Ellis Short has handed David Moyes a four year contract, told him he was his number one choice, and had been for each of the last five occasions the panic button has been detonated at the Stadium of Light. Supporters have been unanimous in hailing the 53 year old Scot as the stand out candidate in an otherwise slightly terrifying field of Bruce, Martinez and absurdly, McClaren. Do we now conclude the decade as a strong performer under competent leadership? The signs are encouraging.
Sunderland of the last five years, minus some glimmers in the last few months, have been weak. Weak on the pitch, weak in the boardroom, weak in the profit and loss account, weak administratively, weak in footballing business and weak in the head. Sunderland are a club which has spent nigh on ten straight seasons in the Premier League, but never actually managed to operate as if it truly knew how to be there.
Sunderland’s weakness was, and still is, its own; and weakness is always provocative. Opponents, critics, shysters and chancers, all have been lining up to exploit Sunderland’s weakness. As someone famously said recently, weakness entices those with other motives into doing things they would otherwise not do. But, have we started to be strong again and to exert ourselves?
Sunderland are in a strong position, stronger than we have been for several years. Maybe not in the accounts, but that will be the goal by 2020. Building on this Sam Allardyce side is surely to come from a position of strength. We start the new season having only lost four games in 2016. In the final sixteen games of the season, Sunderland only conceded seventeen goals. That’s decent form, momentum maybe.
The Sunderland of July 2016 onwards seems to have rebooted itself. The statements emanating from the club over the dismal FA handling of the latest national managerial crisis were no-nonsense affairs, couched in a bold, decisive language.
Make no mistake, the FA since Roy Hodgson’s international humiliation, have been pathetic. It will not have gone unnoticed elsewhere how dismally self-serving this latest wishy-washy process has been. As I say, weakness is provocative and the three-man ditherers of the FA – Ashworth, Gill and Glenn, commence the Allardyce era as indecisive ‘suits’ with no apparent ability as the prominent decision makers in the game that they should be.
It simply did not occur to them the damage they might do to Sunderland and Hull by courting Allardyce and giving the illusion of courting Steve Bruce. In Hull’s case it all proved too much and Bruce has ditched the impending catastrophe on Humberside. Hull had been looking for buyer, with none forthcoming they begin their latest Premier League jaunt in utter disarray.
In Sunderland’s case, new CEO Martin Bain and Ellis Short have reasserted some credibility and strength by expressing anger and by omitting any thanks to departing boss Allardyce. The Byrne version of Sunderland would have wrung its hands and wondered what on earth to do. The Bain version all but expressed its fury and told Allardyce to close the door on his way out.
Perhaps, at last, this was a hint from Sunderland as a football club reflecting its supporters’ decade-long weariness with the England set-up which capitulated into abject disgust during the last two weeks. This is not a national football association which serves all of its members. It serves itself and the biggest clubs first; and only once it has stopped snuffling the trough does it consider the wider world.
As for Allardyce, hailed in some quarters as a sort of antidote to the establishment and a cure for the bland Eriksson, Capello and Hodgson player-power years, is he not as much a part of the problem as the solution. A self-serving genius who exploited England’s Euro 2016 failure he most probably is. And good luck to him. He did a good job at Sunderland and he leaves us in a far superior state to how he found us, with useful bits and bobs to build on.
But, Allardyce is a complex individual, full of ego and convoluted networks. How far he engineered this summer we will likely never know, but his friends made sure they got him this gig. The list of League Manager Association old boys, great and good – Ferguson et al, decreed that it was Big Sam’s turn for a top job. The national media lie in wait to punish him for such cronyism; and punish him they will. They have waited years to hack down the man who dared to antagonise them at club management level. Every cliché ever attributed to him will rain down at the next England hiccup.
So, to 2016/17 Sunderland march. In the next couple of weeks we will likely see some uncertainty. Some players will be linked with moves just because the manager has changed. Already names touted with "following Allardyce out of the door" have been Vito Mannone and Lamine Kone. Lazy links so far. Napoli for Mannone because they need a goalkeeper and have already done business with Sunderland for Giaccherini. West Brom for Kone because he’s a defender and Tony Pulis is incapable of signing anyone who isn’t a hulk. There is also excitement at who Moyes will bring in.
Sunderland is perhaps finding itself again and identifying its place in the Premier League. It is a club to be built on the great experience of its new, and now past, managers; who above all are capable of producing solid units. Ellis Short has proved himself slippery with managers and transfer budgets. It cannot be a coincidence that repeated managers have pondered why the cash they thought they had has not been forthcoming. Perhaps though, the owner has learnt and having landed a man he has supposedly long admired, will back him to build this great club into something worthy of its history and fan base with a vision to 2020.