For the first time in a very long time, there was something different about the optimism and excitement of a pre-season. Although we’ve made a habit of finishing the last few seasons ridiculously strongly, everything about the way BSA orchestrated the business end of last season screamed organistation, rigidity and ultimately direction. The optimism didn’t seem as blind or as futile.
As much as it pains me to say it, Sam Allardyce is by far the best English candidate for the England job (I personally think England should go for a foreign boss, namely Klinsmann, as their first choice, but that’s a story for another day). International football is much more measured, often a battle of attrition where grinding out results is paramount, as Portugal have recently displayed under some very wily stewardship. BSA has proven consistently over his career that he is capable of setting up a side to beat much more gifted opponents. He has always picked players on form, and meticulously discovers his best XI. The spirit and fight he instilled at the business end of the season often trumped the superior skill of the opposition.
When the club released their ‘club comment’ on Wednesday, the tone was strong, but the overbearing mood was that Sunderland expect Allardyce to take the job if and when offered, and wanted the FA to sort it as quickly as possible in order to avoid any more damage to our pre-season plans.
Allardyce is clearly popular with the current crop of Sunderland players. Following his arrival at the club, he improved the performances of most players wearing red and white last season. The likes of Patrick van Aanholt, who was quite frankly abhorrent at the back end of 2015, and DeAndre Yedlin in particular were transformed under him. Any manager who can inspire a squad of players to produce the way we did at the back-end of the season must be highly regarded by his players. They believed in his methods and bought into them. The results spoke for themselves.
With rumours emerging that coaches have called players in for a meeting upon their return from Austria to be told BSA is the FA’s first choice, it does seem as if the writing is on the wall, and the players will no doubt have their pre-season optimism eroded as a consequence. For the longer serving players such as John O'Shea, Seb Larsson and Lee Cattermole who haven’t come across such stability in their Sunderland careers, it must be particularly painful. The more optimistic mood that must be in place around the camp would have been refreshing for the likes of them, and the shadow that has appeared over the pre-season plans will be chipping away at their morale.
Despite the heroics of last season, you’ll be hard pushed to find a Sunderland fan, or a football fan for that matter, who will tell you we don’t need to strengthen. An attacking midfielder, a full-back, a forward capable of playing from wide and retaining Yann M’Vila are generally considered the areas that need particular attention, and there’s no doubt the current situation has affected our lack of success on these fronts. If reports from The Sun are to be believed, BSA has been working on transfer business since his interview with David Gill having decided not to fly back to Austria, but players are surely going to think twice before agreeing to join a side with uncertainty over who will be managing the club a month before the start of the season. Players such as Diafra Sakho, who BSA identified early on as a top target, obviously wants to play for Sam again as much as Sam wants him at his disposal once more. His willingness to make the switch will surely hinge on Allardyce.
The Sun also mention in today’s report that the FA want to speak to Jurgen Klinsmann before making their final decision, but it is imperative that they don’t hang around making it. If the FA had any respect for Sunderland as a football club that they represent, they would put this to bed as quickly as possible.
I think by now most fans are braced for the eventuality of BSA taking the England job. Call it a poisoned chalice all you like, but I wouldn’t think any less of him. It’s an opportunity to manage his country, and a less intense schedule for a man now in his sixties. He is the main reason we’re still a Premier League side, and I will always thank him unreservedly for that.
David Moyes is the bookies favourite to take over from him, and I think Ellis Short must go all out to get him. Sunderland need a manager that is capable of improving players first and foremost, getting the absolute best from them and getting results that others couldn’t. I have no doubt he would be the best fit for the job from the candidates mooted. Appointing Moyes would also, crucially, would be a more seamless transition in terms of personality, style and experience.
But yes, once again there’s a large, black, rain-filled cloud hanging over our pre-season plans. Decisions need to be made as quickly as possible before it starts bucketing down.