STOP PRESS – Lars submitted this piece well before the season end, before the Arsenal game in fact. It has been sitting in the draft folder for a week and would you know it – within minutes of it going live Moyes resigns. MD
Malcolm Dawson, deputy editor, writes: at the end of a season that will linger long in the memory as one we would wish to forget, Salut! Sunderland approached both its regular and occasional contributors for their thoughts. Don’t be fooled by the name – Lars Knutsen is Mackem through and through and even though his work took him away from his Boldon roots to Cambridge via Scandinavia and the USA. he retains his love of SAFC. Working as he did in the pharmaceutical sector you’d think he might have driven his troops into researching a cure for the compulsion to follow a club that has been a long term underachiever but no – like the rest of us he is stuck with his lot.
Monsieur Salut adds: a series of painful steroid injections to a dodgy knee reminded me today it was time to launch this series of end-of-season reviews. With thanks to Malcolm for preparing Lars’s contribution for publication, let me make it clear the series is open to all Salut! Sunderland readers who have time and inclination to offer their own reviews of a season. Just let us know – leave a message below or use the contact link you’ll find somewhere on the home page
Sunderland’s miserable 2016-17 season is now at an end. Relegation was finally confirmed following the powder-puff home display against Bournemouth a couple of weeks ago. When they scored late on and thereby condemning us to our first season in the Championship in 11 years, our fate was sealed.
Typically, as relegated teams often do, with the pressure off, we secured all three points in the next game and our first win since February 4 with a positive display at Hull City, where Jermain Defoe picked up his first goal in 11 games. That fact, even though the 2-0 win was welcome, tells its own story; as a club, we did not score enough goals this season, which led to far too many morale-sapping defeats and the squad slipped into the sort of collective psychological malaise which is very hard to get out of. Witness another poor performance at home to Swansea.
We saw over two months ago with the shock dismissal of Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri that life for Premiership football managers has become even more insecure: win the Premiership against all odds one year, be shown the door the following season.
When I first heard the news about Ranieri, it reminded me of how totally improbable Leicester’s Premiership victory was last season, and what a huge part the Italian had in that phenomenal effort. But “The Owners”, who at many clubs often appear to be anonymous, faceless and rather spooky, clearly pull the strings. If they follow the Chelsea/ Roman Abramovich model, the people making that decision can be perceived to have been right because Leicester City turned things round in spectacular fashion…and in football, as in many areas of this media-driven world, perception is reality.
At our beloved club, we have seen an enormous turnover of managers and indeed players, since the current American owner Ellis Short acquired the Black Cats in the autumn of 2008.
Having been employed in the USA, I have observed a totally different work culture to Europe. There is very little security of employment and the freedom to dismiss almost anyone at any time is embedded deeply in American society. In fact, there is no security of employment, as the FBI’s director James Comey found out the other day…
Then there is the image of a new CEO who rides in on his/her high horse and is expected to turn everything round and to be everybody’s saviour and messiah. This puts an enormous strain on the particular leader involved. And of course when this person comes up against the real world, and underperforms for a host of reasons, they are often quite ruthlessly shown the door.
This 2016-17 season was actually set up for some success after last season’s impressive run from February onwards. We had Sam Allardyce as our boss, but as we all know after a long period of dithering the FA decided he was to be the next England manager. This process left Sunderland’s board very little time to make plans for the new season; they certainly did not want to see Allardyce depart. After David Moyes was brought on board we had a horrific run of 11 games before our first win and with that sort of deficit we were again playing catch-up.
I reckon that the true turning point of the season came when Allardyce came “unexpectedly back on the market” to use estate agent speak. We could have fired Moyes, and brought back “Big Sam” to continue where he left off. However, as a club we have become impoverished, and Sunderland could not stomach a big pay-off to Moyes. Revelations emerged that we had done very badly financially in terms of moving players on, even though this list included many top players such as Muntari and Alonso.
One wonders what would have happened if some of the perfectly decent managers we have had at Sunderland football club had been given time to change things over a multi-year period. It is very hard to rebuild a football club while fire-fighting and getting immediate positive results on the pitch. I think of Martin O’Neill for example, who had a terrific record at both Leicester and Celtic, as well as doing pretty well at Aston Villa. He was callously sacked in March 2013 after a bad run to pave the way for the unpredictable Paolo Di Canio, who did at least keep us up on 39 points. It has been a similar story for the past few years until this season’s sad events; changing manager and surviving had been the magic formula.
Our turnover of bosses has therefore been truly horrendous, and reeks of short-term fixes almost every time. We now know that David Moyes will keep his job, despite the lack of a late revival this season, and the club dropping down a level. But finally one of our managers gets the chance to rebuild the playing squad.
We wish him all the best.
PS: I noted that former manager Steve Bruce, who was responsible for our highest league position since the Peter Reid era in November 2010 after a memorable 3-0 win at Chelsea, was recently bleating about the fact that he was unused to winless runs after such a run of nine games at Aston Villa. Some of us have better memories that he has; we had this dreadful sequence just over six years ago (our league position in the final column showing just how far the team slid down the table):
He was shown the door the following season; at least we now have the chance to renew acquaintance with him. However, Villa’s mid-table finish shows why this will be such a difficult league to get out of.