terrorism to win involves doing all we can to continue normal life. People have taken the trouble to respond to requests for end-of-season reviews and it is right, while expressing sympathy for and solidarity with the victims, that we should keep the series going.
Here, Mick Goulding, a familiar if only occasional contributor, expertly assesses the cycle of disappointment that goes with supporting Sunderland ….
SEE all items in the series at this link
As in the previous few years, following our annual “miracle escapes”, last summer was spent thanking our lucky stars for another survival and yet another exhortation to the club and its management to learn from it and NEVER LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN!!!
After taking months to whip his team into shape, and with some astute January buys, Big Sam’s team had finished last season very strongly indeed. There were some genuinely good displays, including the stadium-roof-lifting, and thoroughly deserved, wins over Chelsea and Everton.
Sam followed this up with his by-the-book summer training camp regime, and a promising pre-season. We normally go through the motions at this stage, don’t look fit, buy players after the season has started, and usually end up getting going in about October. So, when I attended the post-Euro, pre-season game at Hartlepool, I was impressed at seeing the sharpest, fittest and most confident pre-season Sunderland team I’ve ever seen. We looked raring to go and about to hit the ground running.
That same night Sam was confirmed as England boss. That was a real shame because, after years of being unimpressed by his pedigree, I had come to realise that he really was a “good fit” for our club and just what we needed to attain the modest status of mid-table respectability – which was all we have come to reasonably expect of our club in the modern game.
But, never mind, it couldn’t be helped, and the news was quickly followed up with the announcement of David Moyes as Ellis Short’s number one pick to take us forward and build on what we had. He was at least probably the best manager we could expect to get in our situation.
Worryingly, rumours began to emerge of discontent on Sam’s part, in relation to available funds for transfer targets. But, nevertheless, Moyes was starting with a team who had finished last season well, and currently looked good. Obviously, we all wanted to improve, and buy additions to the squad; but even if he didn’t have the usual immediate impact of a new manager lifting the team, the least we could expect was a continuation of where Sam left off.
Naturally (as is the Sunderland way), this didn’t transpire. The excuses started pouring in immediately on his behalf. He’d inherited a poor team – incorrect by Sunderland standards (see above). He didn’t have any time to buy players – well, he had enough time to waste £20 million on Ndong and Djilobodji. He didn’t get the support he’d been promised by Mr Short – we’ll never know how true this may be, but refer to the previous excuses.
At the same time, he let Kaboul (whose partnership with Kone was a significant factor in our resurgence) go for peanuts, and he refused to spend the money required to keep M’Vila (who had been one of the best midfielders I’ve seen at Sunderland in years – and I mean years!). I know all about the issue with the money being asked by the Russians, and the promise that we’d get him for free in January – yeah, yeah, yeah, and the futility of that could be seen a mile away. There’s an old football adage (or, if there’s not, there should be) that a bird in the hand in August is worth at least two in the January bush.
Choosing to spend his money on N’Dong, instead of M’Vila (a decision specifically confirmed by Moyes and Bain at a recent fans’ forum), was a big mistake. N’Dong may some day become a good player for us (maybe at Championship level) but, from what we’ve seen so far, the fact that he’s our all-time record signing is a complete embarrassment.
So, just when we’d thought we’d start the season brightly in August, we turned out to be the same old Sunderland. And just when we thought Moyes would at least keep Sam’s momentum going, things actually became worse.
Suddenly we started to hear defeatist talk from Moyes, whose voice of doom was matched for negativity only by his constantly miserable face. Every week in the dugout, we saw Moyes and Bracewell having a gurning competition to see who could look the most miserable. Pretty soon it became contagious, and they managed to suck the life out of everyone around them – including many of the fans – and out of the place itself. And that’s been the story throughout the season.
When Moyes predicted, with the ultimate in demotivational rhetoric, only a couple of games into the season, that we were in for a relegation battle, little did we imagine that the thing he got most wrong was that it would be any kind of a battle. We safely secured relegation in April, with games to spare – going out with a pathetic whimper.
Although we finished on 24 pts, we were already relegated when we had only 21 pts. We also finished 16 pts behind 17th place, and a massive 10 pts behind also relegated Hull. So, while finishing with 24 pts isn’t any kind of a record, this was a relegation of Howard Wilkinson and Mick McCarthy proportions.
The Stop Press news is that Moyes has just resigned. I’m happy about that. The timing may seem odd, because he’d already appeared to commit himself to next season. So maybe he knew there’d be no money for rebuilding? Or maybe it was a sense of professional duty to see out the season? Despite my low opinion of his record, I’m happy to accept that he’s probably a decent bloke with an old school work ethic.
So we start again, and it looks like we’re faced with yet another uncertain summer. How long will it take to get a replacement? Will we waste all our time focusing on the wrong things, not buying the right players, and starting our season in October again? Will the owner even be here? Who knows? As ever with Sunderland, the only thing that’s certain is that nothing will be straightforward.
The Championship is a different game. It requires different players, different tactics and a different mindset. Our neighbours have shown that this season. But they have a great manager, who knew what to do and adapted well.
Wouldn’t it be great if we found a bright, energetic, young coach with the drive, personality and modern style to get us playing exciting and winning football? Wouldn’t it be even greater if it was someone like Kevin Phillips? How long do I have to hold my breath?