As Liverpool fans dream of a new era of elegant football and success under their much-heralded German coach Jürgen Klopp, fans of Sunderland have an altogether different vision of the future.
With the appointment of veteran manager Sam Allardyce, Sunderland may finally have taken the pragmatic approach to sustainable development of the club as a Premier League force that many have called out for over the past few turbulent years.
After the departure of Roy Keane as manager amid claims of a spat with owner Ellis Short, Sunderland have turned around managers at a higher rate than a fairground ride turns around hyperactive children. In the intervening seven years since Keane’s departure, Sunderland fans have seen no fewer than six full-time managers come and go. In that time, no manager has lasted for more than two seasons.
Over the past few seasons the Sunderland hierarchy has been especially guilty of indulging in the Premier League’s boom-or-bust culture, with short-term success being rewarded with contracts that later come back to haunt the club when managers cannot maintain the results or performances they were blessed with during freak periods of excellent form. In failing to recruit a managerial team capable of securing long-term Premier League stability, Sunderland have allowed a bizarre mix of styles and policies to leave them with a squad full of undoubted talent but with no discernible identity.
The recruitment policy of the recently departed Dick Advocaat stands in stark contrast to the maddeningly inconsistent policy fostered under the stewardship of former Director of Football Roberto Di Fanti.
This has meant that incoming bosses have been given the unenviable task of trying to shape a squad to fit their philosophy while also trying to rid the squad of the deadwood left behind by the previous incumbent. Not only has this caused obvious problems for managers seeking to build a sense of team unity but the impact on the wages available to recruit new stars is undeniable.
All this has meant that Sunderland have remained perennial Premier League strugglers, narrowly avoiding the ‘yo-yo club’ tag that dogged them for so many years by the skin of their teeth in each of the past few seasons. Hopefully for Sunderland fans, this is where Allardyce’s managerial experience can make a telling contribution. Sunderland have been burdened by mismanagement and lack of a coherent strategy, but perhaps the biggest flaw in the culture of the club has been the sheer lack of passion and effort displayed by the players. For too long fans have been left to bemoan the absence of character, heart, or desire shown by players who appear to see Sunderland as little more than an easy payday. For a club with such a proud tradition and history, this is utterly inexcusable to fans. Sunderland, despite their constant underdog status, have one of the highest average attendances in the Premier League and can arguably lay claim to having one of the most passionate and loyal fanbases in the country.
That this level of support is met with the dire performances that fans have become accustomed to is nothing short of shameful.
If he brings nothing else to Sunderland, it is almost certain that Allardyce will not tolerate a lack of effort or desire on the part of his players. Allardyce has coaxed the best out of mediocre players in the past, best evidenced by the career progressions of some of his former charges at Bolton following his departure.
If he is to be a success at Sunderland he may have an even bigger challenge, coaxing the talented players at his disposal to apply themselves fully and commit to the Sunderland cause. If ‘Big Sam’ can manage that, then perhaps this season will not be the disaster many have predicted for the Black Cats.
Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland.