Marcus Procopio*, a supporter Down Under, is a welcome occasional visitor to Salut! Sunderland. This is his assessment of the current crisis, with perhaps only its timing in our favour …
An insipid preseason has now been followed up by two losses to start the season – to teams unlikely to feature in the top half of the table come the end of the season. There are plenty of questions and there is genuine concern that we do not have the answers.
It seems ridiculous that we’re all so worried only two games into the season. I admit that I feel a bit silly writing this. However, recent history shows that we have good reason to be worried. For me, what has transpired so far has been in the making for some time. A time-honoured business management school story helps me to explain.
It starts with four monkeys, a cage and a banana
Inside the cage hang a banana on a string from the top. Then you place a set of stairs under the banana and before too long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana. Then ALL the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with same result. As soon as he touches the stairs, ALL the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when one monkey tries to climb the stairs, the others will try to prevent it. Now, put the cold water away.
To me, this accurately describes our club under the later stages of Steve Bruce. He had something good going. However, the circumstances surrounding the exits of Bent, Gyan and Cana, combined with the TWELVE* players Bruce brought in to make up for it in the summer of 2011 brought things down and still haunts us to this day. These two things combined to give us our original sprayed monkeys.
*(El Mohamady, Wickham, Ji, Gardner, Larsson, Westwood, Deacon, Brown, O’Shea, Vaughan, McLean, Bendtner).
Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, ALL of the other monkeys beat the daylights out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.
We reached this stage around the time of Martin O’Neill. It didn’t matter who he brought in or what he tried to do. Assault was the only outcome. O’Neill still probably doesn’t know what hit him.
Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm — because he is now part of “the team”. Then, replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, then similarly followed by a fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.
It’s difficult to say whether the reigns of Di Canio and Poyet reign fell under Act II or Act III. The answer is probably that both Acts were traversed.
By now, the septic culture pervading our club was too much for either manager to deal with. It was such that the inevitable mistakes they made as inexperienced managers were gobbled up by the monkeys around them, who probably had no idea why they were doing what they were doing any more – they’d just been sprayed or beaten up too much. Di Canio and Poyet’s managerial styles and weaknesses certainly didn’t help their causes either. I think we can also safely say that several perfectly good newcomers to our club would have been tainted by the collection of monkeys they unwittingly joined (eg Giaccherini).
Finally, having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana.
Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!
On paper, our squad is actually half decent. It’s full of players who, at one time or another in recent years, have been decent, competent Premier League level players. However, none of them is going for the damn banana anymore. We still have some of the original monkeys left, so we’re not all the way there yet.
Is there time to fix things before we get to the stage where there is only one possible solution and outcome? Let’s hold that thought for a moment…
We’re on Probation.
Let’s face it, our whole club and its shambolic setup is now on probation. To say otherwise ignores the overwhelming evidence that has unfolded over the last few years.
If the transfer window closes and we don’t have two uplifting signings in the door and the poor results continue, then I don’t see any coming back this season. Once a critical mass is reached, the momentum will be insurmountable and self-fulfilling.
The 43k crowds will quickly go down below 30k, every home game will have a League Cup first round atmosphere, visiting teams will love it, our players will feel even more dejected, the rot will set in and the club’s pathetic administration will have to learn the hard way. The players will also have to hang their heads in shame (they’re supposed to be world class professionals for crying out loud).
It’s not Dick’s fault or any other individual’s fault. It’s a cultural rot that’s like a black hole – we know it’s there and we can see its effect on everything around it, but we can’t see the damn thing itself from where we are. It’s chewed through and belched out countless managers and decent players since we came back to the Premier League and it wants to continue.
It’s not that we’ve lost the first two games, it’s the manner in which we’ve lost. It’s also the manner in which we’ve performed and lost over the last three seasons that has led the best possible supporters a club can ask for to seriously start losing hope and patience. I won’t wear any accusation that we’re too demanding and too hard on our boys or not supportive enough. If the product stinks, the answer isn’t to blame the customer who’s still amazingly buying it.
Four minutes and 30 seconds into the Norwich game, you can actually see our midfield holding their hands up to each other as they had no idea where they should be standing. Go and watch a replay of the match and you’ll see it. I knew we were in for a long game at that moment. Van Aanholt ruining two beautifully weighted cross field passes shortly after – that could and should have led to a pair of great attacking moves – rammed it into all of our faces. We are an embarrassment to ourselves and the standard of the Premier League at the moment and it hurts.
The end of the story
Sometimes the only answer is that all of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME!
Disclaimer: This story is in no way meant to be disrespectful to monkeys.
If we keep going the way we are, then this is all that’s left. Relegation will provide the catalyst for getting rid of the players. From there I can only hope that it would also remove the owner, the board and anyone else left in the club’s administration that’s had any authority over any material decision in recent years.
I really hope it doesn’t get to that, but time is ticking and the trickles of information coming through the media aren’t encouraging.
What should we hope for?
Trust me, this is a legitimate question.
I still hold hope that we can set things right. By this, I don’t mean that I hope we can avoid relegation by the skin of our teeth and keep putting around like a smoking wreck every season. We’ve all had enough of this embarrassing and gormless tripe. If it’s the choice between this and getting relegated and rebuilding from absolute scratch, I must say that I’d rather invest in the rebuilding (yes, I hate myself for even thinking this).
Like I said, I’m still firmly hoping that Dick and his crew can set things right by bringing in some solid reinforcements and finishing mid-table like none of this ever happened. Essentially, I’m hoping that I’m made to look like the biggest idiot in the world for writing this.
One positive is that at least we’re having our crisis now and not in March, so there is time.
Marcus on himself:: I’ve been closely and passionately following the Lads for over 15 years now, so still something of a baby! I’ve also been reading your site’s articles for the last few years. I’m 32, an in-house company lawyer born and bred in Perth, Western Australia. I don’t have any heritage or other close ties to Sunderland or the UK and never closely followed football until I was about 17. As a result, people naturally ask me why I support Sunderland and the answer I always give is that it just felt right for reasons I cannot explain in words. They were the first club I managed in LMA Manager (1998) – I still play far too much manager – and I’ve never looked back!
Despite the challenges our club has faced, my support has never wavered and not a day goes by where I don’t think my choice wasn’t completely justified. I just love this club and that will never change.