It’s a familiar tale for Sunderland fans once again. Two shocking hammerings from teams that are likely to be in and around them this season with big names under-performing, defensive confusion and fans turning on the team already. Eion Smith believes stability is the key…
It’s the biggest puzzle since the Da Vinci Code – how can Sunderland continue to stay in the Premier League despite playing so badly so often? The ingredients for success are there – good sized stadium, talented footballers, passionate fan base and an owner willing to back his manager in the transfer market. Yet, Sunderland continues to be the place where good managers go to ruin their careers with short-term survival often leading to long-term struggles. So just how can the never ending shambles in Sunderland stop? Some stability might help.
Stability in the dugout would be a start. Quick piece of trivia, do you know how many managers have completed a full season as Sunderland boss in the last decade? Mick McCarthy, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane – that’s it. In ten years only three men have completed a full season. Including caretakers, they’ve had 11 different men in charge during that same period with Steve Bruce getting the longest time out of them all. It’s a pretty shocking stat for a club that wants to grow and wants to progress. There is no cohesion about the team because every boss works in different ways. Look at Fulham when they went down a couple of seasons ago now. Three different bosses could not get them out of trouble because they all worked differently. Sunderland have been abhorrent at the back for a little while now because the backline has seen so many different systems that they constantly have their wires crossed. The lack of stability also has a knock-on effect on team cohesion because every manager will have players they will like and players that they will not want at the club which for a club like Sunderland is bad news.
Players are moved in and out of the Stadium of Light at lightning speed with some new signings barely getting six months to make an impression because the boss signing them has already gone. Since Steve Bruce was sacked on 30th November 2011, 48 players have been brought in to the Stadium of Light and, incredibly, fans are calling for more. Paolo Di Canio bought 14 players in the summer of 2013 and lasted about four games before being sacked. Do you know how many of those players still play for Sunderland? Five but none of them could be considered regulars. Duncan Watmore obviously scored recently but that was his debut, Emmanuele Giaccherini has barely hit 50 games because of injury, Vito Mannone has been in and out of the side most of the time while Valentin Roberge and Charalampos Mavrias are the forgotten men of Wearside. Sunderland’s longest serving player is Lee Cattermole who has seen managers come and go like nobody’s business. There is no settled side, no team cohesion, no team spirit. The old cliche “they look like a team of strangers” is pretty much true because every season is a brand new group of strangers for Lee Cattermole to play with. No wonder they spend most of their time fighting relegation.
What also does not help Sunderland is the quality of their signings for the most part. Yes, the likes of Yann M’Vila and Jeremain Lens are certainly big improvements in quality, the number of below par signings has outweighed the number of superb signings. The likes of Roberge, Ignacio Scocco, El-Hadji Ba, Cabral, Mavrias, Jozy Altidore etc. have not delivered or been anywhere good enough to deliver for Sunderland and it has shown as they stumble and falter towards the bottom of the league again. The worst part is that these players are being brought in to replace those who have been let go despite being of better quality. Connor Wickham is a hero in the North-East for some of his goals but he was sold this summer while Stephane Sessengon (a player that can make the difference in a tough game) was let go as well by Sunderland.
Someone at Sunderland needs to get a hold on the situation and find a manager that will be their man for the longest of long-terms. They have a season or so to do that because I believe that Dick Advocaat can get them out of this mess before he leaves this summer. If he can provide a decent platform this season to build on then Sunderland can progress to a Swansea/Stoke level. However, if Sunderland continue to live in this short-term, throw money at players and new bosses every six months and try to stay up mentality then they will get caught much sooner than they think.