John McCormick writes: end of season reviews have just begin, with Lars Knutsen providing the first with a piece entitled “Hire and fire”. Some time in the next couple of weeks, depending on how many reviews there are, Pete Sixsmith will bring the season to a close.
But M Salut called on Pete to perform a duty first, and Pete stepped up to the mark in fine style. Here’s his take on the hiring, but perhaps not the firing, of a manager who promised so much and delivered nothing but dust:
When I started going to Roker Park in the early 1960s Sunderland were on their eighth full time manager in 68 years. We have now gone through a similar number in our 10-year sojourn in the Premier League. Times certainly change – and not always for the better.
Moyes leaving came as no shock to me or to many other Sunderland fans. He had made a real mess of the job and, despite the limitations placed on him, he should have done much, much better than he did. A collection of awful performances, awful signings and a truly awful demeanour meant that he was not the man to take the club forward. He will not be mourned.
From the second game of the season, he alienated the support with his ill-advised observations on what he saw as a relegation battle. It may well have been correct (the word fight or battle somewhat disguises the limp way that we went down) but to bring it up after an unfortunate defeat was not the wisest thing that he did. Maybe he should have realised that there was nothing he could do and gone then – and maybe Theresa May would stick to her manifesto.
It was one of the most inauspicious reigns of any Sunderland manager – although he does have some close rivals. Terry Butcher was terminally hopeless, Paolo Di Canio was mad and Lawrie McMenemy was truly awful and draws a close parallel with the Moyes period. But this was a bitter disappointment as he came with a decent pedigree and with a desire to do well. The support raucously welcomed him at the pre-season friendly at Rotherham but by the time the season ended at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, they couldn’t wait for him to leave.
How much of it was his fault? Not all of it. He had little time to put a squad together after Allardyce left for the England job. When he started to think about who needed to be brought in, he realised that there was little money available. He had players who were psychologically shot after four consecutive relegation scares. The squad he inherited was short on goal scorers. He lost two good young players in McNair and Watmore early on in the season. He had to work with a club that was verging on the dysfunctional after the Johnson case, the indefensible conduct of an inexperienced chief executive in Margaret Byrne and an owner who, despite his apparent enthusiasm, was, to put it mildly, hopeless. A mixture of Antonio Conte, Bill Shankly and Bob Kyle (look him up in Rob Mason’s Complete Record) would have struggled to get us to tenth and put us on a par with the position that Steve Bruce had us in seven years ago.
So, let’s cut him a bit of slack. It was a difficult job. It wasn’t what he had been used to at Everton or Manchester United. Maybe he didn’t realise how deep seated the problems were at Sunderland. Maybe he had a headache.
Whatever it was, nothing really excuses the absolute mess he made of the job, his career and the hopes of the thousands who support Sunderland. If there were a fight between him and Lawrie McMenemy for the title of Most Overrated and Most Awful Manager in Sunderland AFC’s History, it would be a very tight points decision. McMenemy would just get it because Moyes had the common sense to walk before he dragged us down even further.
Why then did it all go wrong for the one time Chosen One? How long have you got? In no particular order;
Instead of building on what Allardyce had left behind, he decided to do it his way. Players who had improved under the previous regime went backwards – I’m thinking van Aanholt. The system was changed and I can’t for the life of me think what system Moyes introduced because there wasn’t one. Players who came in were not good enough. Love and McNair might turn out to be assets (although the former has been a disappointment all season) but Djilobodji was an absolute disaster. Had he been scouted? Did Moyes speak to anyone who had seen him play? If he was the man to replace Kaboul and/or Kone (another situation that Moyes inherited) then surely it had to be someone who had the mentality to play in the toughest league in Europe.
He failed to sign another forward and went into the start of the season with Borini and Defoe and no body with any physical presence. The first man that Allardyce had signed was Dame N’Doye to give us some strength up front. It gave us some breathing space. He did a job. Moyes waited until September to bring in Anichebe – and then played him wide as a replacement for Watmore.
Basic errors kept being made. Poor marking; giving corners and free kicks away; weak tackling. It never got any better. Did he work with individuals as Allardyce had with van Aanholt and Yedlin? Did the players fully understand what they had to do? After 10 games we had no wins. Poor teams don’t come back from that and we didn’t.
He alienated the support with his downbeat approach. He may well have been honest after the home defeat to Middlesbrough but he should have kept it to himself. The whole season went downhill from there and his demeanour did not go down well. But worse, the tactics, the commitment and the appallingly low level of play meant that he was doomed. There were rumblings of discontent by the end of September and those rumbles were of Krakatoa proportions by the end of January.
There has not been one good game at Sunderland all season. The three home wins were against a Hull side who were even worse than us, a Leicester team labouring under an ageing Italian and a Watford outfit who saw diving and fouling as an important part of the beautiful game. Poor sides beat us, decent sides won comfortably and the better sides seemed to bring something out of us. But managers live or die by the results against teams who are at the level their team is at and losing at home to Stoke, Palace, Bournemouth and Middlesbrough means relegation.
He may end up as Scotland manager when Strachan goes after the latest World Cup fiasco, but his time on Wearside will not be fondly remembered. As to who comes next is anyone’s guess. Whoever it is has a real job on his hands; there are no Roy Keanes out there waiting to take the Championship by storm.