As yet another Sunderland season crumbles, leaving us our now-customary last few games for a desperate attempt to pull back from the abyss, Julian Smith* is a supporter watching – and now writing – from afar. He’s out in Dunedin, on NZ’s South Island and home to reputedly the world’s steepest street, Baldwin St, whose gradient may replicate the uphill task facing Dick Advocaat. Monsieur Salut is preparing an apology for the appalling headline pun and this will appear in Fenwick’s window alongside the bare backsides of anyone who predicted a comfortable season …
After the Crystal Palace calamity I now think there’s probably a two-thirds chance of being relegated. Six points will give us a shot, but I cannot now see Sunderland getting them.
The explanation for our predicament lies in a combination of frequently cited reasons.
I do strongly think that, in the last year alone, replacements have been lesser players than those leaving, with the sole exception of Defoe.
For this reason I cannot see another “great escape” – not enough going forward and too frail (and aging?) at the back. In more big-picture terms, I believe there is something in the “gremlins” theory, that there is something fundamentally rotten about the culture of the changing room.
Hard to pinpoint without inside knowledge, but I have suspicions – groundless, of course, without that knowledge – that certain individuals may have a negative influence, especially concerning attitudes to coaches.
Also, I don’t think this whole “director of football” structure is working at Sunderland, and I think further pain lies ahead in the Championship if we don’t change to a more traditional “manager” asap.
On the field, the lack of pace has obviouslynot been addressed. And Sunderland is simply unfashionable now (albeit less unfashionable than where I live!): it can’t compete with trendy West End haircuts and “shopping” (remember Roy Keane banging on about players or their wags who wouldn’t move to the North East?). We also seem to attract a type of player who act as if on a pension or in a sinecure. Why exactly this has happened to us (as opposed to Swansea or Southampton), is difficult to gauge. Sunderland the club just aren’t in a position to be too picky. What I do not think it is, this malaise of ours, is bad coaches.
As someone – [Nic Wiseman to name but one! – Ed] – once said: “It’s the hope I can’t stand.” That says it all really. And the endless sense of “false dawns”. Midtable mediocrity would feel like paradise.
Relegation is, as people say, a double-edged sword. It could be good if we emulated Newcastle and came back stronger. The risk is in becoming more like Wigan.
Relegation would at least enable a complete rebuild. The worry is that it might take years and in the Championship; relegated teams in recent years seem to either sink or swim, with few teams in the middle ground.
I suspect there are quite a lot of players who consider themselves Premiership players by divine right, and will demand a release (probably to play for Bournemouth or Watford!). It’s easier to say who might stay to mount a promising challenge in the Championship. Hopefully keep one of the goalkeepers. I can see van Aanholt being useful long-term and we should keep Larson if he will stay.
But I can see many of our stars moving to next season’s relegated clubs. And frivolity aside, I bet you anything that if relegated, Danny Graham will lead the line in opening match of next season!!
I am 100 per cent in the Sam Allardyce camp and cannot believe we didn’t appoint him when he was putting his hand up and they gave the job to Bruce. I hate the Sunderland (and Newcastle) claptrap that we (by divine right) need a “big name manager” who will have us playing like Brazil. Grinding out results, especially against your key opponents (like Palace, Hull, and Villa!!) is what is required.
* Julian Smith is exiled in New Zealand but is a passionate Sunderland supporter. He writes: ‘I am a Rare Books Librarian from Dunedin, New Zealand. I emigrated from Wiltshire at a very young age and, with no knowledge of English geography, began supporting Sunderland more than 35 years ago. Sunderland have become a lifetime obsession from afar, experiencing the eras of Rowell, Gabbiadini and Phillips, amidst certain more sobering times’. …