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End Of Season Opinion From... Iain Macintosh

For the second of our mini-series this week we bring you top author, journalist for ESPN, The New Paper and many others, Football Manager aficionado and former North East native Iain Macintosh to give his views on last season at Sunderland...

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What are your thoughts on Sunderland's season as a whole?

Iain Macintosh: A very fortunate escape. Like most people, I looked at Martin O'Neill's recruitment of Fletcher and Johnson and concluded that a solid 442, well drilled and with an emphasis on set-pieces, would be enough for a comfortable mid-table finish. Boy, did we get that wrong. Sunderland were abject in almost all departments. Simon Mignolet was excellent every time I watched him, but there wasn't much else to be proud of this year. They were slow, lethargic, devoid of ideas and they should count themselves extremely lucky to still be in the Premier League.

Do you feel the decision to replace Martin O'Neill with Paolo Di Canio was the right one?

IM: I thought Sunderland were doomed after the Norwich nadir, so I can certainly understand why O'Neill was given the boot. If Ellis Short thought the same, then he had every right to make the change. If you believe you're going down, why wouldn't you do something about it?

But choosing Di Canio was a very bold move. If you take away the name, you're essentially binning a Premier League manager and replacing him with someone who has spent the majority of his short managerial career in the fourth division. It was a hail mary pass, but it worked, so Short deserves credit for that.

Whether or not it will continue to work is another matter entirely. At the time, I suggested that hiring Di Canio was like bringing a dragon into the castle to help defend it. You might keep the castle, but how the hell are you going to feed it three months down the line? Next season will be absolutely fascinating.

Who's your Player of the Season?

IM: Mignolet, probably. For the simple fact that he didn't take one look at the defenders in front of him and burst into tears at the start of every game. Danny Rose looked good as well, but that's only because whatever poison is apparently running through the club hasn't infected him yet.

Game of the Season?

IM: A controversial view, but I thought the 3-0 win at St James was very impressive. I don't think many people saw that one coming, least of all Alan Pardew.

Goal of the Season?

IM: Adam Johnson's goal in the same game. For what seemed like the first time all season, someone in red and white stripes thought, "You know what? I'm going to pull my finger out of my bum and see if I can make something happen."

Do you think the quite public stance Di Canio has taken with regards to attitude and fitness with the players is the right call to make, or should he have gone about things differently?

IM: I don't think you'll find many people supporting the players on this one, no. Phil Bardsley had enough money over him in that casino to pay for at least two season tickets. If he thinks that's an acceptable thing to do after the performances that he and his team-mates have offered this year, he needs to be told otherwise for his own good. Is he an idiot? Has he been sheltered from the reality of life, particularly in the North-East? I honestly don't know, but I don't think there's any harm in taking a few cold, hard truths and slapping him around the face with them. The same goes for players turning up 20 minutes late for meetings. These men are on £1m+ a year. Book a cab. Fuck it, book ten cabs. It's inexcusable.

However, there are ways of dealing with these issues. Tossing the players to the wrath of the fans will not be easily forgotten in the dressing room. Unless he can clear that dressing room quickly this summer, he might be left with a squad of players who don't buy into his rhetoric about team spirit and togetherness. They'll just see a manager sacrificing the players to preserve his reputation. If the majority of the squad are on Di Canio's side and he can rid himself of the minority, he'll be fine. If it's the other way round, he'll have a hell of a job getting those players to perform for him next year.

Can you give us a reason or two to feel positive about the summer and next season from what we witnessed last season?

IM: Not really, no. You need a clear-out, you need the right kind of replacements, you need everyone to gel quickly and you need a good start to the season. All of this with a stun-grenade of a manager who is essentially unproven at the top level and with a squad that he's just slaughtered in front of the press. Once again, the only thing Sunderland have got going for them is their support.

I hope it works out, I lived in South Shields for two and a half years, I love the region and I have nothing but good things to say about the club. But Christ on a bike, you don't do things by half measures, do you?

There's been a million-and-one players already linked to the club, but if you were in charge who would be your number one transfer target?

IM: I always subscribe to the ‘start at the back' philosophy. You've got a good keeper, so you need a colossus in the backline. Martin Skrtel may not last much longer at Liverpool, so he could be an option.

What's been your own personal highlight of the season, be it Sunderland-related or something else?

IM: I'm not saying this because this is a Sunderland site. I'm very fond of Newcastle too, you see. But the footage of that bloke PUNCHING A HORSE IN THE FACE was the funniest thing I think I've seen in years. It took me days before I could stop laughing about it. It's something that transcends the sport and that, harnessed correctly, could be used as a unifying force for good in this world. Without any warning, a man PUNCHED A HORSE IN THE FACE before vanishing underneath a pile of snarling coppers. Who does that?

I also particularly liked his explanation that it wasn't his fault because he was on medication. I've yet to find a pill that makes me want to go around twatting horses...

Thanks very much to Iain for his views. Check him out on Twitter @IainMacintosh and you simply have to buy his brilliant book Football Manager Stole My Life on Amazon, which you can do HERE!

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