You have to give Tony Pulis his due, don't you. Whatever else you think of him, it's tough to deny he's a cracking manager.
Since he performed his minor miracle at Crystal Palace, the question has been asked many a time on Wearside about whether or not Sunderland missed a trick by passing up the chance to appoint him to replace Paolo Di Canio.
It's an inevitable yet fair question, and one that demands consideration.
The answer, as is usually the case with football, I suppose depends upon your perspective. It would be dull and far too easy if there were always definitive answers. All I can offer is my own personal opinion, and that is that Pulis was never the right man for the Sunderland job and nothing has changed.
I mean, don't get me wrong, he probably would have kept us up. What then, though? That is something that has seldom been given adequate consideration at Sunderland yet it probably holds the key to fixing whatever it is that is wrong with the club.
Martin O'Neill kept Sunderland up, but what then? Paolo Di Canio kept Sunderland up, but what then? If our recent history has taught us anything, it is that simply staying up does not singularly solve anything on Wearside.
Whilst Pulis almost guarantees apparently endless survival, it is also the ceiling that he imposes on a club. That's not a comment on his style of football, by the way. I think he is far better tactically than he is given credit for and we are not in a position to look down our noses at any brand of football as long as it produces results.
At Stoke, however, where Pulis was as autonomous as any manager is likely to be at a club these days and had plenty of money to spend - far more than he'd have here - we saw over a course of years his limitations. They just so happen to be the same limitations Sunderland have been trying to break beyond for years.
Yes, we are further from doing it than we have been since we were promoted seven years ago, but the overall ambition shouldn't change. The failure to do so has engulfed the club, particularly the support, in apathy, an apathy which seems to have become a little oppressive so far as I can tell. I don't see how locking ourselves within the limitations we have been desperate to escape can re-energise the club.
And energy is very much what this club needs. It needs something fresh, something new. With the greatest respect to Pulis, we have seen survival with a workmanlike team and old school British manager before. We've seen it a little too often. In fact we've seen it until we are literally sick of the sight of it.
It's not inherently a bad thing. Far from it. In fact, if you're Crystal Palace it is exactly what you need, just like it was exactly what Stoke needed at the time. It was exactly what Sunderland needed seven years ago - but it isn't now.
Ideally, Sunderland can stay up and reinvent themselves under Poyet in the Premier League. Ideally. If it has to be one of the other, though, reinvention, not survival, is the prerequisite, and it's not something that Pulis was able to offer Sunderland.
That's a brave call to make, particularly if it involves a little short-term misery and hardship away from the top table of English football, but it's the right one. I'd certainly take my chances with that over the prolonged agony of watching the soul and spirit of the club continue to be slowly eaten away. At least this way we can envisage some light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark it may get.
It's long-term reform that Sunderland required and still do. All Pulis was ever able to offer was some (more) temporary respite.
- Wise Men Say Podcast: Episode 34 - Can We Play You Every Week?
- Klinsmann 'Concerned' Over Altidore Sunderland Situation
- Have Wickham's Sunderland Stars Aligned At Last?
- Defender Backs Vito After Etihad Blunder
- Wise Men Say: Don't Dare Give Me That Hope Again, Sunderland!
- Poyet Asserts His Sunderland Credentials At Etihad