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Premier League Instability: When Did It Begin?

Sunderland's greatest hope is that Sam Allardyce can be the man that will finally end the era of Premier League struggle, but where it did all begin?

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Sam Allardyce is set to take charge of his first pre-season as Sunderland manager having joined the club back in October 2015. Big Sam is the latest in a string of names to have felt the pressure of the Sunderland manager position in recent years, however, Allardyce will be hoping that he can bring an air of stability under his stewardship.

Since Sunderland’s return to the top flight in English football back in 2007, a staggering ten managers in nine years have taken charge of the club. Aside from one tenth place finish in 2011 under Steve Bruce, Sunderland have flirted with relegation annually and have seen more managerial casualties than any other Premier League team in the same time frame.

Following the resignation of ‘long term’ manager Roy Keane in December of 2008, Sunderland’s ongoing period of instability began.

The Sunderland squad did not appreciate Keane’s strict managerial style at the time, however, Keane later spoke of his decision to resign stemming from his differences with Niall Quinn and Ellis Short. It was a disappointing end to what was a relatively successful time at the club in which Keane lifted the Championship trophy and helped Sunderland AFC stay up the following year, only for his third and final year at the club to be cut short, leaving after exactly one-hundred games in charge.

Ricky Sbragia took temporary charge for the rest of the 2008/2009 campaign. The former Sunderland scout managed to keep Sunderland up again by the skin of their teeth on the final day of the Premier League season, which saw rivals Newcastle relegated. Sbragia, like Keane before him, decided to resign from the role of Sunderland head coach. He did not see himself as a manager and stepped down just six months after taking charge and resumed his role as a scout at the club.

Ex-Manchester United defender Steve Bruce was next to take charge of Sunderland, arriving from Wigan Athletic in June of 2009, signing a three-year contract, which would later be extended by a further 3 years in February 2011. Bruce’s time in charge was backed by big investment from owner Ellis Short, with players coming through the door such as Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and Lee Cattermole. Despite increased hostility from the Stadium of Light crowd towards the end of Bruce’s reign, his time on Wearside saw Sunderland record their two highest top flight finishes of 13th and 10th place in the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 seasons.

Bruce was sacked by Sunderland on 30th November 2011 following a 2-1 home defeat to former club Wigan Athletic. Unfortunately, problems had occurred many months prior to this. Top scorer Darren Bent’s big money move to Aston Villa in January and the lack of reinvestment after this was perhaps the biggest mistake of Bruce’s reign.

Eric Black took charge of one game after Bruce’s departure, a 2-1 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, watched by future manager Martin O’Neill. The Irishman was the manager Sunderland fans had wanted to see at the helm for many years, eventually it became a reality in December of 2011 when O’Neill penned a three-year contract with his boyhood club.

Sunderland began to improve dramatically with four wins from his first six games, and a thirteenth place finish was confirmed at the end of the 2011/2012 season. That summer O’Neill signed long term targets Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson in order to push for a top ten finish.

All good things must come to an end, however, as a season of inconsistency followed with O’Neill staying at the club until March 30th, 2013, when he was sacked following a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United left Sunderland just 1 point above the relegation zone. O’Neill’s negative tactics, lack of ‘Plan B’ and an uncharacteristic lack of passion condemned his final season. This led to a growth in frustration from the fans and board who were forced to axe O’Neill with seven games to play.

Only one day after the sacking of Martin O’Neill, Paolo Di Canio penned a two-and-a-half-year contract under a mist of controversy due to Paolo’s past political statements; so much so that vice-chairman David Miliband resigned. Di Canio managed to tally seven points from his seven games in charge in the 2012/2013 season, including the first of six consecutive Derby wins against Newcastle United. Di Canio lasted five games of the next season, failing to win any of those games following a summer of reckless buying and selling. Di Canio had lost the majority of his games in charge alongside all of his dressing room. His Sunderland career was cut short after just thirty games in charge.

Club legend Kevin Ball took temporary charge for three matches, before Gus Poyet was appointed on October 8th, 2013. A League Cup final appearance, three consecutive derby wins and ‘The Great Escape’ were the highlights of what was a very eventful seventeen months in charge for Poyet. Sacked on March 16th, 2015, Poyet left Sunderland one point above the relegation zone with only 14 wins from 60 Premier League matches in charge. Poyet had tried to get Sunderland playing a passing style of football, but with the poor calibre of player at his disposal and his inept tactics the team fell short of expectations and subsequently cost Poyet his job.

Dick Advocaat was the third man in three seasons left with the gruelling task to try and save Sunderland. Amazingly, he achieved this with one game to spare picking up 12 points from nine games. This left him with the best win ratio of any Sunderland manager in the top flight since Peter Reid with 33.33%. Unfortunately, Sunderland were initially unable to convince Advocaat to stay but the Dutchman made a dramatic U-turn last summer, signing a one-year deal at the Stadium of Light. The 68-year-old had a monumental task at hand to do what his predecessors could not, and it proved even too much for the experienced Dutchman who resigned after eight games last season.

Sam Alladryce took charge back in October 2015 with the task of turning Sunderland’s season around and yet again trying to keep the club in the league. Last season was perhaps the toughest battle to date. We were battling against Premier League proven sides such as Newcastle United and Aston Villa, and yet again we came out on top. A superb January transfer window from the experienced Allardyce was the turning point.

The deadwood such as Danny Graham, Sebastian Coates and Steven Fletcher were shipped out, and were replaced by quality players in Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff. Big Sam has captured the hearts of the Sunderland fans and squad and will be looking to push on next season, however, I’m sure the Black Cats have been in this situation before.

It is difficult to say where our problems lie when it comes to achieving stability. Is it the players? For the past eight years, the turnover in personnel in the Sunderland squad has been astronomical. For the last few seasons, the same players have been the spine of the team, such as John O’Shea, Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher and, for the most part, their performances have been poor. With the latter two now away from the club, hopefully Allardyce can bring in fresh and hungry players who actually improve our squad and firmly establish Sunderland as a Premier League side that don't just fight relegation.