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Chris Coleman's career has been building to Sunderland job; leadership, style & lessons learnt

Chris Coleman’s career to this point has been an unbelievable learning experience that stands him in good stead now that he’s taken on the task of being manager of Sunderland.

Fulham v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Simon Grayson is an authentic guy - his interests were genuine and his desires for the club were honest.

For a number of reasons he could not motivate the team or impose his ideals and strategies upon a set of players who had been perennial defeatists at Sunderland and either injury prone under-achievers or unwanted elsewhere.

It’s a tough ask for any middle of the road manager to come in and lift a group of professional players who have a mentality permanently stuck on the default setting of ‘loser.’

Sports coach analyst and four-times Olympian Bo Hanson, who works with sports coaches and teams all over the world consulting on performance and psychology, explains:

When losing becomes the norm you can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. To restructure an endemic losing mentality takes character, from the coach and the players. Character and accountability. Without either, your results won’t improve.

Sadly for Grayson he neither changed his philosophy enough to cease a losing run, or his character was not big enough on this occasion to restructure the mentality of a falling giant.

Brentford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

I had championed bright young coach, Paul Heckingbottom, but there is no disagreeing that the coup of Chris Coleman marks a visible, tangible shift in character and attitude.

He reminds me of a young Sam Allardyce, but with way better hair conditioner. He has that undeniable sense of unbreakable self-confidence and self- assurance that Big Sam possesses - which is why Sam is always in demand and gained a savvy and somewhat unwanted (by him) reputation of pulling broken football clubs out of the mire.

When Coleman was captain at Fulham, even as a player, he had that spark, that difficult to quantify ‘oomph’ that differentiates leaders from those that are led.

After sharing the same dressing room in West London, Louis Saha, responded to the question of whether Coleman would make a good manager:

Even as Captain, when he (Coleman) spoke everyone stopped and listened.

Louis Saha

In fact, the French striker, who later transferred to Manchester United for £12.4m, further explained:

I have not come across someone like Coleman who as a player had that much authority.

Of course, he hadn’t played with Roy Keane yet.

But in the vein of Keano, Coleman comes into Sunderland with the club in a similar position- at the southern end of the championship and appearing we may yet drop further down the football pyramid.

Keane’s sheer will and magnetic character, mixed with a little intimidation and frank accountability, dragged Sunderland out of their losing slumber and led us back to the dignity of the Premier League.

From first viewings it seems Coleman, as confirmed by Saha, has the same hardy steel that runs through his blood stream. But what of Coleman’s previous managements posts? What can we learn from his style of man management, his approach to football as a philosophy, his achievements?

Jean Tigana, Mohamed Al-Fayed

After guiding Fulham back into the Premier League, Jean Tigana’s men then embarked on a catastrophic run of consecutive defeats and the over inflated fees he’d paid on flops such as Steve Marlet - who lets be honest was no Lilian Laslandes - came back to haunt Tigana. He lost his job and gained a reputation for wasting money.

After a brief spell as caretaker in April 2003, Coleman was appointed on a permanent basis in May. This resulted in Coleman becoming the youngest manager in the Barclays Premier League.

This did not frighten or deter him. Despite a lack of experience and the intense nature of the Premiership, it only served to invigorate the youthful captain of his own ship. As Mick Foley, WWE alumni would say, ‘the man’s got testicular fortitude.’

In his first full season, where the drop seemed a formality rather than a possibility and Coleman and Fulham finished a surprising 9th- at the time their highest ever league position. That same season where pundits were writing them off, Coleman guided Fulham to the FA Cup quarter finals.

Fulham v Wimbledon

With Fulham owner Mohammed Al Fayed tightening the purse strings after Tigana’s spending spree, and therefore with restricted resources, Coleman guided Fulham to a respectable mid table position of 13th in 2004/05 and followed that the season after with an improved 12th position.

But, Fulham’s owner tightened the budget further and subsequently, Coleman’s top players and leaders were sold to balance the books.

So Edwin Van der Sar, Steed Malbranque and Louis Saha all went the journey. His style of play began to wobble too and defensive grit replaced the artistry that left.

Sadly for Coleman, without adequate replacements, after a seven-game win-less run, he and Fulham - perhaps too urgently - went their separate ways in April 2007.

Of his style of play at Fulham, former Arsenal player and football pundit, Stuart Robson described Coleman’s Fulham as:

… hard-working and functional. They are a never say die bunch, who give it their all. There is a dash of panache with Steed Malbranque, but otherwise Coleman’s team is pragmatic rather than flashy.

Goodness. Imagine a team that was never say die?

Fulham v Arsenal Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images

Then came Real Sociedad, where Coleman found the internal politics of Spanish football difficult to bear. When the club President who brought him in was voted out, Coleman considered walking too. But, such was his status at the time (despite a well-publicised incident of late night revelry) that the directors and the new President Inaki Badiola begged him to stay on.

Sadly with the Spanish club President’s often calling the shots over player recruitment, Coleman - now unable to choose his own transfer targets - ultimately left Sociedad, with one or two regrets I’m sure.

But Spanish football paper La Marca, described Sociedad’s under Coleman as:

Constructive, strong and hard working.

Coleman then landed back in the UK at Coventry, a club beset by financial and ownership problems, and the spell did not go well on the pitch. Off the pitch, the local press, the players and fans liked the man.

They enjoyed his style of man-management, but he was unable to replicate it on the pitch.

Charlton Athletic v Coventry City Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

The Coventry Telegraph - who cover every Sky Blues game home and away - described the style of football as ‘powerless’, which was so unlike the physically strong, pragmatic teams of Coleman’s past. But despite the lack of success in the Midlands he is still highly thought of by many which is perhaps a mark of the man.

Years since his sacking the Coventry Telegraph still report him, a likable coach who didn’t hit the mark for them, but had better days ahead - and their positive words should encourage us:

He’s brilliant with people; charismatic, respectful, funny. At City he was, perhaps, too close to his players, too much of their mate rather than keeping his distance as their boss, but that can now be seen as a character-building bump in his road to becoming a national hero and future successful club manager.

I’m sure Coventry was a lesson learned. Indeed Coleman himself has amassed as much knowledge from his management lows, as he has from his highs. After Coventry he had a forgettable spell in the Greek second division, but the honest and refreshing attitude Coleman expresses as he reflects on his failures is impressive. No excuses.

If you get it wrong two jobs running it's hard to get that third one. I should have done better at Coventry. I was out of work for a year and I had to go to the second division in Greece. But I was determined to get better. Determined to change and improve.

Wales v Costa Rica - International Friendly Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

The character he showed replacing Gary Speed as Wales boss should not be understated either.

Not only had he lost a dear friend, he had to walk in a legend’s shoes and replicate the great work Speed had done as Wales boss. A weaker or less confident man would have hesitated, if not cast aside the opportunity altogether. But Coleman, like he did as a 33 year old rookie, took the daunting task and made it his own - in some style - not only qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in 53 years, but taking his unfancied team to the semi-finals.

Also remember the man’s age. While Sam Allardyce is lauded now as football’s ultimate troubleshooter, when he was Coleman’s age, he was also in the Championship trying to turn around a struggling Bolton team. Before that he’d managed Limerick Town and Notts County - hardly football’s leading lights. Indeed when Allardyce was managing Limerick he was 36. Coleman was managing in the Premier League and doing well by 33.

Wales v Belgium - Quarter Final: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

So, yes he’s had a couple of disappointing jobs, but it’s not what’s happened in those circumstances that will define him at Sunderland - it’s what those failures have taught him.

If you want to get better - work hard at management. When I decided to do everything I could to make myself better - and I had to make some serious choices - it made me improve. I have still got a lot more to do to improve, but I am a far better manager now than I was.

While Coleman’s footballing philosophy appears to be of one of practical improvement rather than silky artistry, no Sunderland supporter can be disappointed with his appointment as our boss.

We don’t need fancy-dans, we need a pragmatic togetherness, a unified bond of like-minded warriors, all fighting tooth and claw for one another and their willing disciples who howl them on.

And we need a charismatic leader so confident in his authority and ability, that his faithful soldiers follow him into battle.

We owe Martin Bain and Ellis Short nothing, but we must rally behind Coleman.

He’s worked hard to be here and deserves our support.

Would we have been dancing if a 47 year old Allardyce took us over after ignominious spells in Ireland and Notts County? But look at what he has become. Coleman could do the same and who knows what he can achieve. Let’s hope his club future is built at Sunderland.

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