Malcolm Dawson writes……it’s a proven fact that we all feel better when our chosen football team is doing well and that poor on field results can bring disappointment and depression.
It may only be a game but football fans are stuck with their team. Some glory hunters might chop and change but the true supporter has no options. I was a fresher at college when Sunderland last won anything meaningful and now I’m only a couple of years away from a state pension.
Our first FA Cup win happened 17 years before I was born and the last League Championship Sunderland claimed was the year before that. Eighty years ago in fact. So success is not something we are used to.
Should we be doing better? Surely we should at least be doing as well as Stoke City, West Ham or Spurs. Surely we should be better than Watford, Southampton and Leicester City and no disrespect is intended towards those clubs. 1973 apart Sunderland AFC have been perennial underachievers, at least in our own eyes for eight decades now. Little windows of optimism have promptly been slammed shut again.
We all have views on the causes of our current malais but if he hasn’t already done so, maybe the owner of the club should take a long, hard look at his tenure in charge.
Giving Ellis Short Shrift
You know when it’s Christmas or your birthday and your nearest and dearest give you presents you personally wouldn’t give house space to? Harry Fowler’s book on “Feng Shui for Cats” perhaps, or a 25,000-piece One Direction jigsaw.
Maybe they think that what they’ve bought will be useful – like a bread maker and a fondue set. For a week or two you dip your home made bread into the cheese fondue until you realise that it’s all a bit of a clart on and you consign both to the back of the bottom corner cupboard – never to be seen again.
Say you fancy a lovely shepherd’s pie and peas with carrots and gravy and cabbage as an additional green, but your vegetarian carer comes back from the shops with tofu, plantains and a tub of hummus, despite the fact you had given them a comprehensive list of ingredients. Frustrating or what?
Of course you thank your family and friends for the well meaning gifts and inwardly chastise your carer for putting their own agenda ahead of your own whilst they tell you that they are in charge of spending and you can’t afford minced lamb and Bisto.
OK they might not be the world’s best metaphors but isn’t this what has been happening at Sunderland AFC since “our” club was put in the care of a Texas billionaire? We’ve witnessed the fans of lots of teams lose patience with their clubs’ owners but Sunderland supporters have been incredibly tolerant with Ellis Short. At least they have in my view. It seems many are just grateful he has poured money into the club irrespective of how profligate those who control the purse strings have been.
Instead, the players get stick for not being good enough and the managers get stick for picking poor players or adopting poor tactics without looking at the root causes of our lack of progress in recent seasons. We are, in my view, in a worse situation as a club now than we were when Ellis Short took over and my belief is that he has structured the club in such a way that our on field performances are doomed to failure.
It may not be the fault of the owner directly that our recruitment policy has been so poor of late, but to immediately contradict myself I think it is because he appointed those who are responsible. I don’t want to go into the long list of disastrous signings but Di Canio, Poyet, Bruce and O’Neill all hinted (some more openly than others) that off the field issues were holding the club back. As did Advocaat more recently.
Sam Allardyce wouldn’t have been my first choice as manager, but he at least seems to be trying to impose his will as a manager on the club and doesn’t see himself as just a coach. He said that publicly and would appear to be staying true to that ideal.
But back to Ellis Short. It was his decision to go for the director of football model. Nothing wrong with that if it works. But it hasn’t. Too many players have been brought in on big money who have had little or no impact on the team and been released or sent out on loan, proving to be a drain on finances and restricting the club’s ability to sign players who will have an impact. Too many substandard players have been bought or brought in on loan because they were available, or because they were low price. Now and again this works – Yann M’Vila perhaps – but more often than not it doesn’t.
To re-appoint Dick Advocaat was in hindsight a mistake. There were many of us who welcomed his return and in my mind the mistake was not so much in persuading him to come back but with what he obviously saw as a disappointing recruitment policy over the summer. We are stuck with players that Dick didn’t and Sam doesn’t want and we are currently seeing the problems that the fair play restrictions are having in this transfer window.
My main gripes are:
a) we seem to sign too many players that those picking the team either don’t want or they do want but are not of the required standard for the rough and tumble of the Premier League
b) restrictive clauses are inserted into contracts especially with regard to those brought in on loan
c) there is too frequently an over optimistic view of signings with a history of repeated injury.
Look back at the business the club did in the last close season:
* Yann M’Vila – already mentioned as perhaps the only successful signing.
* Ricky Alvarez – we were obliged to sign him according to Inter Milan but he wasn’t wanted and the club have tried to argue that that aspect of the deal wasn’t binding.
Santiago Vergini – the same we had to sign him despite the fact the manager didn’t rate him.
* Adam Matthews – history of injury and hardly seen in a Sunderland shirt.
* Younes Kaboul – ditto. Has been inconsistent and had some good performances and some poor ones but another player regularly on the treatment table.
* Ola Toivonen, played well early on but has gone off the boil and been less than impressive since. Still one of the better pieces of business last summer, which speaks volumes about the others. One of Dick’s players maybe not suited to the role Sam wants him to play.
* Sebastian Coates – out of favour and according to press reports told he can leave the club, six months after he was brought in on a permanent deal to free up sufficient funds to allow the signing of Lamine Kone.
* Jeremain Lens – undoubtedly talented but another player who Dick knew and Sam is having to deal with. Shown good touches but has hardly set the world alight.
* DeAndre Yedlin – another loan deal brought in on the cheap. Might have pace going forward, might be OK in a 3-5-1-1 formation with Seb in front of him but he’s no Danny Rose.
* Fabio Borini – again six months after signing a permanent deal we hear in the press that the club is prepared to off load him in a part exchange deal. Did Dick want him? Probably not. Was he signed because he was the only forward available who would come to Sunderland on the money offered? I wasn’t unhappy to see him back but was he signed as a sop to the fans, because he was offered the money and opportunity of first team football he wanted rather than as a name on Big Dick’s wish list?
Big Sam currently finds himself in a situation where so much dead wood is having to be shipped out before he can bring in yet more new players. Pantillimon, Graham, Bridcutt and Buckley have gone but Roberge and Mavrias are still on the payroll in addition to those mentioned above and I haven’t even mentioned the expense of a player like Jack Rodwell compared to his input to the side.
The reasons that SAFC is where it is as a club are many and complex and not as simplistic as I make out here but and it is a big BUT the structure of the club since Ellis Short took over has hindered, rather than improved progress.
Let’s hope he is learning and allows Big Sam to repay the faith that so many have invested in him by finding a recipe for improvement on and off the pitch before the murmurings become more vocal.