"… I have worked all over the world, but that admiration from the fans and the people at the club, I liked that …"
Dirk Nicolaas Advocaat sure enjoyed the derby day admiration, so must’ve keeled over at the 96% fan approval poll. After his league-saving crusade on Wearside, it seems the only man to replace Dick Advocaat now is … Dick Advocaat. But with the Dutchman’s decision imminent, it’s perhaps important to assess whether this popular choice is the right choice.
He was clearly the right choice in March. Besides avoiding relegation; Advocaat, over 9 matches, was able to sync up his players’ strengths to the call of supporters in a way Gus Poyet couldn’t. He dropped the exhibition pace for a full-throttle work rate. It was pragmatism over philosophy.
But it’s been more than just demanding performances for a demanding manager. Advocaat showed zero tolerance for Sunderland’s self-destructive shortcomings; notably when acknowledging his team’s broken pace against Crystal Palace – a disadvantage rarely exploited since. His wanting to start Adam Johnson’s flair play, only after a confident defensive unit had been organised, is another example of his rationality. Nothing has been too risky or too timid.
And then, to be brought to tears upon securing league safety was a remarkable sight. That Advocaat, after 34 years in management, could be so emotionally drained from 8 fixtures with Sunderland has inevitably forged a strong affinity with supporters. That’ll be tough to break.
The public backing from the players is even more meaningful. This squad – lost in communication in March – has undoubtedly strengthened under an inspiring shared attitude that Advocaat has commanded. His prudent instructions for players to utilise their key strengths has been as significant as his originally-perceived unconventional tactics. The idea of Jermain Defoe carrying a defensive load or strikers preferred as wingers over wingers could have been disastrous. Instead, Advocaat stumbled on a series of eureka moments with many players. It hasn’t been accidental – it’s the quality of a savvy manager. And after the ideological distractions of his predecessors, these commonsensical methods are all too welcome for fans.
However, it’s crucial not to be fooled by initial accomplishment. Sunderland supporters know better than any that a false dawn comes round more than once. And so, the club must answer the familiar question: does the temporary success of a manager warrant a permanent position?
Advocaat has arguably deserved a full season with Sunderland more than Paolo Di Canio or Gus Poyet did. He has matched their accomplishments without their ego or stubbornness. And he’s no up-and-coming coach with big ideas, as we know. There’s barely a country on the planet where he hasn’t worked. However, whether Advocaat is the suitable candidate for the club may depend on Sunderland’s short-term and long-term objectives; as he would be unsuitable for one, but ideal for the other.
Looking at the grander idea of the club’s future, Dick Advocaat certainly won’t be in it. The Den Haag native, at 67, is the oldest manager in the Premier League, and has wrestled with retirement for years. He’s leaving the game, and he’s doing it soon.
Furthermore, there is the patience granted to Gus Poyet’s vision of a club ‘identity’. For 17 months the Uruguayan tried to install a philosophy that could be recognised from the youth teams to the senior squad. If the club sought to reintroduce some form of playing style unique to Sunderland again, then Dick Advocaat is probably not the coach to entrust such a project on.
However, if Sunderland is eager to embrace a short-term solution to the cyclic battles in relegation, then Dick Advocaat is the logical choice – if he’s given the funds. The £40m budget he believes Sunderland requires to progress is not a figure he’s fabricated on the spot; because if there’s one thing Advocaat is usually good with, it’s big investment.
The Dutchman’s most prolific managerial tenures have correlated with significant financial ventures. Advocaat’s treble-winning 1998/1999 season with Rangers FC came from funding that practically replaced the entire squad in one season. Similarly, Advocaat’s Gazprom-financed adventures in Russia brought about a whole new chapter in the history of FC Zenit Saint Petersburg. His Russian Premier League title win in 2007 began a tour of international trophy wins for the Tramps, including the 2007 UEFA Cup and 2008 UEFA Super Cup. He may not have had longevity at these clubs, but his short term successes were immense.
Of course, league domination is not on Sunderland’s agenda in 2015, but Dick Advocaat is a man who can follow the money and make the shrewd deals. It may also not be of any consequence to Sunderland that his past managerial achievements ended with some ill-feeling. Advocaat, despite his successes, has had a mild notorious record of bitter departures. At Rangers in particular, Advocaat was loathed by some Gers fans for stripping the SPL giant of its identity during its financial monopoly over the division.
Fortunately, for Advocaat, he is unlikely to encounter such a reaction from Black Cats supporters – many of whom are desperate for Chairman, Ellis Short to plunge some serious money into the transfer kitty. With the bumper pay packages from Sky and BT’s sports-broadcasting war looming, it’s become common knowledge that the money exists to do just that. The Premier League is about to become a financial hunting ground for the best talent in the world.
Should Sunderland enter the 2015/2016 season with the objective of financing itself out of a relegation battle, then it is important that Dick Advocaat be sold relentlessly on the opportunity to extend his stay for another year. He is one of few managers who can conduct his transfer dealings with the same expediency as he coaches his players. Heck, he’s already given Lee Congerton a list of potential targets even should he turn down an offer to stay on Wearside.
Or he could just retire. And if so, Advocaat will leave management on a high; having introduced himself to a national league by entering a final hour relegation dogfight, and salvaged Sunderland with a game to spare. It’s a truly special story in football management.
Should Dick Advocaat refuse Sunderland’s offer, he will avoid the risk of exposing any unforeseen flaws in his managerial ways, and instead be appreciated by the club for years to come.
Alternatively, should Ellis Short already have both thumbs up on a summer spending spree, Dick Advocaat is the one manager who the Chairman can afford to gamble his money on. And if he does that, the club can have confidence that the cycle of relegation battles will come to an end under Advocaat’s watch.
Maybe then, his short-term impact could have a long-term influence at Sunderland after all.