Captain's Blog: Supporters Must Not Give New Sunderland System Short Shrift

Matthew Lewis

With Sunderland's stuttering start to the season, the temptation is there to cast a judgmental spotlight upon the new system at the club which takes recruitment and direction out of the manager's hands. It is a temptation that would be well-avoided, at least for now.

There is nothing quite like losing games to shine a damning spotlight upon a club. That is to be expected, of course. Football is as demanding an industry as there is, and so it should be given the rewards available.

But since Paolo Di Canio's tumultuous tenure at the Sunderland helm came to an end, it wasn't just the Italian who has found himself and his methods scrutinised - it is the club itself.

Someone, it seems, has to answer for the sales of fan-favourites Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon. Di Canio publicly accepted responsibility for the latter but the decision to sell the club's better players, a policy described by chief executive Margaret Byrne to be a 'relegation model' last March, has raised eyebrows in many quarters.

Supporters are also beginning to ask just who is this Roberto De Fanti chap, especially given the failure by the majority of his 14 summer signings to make any kind of early impact. (a topic touched upon in far greater detail by Luke Bowley this week and well worth a read)

Ellis Short hasn't escaped criticism either, with accusations of cost-cutting this summer, but it's always a lot easier to spend other people's money. Byrne, on the other hand, is struggling to find favour among the fans for, as far as I can ascertain, not being Niall Quinn.

But it is all just born out of frustration rather than any real substance right now. Patience out there is running low and fans are understandably lashing out, looking for that miraculous scapegoat who encompasses all of our woes and can be neatly banished.

However, Paolo Di Canio's failure does not necessarily equate to a failure of the newly-implemented Sunderland system. In fact, it provides it with its first real test, even if it has come considerably earlier than anyone would have hoped.

The roles of Roberto De Fanti and Valentino Angeloni at Sunderland are not just a haphazard roll of the dice to stumble across something that works. They are not some ill-conceived attempt to be all current and trendy and continental.

The set-up has been designed specifically to try and preserve continuity. To sever the connection between the managers and the cheque-book and prevent an expensive and disruptive overhaul of the squad every time someone leaves a mess. That is the theory at least.

It is a sound theory too. One that has worked well and achieved precisely what it was designed for across many different countries and even many different sports. Granted, the jury is still out a little and results haven't got off to the best of starts, but it is a system charged with looking after the long-term health of the club, and so that is the only context in which it should be judged.

For now, the chance to replace Paolo Di Canio should actually be seen as an opportunity to enhance that system, not review it, which is probably why the candidates are being examined in such meticulous detail before a commitment is made.

If continuity is king - as it should be - then the discussions with prospective new head coaches should be extensive. They should involve everyone at the club in the key positions. De Fanti and Angeloni, of course, but also figures such as Ged McNamee too.

If Kevin Ball isn't going to be the head coach, then he should be involved in some discussions to see where his talents and affinity with the club can be more tangibly utilised than his previous position.

The point is here that the question should not be which new autocratic despotic dugout talisman can lead Sunderland to a rich and wonderful future. The idea that there is some kind of managerial messiah on the horizon - a modern mackem Shankly, if you like - is pure fantasy really. It's not a basket fit for eggs and the structure now in place exists to prevent us from falling into the trap of believing that it is.

Instead, the system must be recruited into and, most importantly, bought into. Someone appointed who can not only work within it but add to it. If that takes a little longer to be sure of, then I'll be frustrated but I can live with it. If it means being asked to accept a name that fails to appeal to my ego or preconceptions about what a 'manager' should be, then I'll do just that.

But personally, I still believe that the system the club committed to last summer is the right one. Only time will tell whether that belief is well-founded, but either way it is certainly much too early for supporters or anyone else to be writing it off as a failure.

In fact, have the courage to trust it and it may just get us through this.

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