In his second piece of analysis in a few days, our new contributor Daniel Garraghan gives generous mention to the S word. But he makes it clear what kind of stability it is that he believes Ellis Short and the fans should seek from the new head coach …
The time has come for period of stability and continuity at Sunderland. While that should not mean Gus Poyet is totally immune from the sack, what is desirable is that Ellis Short has this time picked the right man so that there is no need for another change of manager, and that Poyet can build a successful side.
Stability and continuity are often noted in football as being instrumental factors in the route to success. Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal seem to exemplify this point.
One: it means a manager has the time to convey his methods and ideas across to his players. This undoubtedly takes time, but once achieved it means that all the players in the squad should know exactly what is required of them.
For example, each player should know their specific defensive duties, and also their remits for attacking – whether to look for a short pass most of the time or to play a more direct ball, say. While the methodology of a manger may simply be ineffective no matter how much it is preached, it is nevertheless coherent to say that every player knowing their role – and having plenty of time to practise it – means there is an increased chance of improved performances and results.
Two: linked with this, keeping the same manager and his subsequent ideas allows players to be brought in (whether it be by the manager of a director of football) to fit with the style of play of the manager. As a result, these players should fit quite easily into the system of the team; integrating new players should be less of an issue, and there should be a relatively smooth transition between players coming in and players going out.
Conversely, sacking managers all of the time means all these efforts are undermined. A new manager often brings in a different philosophy. The players who are currently there have to adapt to another style of play which, as discussed, invariably takes time. Saying that, appointing a manger with the same or a similar footballing ethos to the previous manager can help solve this problem.
Swansea encapsulate this: although Michael Laudrup has employed a slightly more direct style than Brendan Rodgers did, the two undoubtedly share a lot of ideas on how the game should be played. The problem with Sunderland, however, is that managers with similar footballing philosophies have not been employed in succession to each other.
However, despite the obvious merits of stability and continuity, they are clearly not everything. Of course, it is ridiculous and plain wrong to sack a manager based purely on a poor run of form. However, if the methods of a manager are clearly not working and show no sign of working, then it can be perfectly reasonable and logical to change manager. Sometimes a change has to be made to halt an alarming slide which shows no sign of stopping. You cannot keep a manager just for stability’s sake.
Sunderland’s last two sackings arguably fit well into this category. Under Martin O’Neill, things clearly weren’t working; relegation was an extremely real possibility. Moreover, it seems apparent that Paolo Di Canio lacked the man-management skills to cater for Premier League players, and had no desire to change his methods.
What therefore becomes apparent is that there is often a scenario where both options are unattractive in their own ways, and one may simply have to choose the lesser of two evils. Go with continuity and you can run the risk of stagnating and failure. Change the manager and you can lose the benefits associated with continuity, having to start from scratch.
Yet there is a satisfactory middle ground: stability and continuity, coupled with the manager’s methods are bearing fruit. This is undoubtedly a lot easier said than achieved, and every club searches for it, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is what Sunderland badly need.
Thus in Sunderland’s search for stability and continuity, the real issue is not whether Poyet is immune from the sack no matter what happens. If there comes a point where what Poyet is doing is clearly not working, and there is no reasonable evidence that it will ever work, then one may argue he simply has to go. That is not the same as saying if Sunderland were to go down, Poyet should be sacked; if there were still signs of progress there, there would be a very valid case for keeping him in the job.
The real issue at hand is whether Poyet and Sunderland can put themselves in a position where there is no need for a sacking, enabling the new head coach to build a successful team – like he did at Brighton – and allowing Sunderland to reap all the benefits which stability and continuity can bring.
Short has got his sackings right so far. Where he has gone wrong is when it has come to hiring managers. He needs to get this appointment right so Sunderland can enter a period of stability. If not, and Poyet has to be sacked, the club are back to square one – and progress and success will remain in the periphery.
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