ANALYSIS: What Is "Wrong" With Sunderland?

Paul Thomas

Gus Poyet insists there is something fundamentally 'wrong' at the club. Players just don't seem to care and I think we can all see it. The real question is: how do you fix it?

It seems that Sunderland's propensity for self-destruction is driving another manager round the bend, with Gus Poyet insisting there is "something wrong in the football club".

I'm sure that by now, most have seen the comments, but if not then you can find them HERE.

It's something we have heard before, and heard from characters at both extremes. Paolo Di Canio's rant at the end of last season is infamous, but Niall Quinn also made similar references to 'gremlins inside the club' before appointing Roy Keane. So it's important to not just make this about Poyet.

To do that would be scapegoating, and it's the last thing that is needed. What we need right now, as a club as a whole, is analysis; cogent, cold, painstakingly brutal analysis.

Whether or not Poyet is the man to provide that, I don't know. Whether he even wants to at this point is perhaps less clear. I hope he does, and I think that once the anger and the disappointment is brushed aside, Sunderland provides a tremendous opportunity for an ambitious young manager right now.

This summer, there will be almost a blank canvas for someone to work with on Wearside - a chance to build a team almost from the bottom up in whatever image a manager chooses.

But solutions can wait for a later date. Now is the time for questions, and Poyet is asking all the right ones.

I am not just talking about Ellis Short when talking about scapegoating, either. We have all fallen into the same trap of blaming the manager and calling for their head. And whilst I don't think that fans bear any - any - responsibility for the problem at the club, I do believe we can be part of the remedy by recognising that the problems lie deeper beneath the surface and affording the club the leeway required to uncover them.

Surely what we need to look at are the common denominators? What factors at the club have spanned the whole lot? I am not on the inside of the club, so I am not in a position to judge and appraise the individuals who work there. To try and do so from behind a computer screen would be unfair. I don't think there is anything wrong with acknowledging a little ignorance.

But what I do feel I am in a position to question is just how personally invested people we bring to club - over a period of years - are in the success of Sunderland AFC. I think it's clear that the players don't care, something Poyet alluded to by saying they need 'electric shocks' to perform.

I don't mean here that we should expect players to love the club. That's not going to happen these days. But how many of those that we bring in genuinely find their own ambitions intertwined with those of the fans and the owner? Not many.

Were the likes of John O'Shea and Wes Brown coming from Manchester United in their 30s thinking their best days were yet to come? Was it personal ambition that motivated Emanuele Giaccherini to swap Juventus for Sunderland?

Having already been relegated before, what would another on the CV really matter to the likes of Craig Gardner, Seb Larsson and Steven Fletcher, particularly when they knew they could simply wash their hands of a club and move back to the Premier League as if nothing had happened?

I don't think there is something inherently wrong with signing previously relegated players or previously successful players who are making a step down. Both can have value, but it is not the kind of mentality that you want to rely upon and that is exactly what Sunderland have done.

Conversely, when you look at the successes, they were young energetic players with a point to prove and a burning desire to do it. Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck, Jordan Henderson, Simon Mignolet, Kenwyne Jones, Danny Rose... this season you can probably add Fabio Borini and Vito Mannone to that list, perhaps even Ki Sung-Yueng too.

Darren Bent is another and perhaps the one that best highlights that we don't need players who have the interests of the club closest to their heart. They don't have to care about the club - they just have to care about something. I'm not sure we recruit enough who do.

Of course, many of the players mentioned above were also only here on loan, which is another problem. I'm not talking specifically about the loan players, but I do often wonder about the relatively short contracts the club hands out to everyone and how helpful that is.

I can understand the caution, but it's the courage to steer into a skid, not away from it, that regains control. If a player arrives on a three-year contract, how committed can we expect him to be knowing that in two years he is going to either be in a position to hold the club to ransom or simply walk away? Either way, it's a surrender of control and a failure to align a player's fortunes with those of the club.

We can talk all day about whether we should have to provide incentive to encourage professionalism and care from footballers and it's a massive annoyance that we have to, but it's ultimately immaterial. The reality is that whilst the players and the agents have the power, and they most certainly do, we are going to have to learn to play their game far better than we have previously.

This summer, just about everything will change. It's not ideal, but it is an opportunity. Whatever other changes occur, and many will, we need to start intertwining the interests of the players with the club again. Target young, ambitious hungry players on the rise and back our belief in them with longer deals that puts the control back in the hands of the club.

Back our judgement that we, as a club, can develop them into top players or at the very least something that another club will want to take off us. Let's start making people believe in Sunderland again by believing in ourselves. I can't really remember the last time we did.

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