In 1991 Chionofuji Mitsugo announced his retirement as a Sumo wrestler.
He had had more than 1,000 wins, which included the longest run of consecutive wins in the post-war era (54) and been a honbasho champion 31 times (there are six honbasho, or tournaments, per year). He was the 54th person to become a Yokozuna – the top rank – in Sumo wrestling’s modern history, and the greatest sumo wrestler of his generation.
Yet he claimed he had lost his fighting spirit, and in a solemn ceremony his topknot was cut off and his career as a fighter was over, for there is no coming back when a Sumo wrestler’s topknot is cut off.
Perhaps they have something, the Japanese. They know the importance of fighting spirit, going so far as to award a prize for it each tournament. And, at least in the world of Sumo, they appear to believe that when it has gone it will never come back.
If you don’t think this matters I suggest you type “importance of fighting spirit” into a search engine. I did, and the top return was something from one of our competitors. Four hits down was something from a club we’d love to come close to. Even if you don’t believe in the importance of fighting spirit the world of football does.
As does the world of psychology:
“Fighting spirit is an intrinsic motivation that refers to the energy that is released by positioning our energy with our deepest values and long productive functions. Thus, fighting spirit could be a powerful supply of motivation which can affect the behaviours”. (Sulaiman et al, 2013*)
Which brings me to Sunderland, a club which seems to have lost its way, and a team which seems to have lost its fighting spirit. Not so much lost it, I suppose, as had it sucked out, by incompetent leadership, time-serving players, and the negativity of one manager.
Yet earlier this season, more recently at Preston, and even yesterday despite Pete’s damning report, there were glimmers that our fighting spirit wasn’t completely gone. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it’s just waiting to be rekindled.
Is Chris Coleman the man to do it? He was a defender, so hopefully he can sort out our back four (although Simon Grayson had a similar profile and he couldn’t) and he steered Fulham away from the rocks when he took over as manager. He does have a somewhat patchy record since, however, and there are those who claim his relative success with Wales (where he had a poor start) is due to the work of Gary Speed.
But for me that’s all a bit of a digression. I don’t think we’re as bad as our league position suggests. While our midfield does need a bit of polishing, which I’m hoping Jonny Williams and Paddy McNair will provide, our forwards are beginning to find their mojo and our backs do have some sort of pedigree. Billy Jones, for example, played six seasons – more than 100 games – for two Premier clubs. He’s still only 30 and he can’t be all bad (and yes, I have seen him play).
Tyas Browning, Donald Love and Brian Oviedo should be handling this division with ease. What they need is someone to help O’Shea, who can still hold the line, put fire in their belly and belief in their heads. Cloughie apparently could do it, so could Roy Keane. I’m sure Keane still has the ability and he might have been the person to turn to had he not decided otherwise (though I’m not a believer in going back). But such talent is not a once-in-a-generation thing and there will be others who can lift players, lift a club, lift a team.
And Chris Coleman might just be one of them. Everything I’ve read recently says that the Welsh FA didn’t want him to go, and that fans and players alike bemoaned his departure. After that slow start he lifted a country, and he can do the same for a city, and for its club. I’ve heard him called a motivator and I think he has the capability, the level of man-management, to step up and do a job for us. And, surely, he has bottle. He has proved that just by taking us on.
So welcome, Chris Coleman. We’re ready for you to wake the sleeping giant. And when you do, you’ll find us all behind you.
*International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Vol. 3 No. 3; February 2013