If being a Sunderland fan was about simply about winning games, we’d have all given up a long time ago. I had my first season ticket during the 19 points season, so I’ve known from pretty much day one that I don’t support a club that wins very often.
One thing I did come to realise during my formative years, however, is that I do support a club with pride, a one that even in it’s darkest hour still gives you something to hold on to. When Sunderland were relegated in 2005/06, setting a new record low points total of 15, you knew the players were crap but at least they looked bothered. Even Mick McCarthy did all he could on a limited budget (well, save for booting out Poom & Myhre in favour of Kelvin Davis, but that’s a debate for another day) and he had some good will in the bank after getting us back up on a shoestring.
Bob Murray’s stewardship of the club was also coming to end in the mid 2000s, so even though we’d been humiliated, we could see the dawning of a bright new day. That summer saw us hop on board Niall Quinn’s Magic Carpet where, along with Roy Keane, he took us to A Whole New World and pride was restored.
Therein lies the issue.
Under David Moyes, a manager who has Jeremy Corbyn levels of job security, it’s difficult to see how things can turn around. During Sunderland’s most recent spells in the Championship they’ve been reinvigorated by figures who’ve not only motivated the players but also got the fans to believe again. Since Moyes is a man who has constantly told us how terrible we are, why do many presume we’ll get happy, smiley, positive Davey once August rolls around?
Even if Martin Bain does give Moyes some happy pills in the summer, it will still be hard to repair a relationship between sections of fans who already want to see the back of a man who constantly looks like he’s been told he has to live in Marley Potts. So, if this is indeed a long term project, then we need to see evidence of it now. It’s no good going on about long term plans when you’ve just drawn 0-0 at home to Burnley and you haven’t scored a goal in four games.
The first thing Moyes could do is start sounding like he’s proud to manage the club, fighting our corner when talking to the press. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect him to say that we’ll be playing European football next season or anything, but how about giving it, somewhere approaching, the big ‘un? It doesn’t really fit in with the club’s Unity Is Strength marketing campaign when the man in charge is doing nothing to unite the fans, so even some ambitious positivity - talking about how we’re not even contemplating relegation, or talking about how we’re going to really get back level with the fans in order to have one more final push towards the end of the season - would be beneficial to both the supporters and the players. It might not end up proving to be true, but when the national media constantly make Sunderland the butt of their jokes, it would be nice to see our gaffer having our back.
Media handling has been an obvious issue for David Moyes since taking the Sunderland gig and his comments this week about ‘Britishness’, coupled with a disappointing result on Saturday, had even more supporters doubting whether he was up to the job. I’ve tried to think of a way to defend that comment, but I can’t. I can see where he’s coming from, that Irish Darron Gibson & Swedish Seb Larsson have experience in the Premier League and they can play in a “British” style, but so what? Didier Ndong is our best available midfielder and he has to play. We may have added some experience to the midfield on Saturday but we also got slow, ponderous, limp, uninspiring play and it was symbolic of Sunderland’s season.
The man obviously knows more about football than me or you but that comment is right out of the Howard Wilkinson “Big Book Of Batshit Banter.” Add to that the fact that Ndong (along with Wahbi Khazri & Papy Djilobodji) spent eons warming up on the touchline, it’s difficult to view Moyes as anything other than a man doubting himself, so how are us fans supposed to believe?
Nothing will change now, whether Moyes stays or goes. This is a club destined for the Championship but if things aren’t getting freshened up in the summer, then we need to take momentum into next season. Teams who go down with a whimper tend to carry that into the following campaign. Look at how Aston Villa are still struggling because they plummeted into the second tier, without reminding themselves that they can win games. Contrast that to Newcastle, who were unbeaten in their last six before succumbing to the drop. In Villa’s case, that made supporters fear the following season even more, where as Newcastle fans (after the initial humiliation had worn off), were looking forward to the new start because they’d been given some hope at the end of their Premier League tenure.
We don’t even need to rack up some wins to give us some impetus. If we can just start to see the team forging an identity and playing with a coherent plan, I for one will be much more comfortable about next season, regardless of division. That’s not asking for much and there’s a few simple ways that Moyes could be getting a tune out of the team. Ditching the 4-3-3 - a system we know doesn’t work without a target man - until Victor Anichebe is fit again and going back to the 3-5-1-1 that generated positive results against Crystal Palace & Tottenham would be a start.
One area I feel where Moyes is due some sympathy, however, is in the transfer market, where budget restrictions have tied his hands to some extent. Sunderland will have to sell to rebuild their squad, should they drop, but this is a rare occasion where they have at least a handful of valuable assets. Lamine Kone, Jordan Pickford & Wahbi Khazri should fund a shopping spree but Moyes has to operate cleverly. Building a squad for the Championship isn’t something the Glaswegian has had to do for a long, long time and he must try to recruit from outside of players he knows are ‘good lads’.
Bring in some exciting, unexpected players and the perception that Moyes is trying to get the old band back together with quickly be forgotten.
Most importantly though, David Moyes needs to remember what a good job he’s got. He is in change of a historic club, who still get over forty thousand through the gates, with a fantastic stadium, superb training facilities and there’s actually a few decent players in his squad. He also has three years left on his contract and a Chief Executive who is giving him his full backing. Not many managers can say that.
Moyes won’t ever get a better chance to rebuild his reputation than this one. Fail here and he’ll become yesterday’s man, another manager who was once promising but got left behind. An Owen Coyle, a Steve Coppell, an Aidy Boothroyd.
Succeed and he’s won against all odds. The media, who still think Sunderland are lucky to have a man like Moyes in first place, will herald him a genius once more.
Moyes might be annoyed that he’s gone from Manchester United to Sunderland in just two years but there’s a reason for that and we’re not entirely happy about the situation either. For better or for worse though, we’re stuck with each other, so it has to work. If he keeps losing the supporters at the alarming rate that he currently is, it will be his third managerial car crash in a row and those Everton days, which everyone uses as an excuse to give him time, will be long forgotten.
If Moyes wants to bring the pride back to Wearside, it’s time he started acting like he’s proud to be here.