Lars Knutsen remembers Sunderland managers he has met, with especially fond memories of seeing Peter Reid and his players at what people rightly still call the Seaburn Hotel, celebrating a famous win at St James’ Park, and looks briefly at the records of those who had to make do without meeting him …
As a diehard Sunderland fan, I have been fortunate enough to meet a few Sunderland managers, Peter Reid, Len Ashurst and Dave Merrington.
The meeting with Peter Reid was the most memorable. We were at the Seaburn Hotel to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with my mother (my dad having passed away some years earlier) in November 2000.
The team arrived at the hotel victorious and elated after an excellent 2-1 win at St James’ Park, and hung around the bar to celebrate. My son and I asked Peter Reid for his autograph and he chatted with Christian, knowing that a few minutes of his time would make him a supporter for life. Reid also made a point of greeting my mother. He came over as a witty and charismatic person. His time at Sunderland was terrific.
I met Len Ashurst briefly at a SAFCSA London Branch event in 1985, and Dave Merrington at another London event in London.
Merrington, who had been an interim manager for a couple of months in 1978 after Jimmy Adamson’s resignation, admitted to me that it had been a mistake to turn down the job when offered it on a permanent basis. By the way, the stats are all at http://thestatcat.co.uk/, where I also found out that I was born in the middle of a 12-match unbeaten run for the Lads.
I guess one could say that my knowledge of the club goes back into pre-history, but I would like to look at the Black Cats’ recent managers and their records.
Why was Roy Keane successful in his 100 games at at Sunderland?
Perhaps the answer lies in having Niall Quinn as a mentor, the Drumaville consortium behind him and very few expectations for a top-half finish. He took us to our last promotion, which I truly hope is our last, then walked out on the club in a manner very similar to the way Kevin Keegan walked out on the England job.
He apparently had an intense attack of self-doubt which even Quinny could not talk him out of, and walked in December 2008. Top footballers can be perfectionists, I am sure, and Keane set himself very high standards which he sometimes failed to attain.
We should not be too hard on our managers; these people are in tough leadership positions. Keane kept chopping and changing the team, punishing players for mistakes by dropping them. He did the same in his unsuccessful spell at Ipswich. It is hard, especially in defence, if a player does not know who will be alongside him on a given Saturday.
Steve Bruce came in and took the team into the top six in the autumn of 2010 and kept them there for several months, but then had a truly terrible year, which ended in his departure late in 2011.
So why did his successor Martin O’Neill ultimately fail? In my view he lacked a decent right-hand man. What was the O’Neill psychology … living off past glories perhaps? “I cannot be sacked, look at what I did with Celtic?” The problem in my mind is that he was not a double act anymore, think Clough and Taylor, Wenger and Pat Rice, even Eriksson and Tord Grip (!)…he seemed to be very much missing former Forest winger and European Cup winner John Robertson. He seemed unwilling to set the team up in attacking formations.
Many words have been written about the current incumbent, our enigmatic manager, Paolo Di Canio. I will be adding more of those soon. As a club we have been used to being ignored by the media, but the arrival of the Italian seems to have changed that.
PDC and our other managers are lucky – this is a football hotbed. The Italian knew that after Sunderland’s win at Newcastle.
It does not take much to fill our great stadium; what we want to see as fans is energy, effort and commitment. Skill should be natural. Organisation comes with good leadership on and off the pitch. None of the previous managers mentioned above took us to the bottom of the league, which is where we are today after the first four games of the season. However, I believe the current team will gel, go on to gain confidence from victories and move up the table.
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