At Salut! Sunderland, we do not necessarily long to hear the thoughts of Leeds United supporters. Their lot aren’t especially keen on ours either. But one Leeds fan with more than a little to do with this article about Simon Grayson’s prospects at Sunderland strikes a happy note: ‘most of us consider him a quality manager at this level.’ That will do for us, too, won’t it?
It hasn’t been an easy ride for Sunderland in the past year. Sam Allardyce left for the England job leaving the Wearsiders lumbered with David Moyes. Moyes failed to redeem his Manchester United and Real Sociedad failings and ended up taking the club down.
Sunderland fans finally got their wish when Moyes announced he’d be leaving the club. However, finding a new manager proved far from easy. Derek McInnes rejected the approach while Garry Monk and Nigel Pearson were just two of many others to rule themselves out.
Finally – and perhaps the best bet among those not only capable but willing – Simon Grayson was more than happy to go to the Stadium of Light, bidding Preston North End an emotional farewell after taking the club up from League One and securing successive top-half finishes.
Grayson has a tough job on his hands and it is open to doubt how many Sunderland fans will be expecting him to take their side back to the top flight at the first attempt. But in the long run, Grayson is more than capable of achieving promotion.
Moyes always gave the impression that he felt himself above managing Sunderland. Ironically, his biggest failure may have been his failure to admit he’d failed. With supporters much more likely to win money on the best slot sites than betting on him to take their club back to the Premier League, Moyes’s unpopularity among supporters is hardly surprising.
Grayson on the other hand seems genuinely excited about the challenge of taking Sunderland back up and has acknowledged that it’s a tall order, albeit achievable.
In interviews, Grayson has come across well. In stark contrast to Moyes, he has been keen to demonstrate optimism and positivity. Fondly remembered from most of his time at Leeds, he has already brought in four new recruits: Aiden McGeady, Tyias Browning, Brendan Galloway and James Vaughan.
And Grayson has told any players who don’t want to fight for the shirt that they are more than welcome to leave, an ethos that is much needed in the Championship.
Sunderland have played four games in pre-season so far, beating Bury 3-2 and Livingston 3-0 (as Ken Gambles points out in comments below – this win was absent from the piece as originally submitted and – sack the editor – published – Ed), drawing 2-2 with Hibernian and losing 3-0 to St Johnstone. Following the defeat to St Johnstone, Grayson realised that a number of players weren’t up for the challenge and has told them they must move on.
A ruthless attitude towards lazy players is a step in the right direction from Grayson. If he is to take the club up then his players must be up for the challenge and getting rid of those who aren’t will certainly boost promotion hopes.
Following the emphatic defeat at St Johnstone, Grayson said:
‘There’s certain players that are buying into the ideas and certain players that aren’t. If players are not willing to work hard for this shirt they can go somewhere else.
I’m not prepared to work with players who aren’t prepared to run, do the basics that millions would give their right arm to do. We have to address it and we will address it.
This is a group that is going to keep improving but there is a lot of work that has to be done. Players have to buy into it, and if they don’t buy into it then they won’t be here.
That authoritative streak will work wonders in the Championship and will help Grayson get the best out of the players who do want to be at the club and want to fight for the shirt.
While Grayson may not take the club up in the coming season, it’s certainly plausible that he will do in two to three seasons. He needs to be given time to build his squad and put a team together that is willing to work hard.
He knows the league inside out and while the club haven’t gone for a big name, it may prove a much-needed change in Ellis Short’s recruitment strategy.