The Lars Word: from Legend to legend in waiting in only twenty steps (and 16 years)

Lars Knutsen touching base

John McCormick writes: We have another full week coming up. I’ve got something ready to post on Tuesday, then I’m sure M Salut will post a “Guess that score” – another winner last Saturday – and a “Who are You?” midweek, and probably in that order, then we’ll get ready for the weekend with Pete Sixsmith’s look at the visit of Oxford United. I’ve seen us play them, but not at home (as far as I can remember) and not for over 40 years, so it will be interesting to find out when Pete first encountered them.

First, though, we have Lars Knutsen with a timely reminder of things past as we begin, at last, to look forward to some stability and a promising future.

Over to Lars:

All Sunderland fans are delighted at three wins in a week which cap an excellent start to the season in League One. We obviously understand that this is the third tier but for a team which has had a general pattern in recent years of not winning until October that this is a new feeling, and a vital one if we are to return to the Championship next season.

quiet revolutionaries?

What has been more impressive is the quiet revolution at the club which has seen a Chairman, Steward Donald, who actually is present at the club, interacting with fans in an articulate and passionate way, not least on social media. He has brought in funding, made sensible changes and is doing very well with the necessary task of clearing out dead wood in terms of the players who do not want to play for our beloved football club. The feel-good factor is back and has not been this tangible since we won successive home games against Chelsea and Everton to escape relegation under Sam Allardyce in May 2016. The team, despite injuries to strikers, is playing with great enthusiasm, and it was so cool to see the brace from the born-again Lee Cattermole rescuing us at AFC Wimbledon on the weekend.

Perhaps I have an old-fashioned view of football, but in my mind the model of a successful club is that we seek out and hire a talented manager, that person stamps his personality on every aspect of it, leads us to success and becomes part of the fabric of the club.

In the context of Sunderland AFC I think of the genuinely successful Peter Reid era from 1995 to 2002, with those two top 7 finishes in the Premiership and the feeling that we were competitive and never really outplayed in games. Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal also comes to mind, as well as that of Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, or the Bill Shankly era at Liverpool. Look at the stability at Bournemouth under Eddie Howe, and they lie comfortably in the Premiership top 6 as I pen these thoughts.

Is this still the model of successful football clubs in this current era? We observe how teams like Chelsea experience a seemingly dizzying revolving door of various managers, where the “failed” ones only win the F.A. Cup, and the frankly amazing way in which Leicester sacked Claudio Ranieri the season after winning the Premier League.

Over the summer, most of my football reading has been of the exciting rebuilding and constructive goings on at Sunderland AFC, but I did also pick up a copy of the excellent When Saturday Comes and took in a thought-provoking article about how the landscape for football managers has changed. The article started by asserting

Look through the careers records of managers newly arrived in England and you will notice how often some change jobs, rarely working at a club for more than a couple of years. This does not necessarily mean that they are serial failures. Just that they are used to short term engagements working with a squad assembled by other people employed by the club.

Javia Gracia became Watford’s ninth manager since the Pozzo family took over in 2012, but now the team lies joint top of the best league in the world. Everton seem to be prospering under his predecessor, Marco Silva.

16 years, 20 managers, 2 divisions. 

In the sixteen years since Reid’s departure from Sunderland, we have had spectacular 20 changes of manager, including five caretaker roles. In previous columns I have blamed this in part on the “hire and fire” policies of our previous largely absent owner, Ellis Short. Despite a 10-year stay in the Premiership, it was not a time of memorable success, and that is an understatement.

Jack Ross has been manager of five clubs in the past six years, but despite my summer WSC reading I hope that he stays for long enough to achieve legend status at the Stadium of Light.

3 thoughts on “The Lars Word: from Legend to legend in waiting in only twenty steps (and 16 years)”

  1. Too early to say if we are going to contiue in an upward direction and that we have the correct formula for success but I agree the current position is an immense improvement on recent years. We can’t and should not take league 1 for granted to spend more than one season there would be a disaster both commercially and in a football sense. The Academy players joined a EPL team and those that will make the grade will want to move on. We have developed some excptional players of late and that will attract young players as long as we move up the table and Leauge. Failure is not an option that bears thinking about. We need promotion and a developing and improving staff to move us back where we all rightly or wrongly believe we belong. Upwards and onwards

    • From a fan’s perspective just how much of a failure would it be to not get back to the Premiership?

      There could easily be a generational aspect to this but what I am finding refreshing about things this season is that I feel like I am supporting a proper football club again by which I mean I am watching a competitive team, with players who don’t seem to have over inflated egos and are playing with commitment, application and a desire to succeed rather than a fat paypacket.

      The new ownership see us as a proper old fashioned football club and seem to understand those values rather than simply as an investment opportunity which is part of a wider portfolio.

      We have a managing director who knows the club and is a long term supporter, with an understanding of the supporters and the region and a manager and coaching staff who have quickly formed a plan and style of play which is entertaining to watch and so far achieving results. Add to that the obvious team spirit and work ethic they have instilled and it makes going to games enjoyable again.

      This is probably sustainable in the Championship but if and when we get back to the Premier League we will once again be looking at whole different ball game and realistically we will be in a less competitive league.

      I’m not saying it’s impossible to keep this same feeling of belonging at the highest level, after all some of the best days in the past 20 years were those when Reidy got us up to seventh in successive seasons, but it’s harder and times have changed.

      I could still relate to Kevin Ball, Darren Williams, Chris Makin etc but not so much to many of the other so called big money marquee signings.

      I follow the club on an emotional level and am looking forward to the visit of Oxford on Saturday. I’m not really disagreeing with you Keith but from a selfish point of view I want to keep this feel good feeling even if it means missing out on the big bucks that we’d get from successive promotions.

      • Years and years ago, before we had the Premier and Championship leagues, I interviewed Michael Parkinson, a man who really knew his football, for the Northern Echo. He told me he’d far rather watch a good, competitive lower-tier game than a lacklustre First Division match. The Premiership these days is more and more a case of the haves versus the have-nots and, on any given week, that lessens the chance of seeing a really close-fought, interesting and entertaining game – the kind we’re seeing now.

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