Sunderland’s Solution

Theories are abound that Roy Keane’s departure from Sunderland had something to do with the rather incredible facial hair that had sprung upon his chin in the week preceding his final game in charge. Of course such theories can easily be dismissed as nonsense, but watch closely, and see whether the new man appointed to the task of keeping the Black Cats in the league has any facial fur. Perhaps the board just don’t appreciate a good bit of  beard. Setting aside this nonsense (for now), I intend to have a look at the candidates in the frame for the vacancy, and select which man I feel would be most suitable for the job. And then undoubtedly, they’ll hire someone else.

Phil Brown
Brown’s stock has risen incredibly since he begun to defy the entire world by leading Hull on what is shaping up to be a successful Premier League campaign. Quite how he does it, I don’t think anyone knows, but one thing is for sure – he has a keen eye for a player and can get the best out of them. I think that that second characteristic, the ability to unite a group of players, get them playing as a unit and instilling confidence is the root of his success at Hull. He convinced them they could do it, and that belief has given them the license to run riot, relatively speaking, in the Premiership so far this term.
Whether he would be interested in the Sunderland job is the big question though. There’s no doubting that the Black Cats are a much ‘bigger’ club than Hull, but why would he leave his marauding group of over-achievers who look set to defy the odds and survive this season and join a club that seems to be heading out of the league. I think that if he did take the job, Brown could certainly turn things around for Sunderland, but I really don’t think he would consider it.

Sam Allardyce
‘Big Sam’ has been linked with almost every job that has come up since he was shown the door at Newcastle, yet so far no one has seen fit to offer him a post. It seems that maybe his reputation took a bit of a hammering at Newcastle, which strikes me as unfair because he barely had his foot in the door, but if it showed us one thing, it’s that Sam is an underdog. He doesn’t belong at a club like Newcastle where they expect to win things almost by divine right. Sam is one who likes to defy the odds, as he did so successfully at Bolton for so many years. He is of course a great wheeler-dealer, and his main success comes from creating a solid foundation that is hard to break down and then setting up the team to attack physically with a target man. That makes his teams difficult to break down and difficult to contain. It might not always be pretty, but it gets results.
And Sunderland are in the business for results at the moment. They need to start picking up points and halt their slump down the table. So could Big Sam be the man for them? I think he would do a good job there. He has the motivational skills, the man management that the club clearly needs right now. It’s clear that the players are short of form and after the reports of unrest under Keane, they need someone to come in and pick the dressing room up. Allardyce is a players manager, and he could be the one to get them going. I don’t know if he has the experience under this sort of pressure though. Yes, he coped with a lot at Bolton and experienced his fair share of relegation battles, but that was his club. He’d been there for donkey’s years, the fans knew and trusted him, as did the board. They were his players that he had moulded. For him to come in to Sunderland, inherit a squad, and a set of fans who will remember his time in charge of arch enemies Newcastle (however brief it was) and won’t be too chuffed. I am not sure that Allardyce could cope with that, and while I think he is likely to get the job, I am not sure it would be the best appointment.

Gerard Houllier
Well, since he left Liverpool, many English fans will not have heard too much about Gerard Houllier, but he has since done something he never managed with the Reds – he won the league, twice, as manager of Lyon in France. However, a failure to bring any European success to the club saw him step down after the 2007 season and he has been out of football since then. His name has cropped up a couple of times in recent months though, and that is perhaps enough to suggest that he is looking to get back into the game. So why not Sunderland?
Well, seeing as you’re asking, I think Houllier would be a terrible choice as manager of Sunderland. The thing is, Houllier is a tactician. He’s not a motivator. He’s a quiet Frenchman who does his talking in front of the whiteboard with the magnets on. He’s not going to get the team playing as a unit. I’ve no doubt that he could come up with a great tactical system for the squad to employ that, if followed, could save them. Unfortunately, for a tactical system to work, the players, as a whole, must unite beneath it. They must all get on, know their jobs and fight for one another. They must believe in one another. But Houllier doesn’t really inspire belief, and that is why he would fail. In this league, this season, it’s not about tactics. They help, certainly, but if you go out and play with confidence and grit and belief, you will do well. Look how Harry Redknapp has inspired Tottenham. They’re the same players, but they have belief. Look how Hull and Stoke are beating teams considered to be almost a different league above them. Look how every week we see teams at the top lose to teams at the bottom. No, what Sunderland need is some good old fashioned Great British motivation.

Peter Reid
Speaking of which, Peter Reid is in Thailand; which is weird. Yup, Reidy, former Everton and England midfield general and former Sunderland manager, is in Thailand as coach of the national side. God knows how he’s doing, though apparently to help him feel at home the FA over there organised a special screening of James Bond: Quantum Of Solace for him. Unfortunately, not speaking Thai, he didn’t understand a word. Still, it’s the thought that counts, eh Reidy?
I honestly cannot imagine a more unlikely man to be managing the Thai national side. He has said he is happy there, but for my money, if the opportunity came up to return to England, to return to the Premiership even, he would jump at it. He even has a clause in his contract allowing him to talk to English clubs. And why wouldn’t Sunderland want Reid back? He did well for them before, taking them from relegation fodder in the first division to the league title and the Premiership the next. They went down straight away again before coming back up two seasons later and then finishing seventh in the Premier League, almost qualifying for Europe. True, the next season they avoided the drop narrowly and he was let go, but after eight years at the club, he probably needed a new challenge, and had taken the club as far as he could. Since then though, they’ve missed him. They played some great football under Reid, but it was also backed up by his own typically bullish style. Opposition harassed and never allowed to settle. But more than that, Reid is an endlessly likable guy, and fiercely loyal. You can bet your boots he still looks for Sunderland’s result in the paper, and would love to help turn their fortunes around again. And I think that he would be able to do it. I think he has the spirit for it. Unfortunately, I doubt that the board will agree with me. Reid is an unfashionable English manager, and they’ll go for someone flashy and foreign.

Co Adriaanse
Which brings us nicely onto this fella. I will own up now and say that I know nothing about him. I don;t even know if he’s a serious contender, but gossip is all we’ve got. What I do know though, is that he’s a foreign manager, and thus he allows me to make my point. I don’t think that a manager like this will have the balls to keep Sunderland up. I’m sure he’s a wonderful manager, I’m sure he can create killer set plays, win the tactical battles and even rev his troops up. But I bet his English isn’t too hot. And I bet he won’t like Sunderland very much (the place I mean). And I bet he won’t be able to lift the group of hard working but dispirited players in the dressing room. Yes, he’ll try and tell them what they’re doing wrong, and he’ll doubtless tell them what to do instead. But he won’t connect with them, not really. He won;t strike them as a man that wants to succeed not for the club, not for them, not because he knows and they know. That sort of mutual desire, the shared goal that means you can do anything, will do anything for the other. No, he will be there because if he pulls it off, he might get a better job somewhere else. Somewhere a bit warmer and with a bit more money.
I’m being overly harsh. There are some great foreign managers, but for me, they’ve always succeeded more at the top half of the table. English managers these days are much lamented, especially after the McClaren/Euro 2008 catastrophe and Fabio’s subsequent revival. But for me, there is nothing quite like an English manager for a good scrap. Clubs the world over who find themselves in a relegation battle could do much worse than give an Englishman a call. Because we can scrap with the best of them, and when you’re at the messy end, you’ve gotta be able to scrap.

So I think Sunderland should appoint an Englishman (or a Brit, the Welsh, Scots and Irish can do it too). I think they should, but I don’t think they will. I think that Peter Reid will stay in Thailand, Allardyce will stay out of a job and Brown will stay in the top half, while some foreigner comes over, gets a cold and relegated, and then an early compensatory pay check. I hope not, because I have a soft spot for Sunderland, but I do worry for them.

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