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Black Cats Analects: Follow The Leader

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Progress is slow but David Moyes is in it for the long haul, writes Simon Fenton.

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David Moyes is the most de-motivational, found-out fraud of a manager in the history of Sunderland AFC, with nonsensical tactical adaptability and an interview style akin to eating anaemic toast.  In nine matches, he has single-handedly relegated this club and so he must go.

If you've been thinking that since 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon, then congratulations, you're part of the very long-term problem that David Moyes is here to provide the long-term solution for.

Okay, look, there's no head in the sand here.  Two points from nine matches is utterly deplorable.  You know that.  I know that.  David Moyes knows that.  Ellis Short knows that.  We all know exactly what this is because we've all been here before, more than once.  Hell, more than twice! In fact, this would be our sixth incarnation of relegation drama since 2009! This is familiar ground for us.

And now, inevitably, we're back to that familiar phrase, #(insertmanagerhere)out.  We've reverted back to freely throwing out calls for our manager's dismissal (again), which means -€” should it happen -€” we will have to opt for the short-term quick-fix approach to salvage our season (again).

Has nobody thought yet that this is the elusive core of our problems everyone talks about?

Think back, with hindsight, to the circumstances at play when Ellis Short swung the axe on Steve Bruce, or Martin O'Neill, or Gus Poyet.  You'd give anything to have their situations back again! But no, at the time, supporters blasphemed Bruce out of the Stadium of Light, shrugged when O'Neill got the boot, and booed Poyet out of the club altogether.  You cannot deny that the call of the supporters had some sway in our Chairman's decision to dismiss these men.  We wanted it.

But now, five years and seven managers later, for getting our wish with these managerial departures, we are left with a club that has been surviving way beyond its designated borrowed time.  It is only by the luck of having three weaker teams to compete against that we have been able to remain in the Premier League.  But now, can we confidently identify three clubs on its knees more than us this season? Maybe Hull City.  Maybe Middlesbrough.

Now combine that with our pick n' mix squad, brought together from years of different managerial ideologies, tactical approaches and philosophies, and is it any wonder why, finally, we look like a club that can no longer compete in the Premier League?

Oh, and before anybody suggests that Sam Allardyce would have seen us right, don't be so sure about that.  For starters, what did Sam Allardyce do that Gus Poyet didn't do already (with a cup final included)? Yeah, Big Sam brought about an eventual spell of good form after months of frustration; and yeah, he also saw us to safety in the final week of the season.  But did we not already have a ‘Great Escape' that included wins over Manchester United and Chelsea?

Don't go confusing short-term romanticism with better management.  Allardyce was just the manager who left on a high.  Nobody can say, for certain, that he would have continued where he left off.  We just don't know, like we just don't know if we are going to even be relegated this season at all.  We can only assume.

What we do know is that there has been a half-decade-long problem at this club, and David Moyes has been recruited as the equally long-term resolution.  And there really is nobody more suited to this responsibility than him.

Think about it.  It was only four years ago when we and other clubs' supporters looked at Everton with genuine envy.  Moyes was well-established as one of the most reliable and respected managers in the country and had built a strong team regularly striving for European competition.  But this achievement was only provided off the patience and trust of those above him; those who stuck by Moyes in those struggling earlier months at the Toffees, as he built and developed those teams later capable of beating anybody in the Premier League.

And yet, here we are, actually despairing so much over just nine matches that some fans are openly accepting relegation to the point of discussing the advantages of it.  They're right too, to an extent.  The Championship does have some framework down there to rebuild a squad.  It's a brutal fact to bring up, but seeing Newcastle United thrive in unity down in that inferior division gives credibility to the benefits of the drop.  It's a sad thing to even think that.

But, deep down, nobody really wants that.  And this is where we have conflict.  Should we cut the manager off again because it's worked before? Do we ditch Moyes now when there's still another 87 points to play for, under half of which we realistically need to stay in a league that Moyes is very familiar with?

No, absolutely not.  That would be the dumbest decision we could possibly see happen.

Because the argument, at least here, is that we should finally just embrace continuity and trust in the management.  What if Steve Bruce hadn't been sacked and went on to guide us to become a competitive mid-table club? What if Gus Poyet had found that ‘identity' he nearly lost his mind in search of, and supervised an innovative playing style that caught the interest of players we previously could never have obtained? We never get to find these things out because football is too fickly monopolised to trust in people when the purple patches drop-arse.

That can't happen again.  Not here, not for the fourth-most experienced manager in this league.  We need to be more respectful than that and more tolerant.  David Moyes is not a young up-start blindly trying to stamp his methods onto another manager's players.  He is searching for the balance, and that takes time; just as it took Sam Allardyce three months and one winter transfer window to do.  The least we can do is give Moyes that same time.

So then, does that mean we blindly follow him into a potential relegation?

Yes.

But not into some predetermined relegation.  No supporter should be conditioned into accepting relegation and still be expected to pay a ticket price.  Besides, our Chairman has invested too much into the club to make a sudden loss over it, and whimpering out of the EPL would be the death-nail in David Moyes' career.  Nobody is pushing for it.

Instead, this is about, quite simply, keeping the faith.  This season was meant for Sam Allardyce but that's over now.  Moyes, for his experience and proven long-term reliability, was and still is the logical successor.  We needed a manager capable of evolving a team, not just creating immediate and temporary change.  David Moyes is that manager; one who knows the league, knows the market, and knows the potential of talent.

Yes, the potential of talent.  Look beyond the downside of Paddy McNair and see how Moyes' vision going forward is apparent in his transfer dealings.  With only twenty-or-so days preparation before the season opener, Moyes went on to recruit McNair, Donald Love, Didier Ndong, Javier Manquillo, Adnan Januzaj and Jason Denayer; whilst also utilising Lynden Gooch and Duncan Watmore in the first team.  Their common ground: all are 22 years old or under.

Maybe you don't rate all of them right now, and that's fair.  That's the point.  They're young and they'll develop.  It's not as if we all loved Younès Kaboul when he captained himself into a red card at AFC Bournemouth last season.  All players deserve to be given time to find their footing here.  Besides, Moyes has had little choice but to throw most of these intended-squad players into the deep end, with the likes of Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Fabio Borini out injured.

That all said, to explain isn't to excuse.  The plain truth is that so long as David Moyes is the man who built and developed a strong Everton squad, unspectacular stability is always going to be the minimum expected of him here.  And if we don't have that, then we don't think of David Moyes as the former Everton manager, but David Moyes as the failed manager of Manchester United and Real Sociedad.

And right now, no, we don't have stability at all.  You can argue that Allardyce had already accomplished this, but with one of his two central defenders gone, how sure can we be that this would have continued? It will take time for that good form to return.  The setup is working only for as long as the players can concentrate for ninety minutes.  Immediately conceding after scoring a goal and defenders miss-kicking the air is down to the players -€” you can't teach them these basics, they should already know.  Once these issues are addressed, progress will come.

But consistency itself is not a short-term commodity, and is not founded by one manager in one season.  Patience and time is imperative if we want to see this.

Remember, experienced managers have failed here.  Inexperienced managers have failed here.  Big money signings have failed here.  Young, raw talent full of potential have failed here.  Best intentions and ambitious ideas have crumbled.  Too often have we seen such things cut adrift and deemed failures before being truly allowed to develop.  Is that not the long-standing problem?

Bad starts happen.  This isn't our first and won't be our last.  Look at Stoke City, by their standards, of where they are in this league today.  Look at West Ham United.  Look at Swansea City -€” a club widely celebrated for being so efficient at navigating this league inside out.  It happens, we're having a bad start.  We've seen us capitulate against Everton, drop a lead against Crystal Palace, and now be harshly dealt a last-second blow this weekend.

But then, we've seen this before anyway, under every manager prior.  It happens.

There are two perspectives on David Moyes.  Either he is the manager who was unceremoniously dismissed twice during short-term runs, or he is the manager who went the distance for nearly a decade and turned a relegation-struggling side into European contenders.  The difference between these two perspectives is longevity.  But the evidence is in just that: put David Moyes in a job for the long haul, and progress may be slow, but his record proves he will build a competitive team in time.

The rest is down to your own patience.