From the moment Sunderland announced David Moyes as manager, they made a rod for their own back. After laying all the blame for our strife and struggles on the frequency of managerial sackings in the last six years, any kind of failure in the coming season was given a ready-made excuse.
And although frequent managerial changes have played a role in our financial strife, it does not tell the whole story of this season’s calamity.
For most of David Moyes’ reign, the club’s hierarchy have steadfastly defended his dreadful work on the pitch, by commending his long-term credentials. While results on the pitch have been terrible, Moyes’ career record and experience have placated a lot of the unrest, with constant managerial changes seen as the illness, current results the symptoms and Moyes the only known cure.
While this is an appealingly simplistic idea, it presents Moyes as a clinical solution to a fully diagnosed problem, incapable of agency and error. After all, if the medicine is not working, it cannot be the medicine’s fault. It must be the environment, the way it has been used or administered, or perhaps the illness is even worse than we thought and we just need a larger dose. Very rarely has anyone questioned, however, that there might be something wrong with the medicine.
By presenting Moyes as a cure - so long as he is given enough time - there has been little sceptical analysis regarding the way in which he has gone about his work. It is simply assumed that because he has done it at Everton, he will do it again if we let him. Therefore, every poor decision, tactical mistake, baffling statement or bad signing - which would be used to demonstrate the flaws of any other manager - is either long-term thinking, and cannot yet be judged, or not his fault because he’d prefer to have better players or a bigger budget.
According to this viewpoint, what we must therefore do is give him more money, allow him to sign more players and give him more time, even though his use of the time, transfers and money at his disposal have thus far been woeful.
It will be apparent to anyone familiar with logical argument, that you cannot beat an argument like this. It is constructed to be unfalsifiable, which is a logical fallacy. Every example that can demonstrate Moyes' incompetency, only further proves how much more we need him and how he needs more resources. This is not an honest way to argue, nor is it a good way to run a multi-million pound business. If we cannot judge his actions and every failure only intensifies our faith in his project, you’ve just abandoned the notion of personal responsibility on which most professions rely.
When Moyes first signed, owner and Chairman Ellis Short said:
The fact that David has committed to a four-year deal is a clear demonstration of his belief in what he can achieve here. It is our aim to become a better, stronger and more stable football club.
Martin Bain, Moyes’ biggest fan, has offered fairly frequent support for his ailing manager and reiterated constantly the need for Moyes to remain the manager long term.
There’s a great infrastructure here and a great platform. It just needs the right people to stick with the programme and try to move forward.
Bain went on to say:
Fundamentally, that experience, coupled with his longer-term approach to life (are important). I think he’s a builder… it’s apparent to everyone that we have a journey to embark upon here… we can’t change the past but we can certainly change the future.
However, the buzzwords, ‘long-term vision’ and ‘stability’ are not unique in managerial appointments at the top of English football. Nevertheless, these endorsements have continued to rear their head as the ultimate refutation to the suggestion that Sunderland should sack their beleaguered, disinterested and ineffective manager. After all, how could we go back on such statements?
To offer some perspective, when Swansea unveiled Bob Bradley as their manager in November 2016, their chairman Huw Jenkins said Bradley was a "long-term appointment who will stabilise matters on and off the pitch". Bob Bradley was sacked after two wins from eleven games, giving him a win percentage of 18%. David Moyes has a win percentage of 14%, while he also arrived before the season started and had the opportunity to make signings in two transfer windows. Bob Bradley had none of these benefits, thought he did oversee a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Moyes’ Sunderland.
Swansea reneged on their statement that Bradley was there for the long-term and have received little criticism for doing so. Most mainstream criticism only questioned why they’d appointed Bradley in the first place - a man who was universally and gratuitously derided by the mainstream media for his performance as manager.
David Moyes - boasting a worse win percentage - has enjoyed support from a majority of the media for most of the season, with his key defence being that he has had little money (actually around £35 million), only two transfer windows to work with, and that the real problem with Sunderland is not the manager, but that the club had changed managers too often. This is despite the fact that Swansea, who sacked ‘long term’ Bob Bradley with very little condemnation, have had five permanent managers in four and a half years.
In June 2015, Steve McClaren was given a three year contract by Newcastle United and a position on the club’s board of directors, such was their commitment to their choice. McClaren had already turned the job down when Newcastle were in relegation trouble with a handful of games remaining in the previous season, only accepting the job with Premier League survival secured. In other words, he didn’t believe he was the man to step in and keep Newcastle up. Sound familiar?
Last season, when one point in eight games led to Dick Advocaat’s resignation, David Moyes rejected the Sunderland job as he himself has admitted that he believed we were as good as relegated already. This is more alarming than McClaren’s insecurity, as Moyes would have had thirty games and a transfer window to make his mark. Such doubt in your own ability, especially considering another manager did take the job and then kept us up, was damning and made this seasons failures all the more predictable.
McClaren had a 21% win percentage at Newcastle, and though he had more money to spend than Moyes, the important thing to note is that Newcastle’s ambition when appointing McClaren was similarly about stability. But they - arguably belatedly - abandoned this admirable pursuit when they realised it is illogical to gaze fantastically into a Utopian future, when the building you’re in right now is falling down around you. Look at Newcastle now; promoted and united behind a manager the fans believe in. They are still looking long-term, but now it’s based on something tangible, not something that is merely fanciful.
We need to make a similar change.
Who cares if we've said Moyes is here long-term? Why should the fact that we have sacked managers before shield Moyes from responsibility? He could have had a positive influence on morale, or overseen minor organisational improvements that are perfectly achievable during the course of a season working with any squad. He has, thus far, achieved nothing even remotely positive or commendable.
Some journalists and fans believe sacking Moyes would make a mockery of the club, given what was said when he joined. People make mistakes, including those in charge of football clubs, and ultimately mistakes must be acknowledged and corrected. Just because we said at the beginning of the season that we were done making mistakes with managers, that does not make Short and Bain suddenly infallible.
The ambitions we had when Moyes joined were of course noble and correct, but while some may interpret Moyes being sacked as embarrassing, it should not be the priority of the club to spare the blushes of the Chief Executive and Chairman. In any case, Moyes has generated sufficient embarrassment for the club and the fans this season to make such worries rather moot, while his decisions, results and management of the squad have destabilised this club far more than sacking him now would.
We know from the examples of McClaren and Bradley, that people don’t really care about sacking a manager to whom a long-term endorsement was given, as long as the successor is an improvement. In Sunderland’s case, there is a massive question mark as to whether we can get the next appointment right, as those responsible have not demonstrated their ability to make consistently intelligent appointments. This is of course the difficult part. However, that is not a reason to continue with a doomed manager, nor for pretending there is no other manager who can, or would, undertake this job.
Why should we accept inadequacy and apathy as an inevitability? Why should we think so little of ourselves that - after a season of abject failure and surrender - we are the ones begging Moyes to stay? Why should we allow an embittered and negative has-been the opportunity to continue in a job that should inspire pride, but seems only to stir mournful resentment in him? In my opinion, this is the embarrassment. Every day he remains our manager is an insult.
I would like to see Sunderland target managers who are making a name for themselves in the lower leagues, who can unite and organise a squad, can work happily and proactively on a limited budget and who see the job as a privilege, not a curse. I think we will regret not appointing Gary Rowett as a our manager after his ludicrous sacking from Birmingham. However, we must look at managers both in and out of work, who are building careers for themselves, have momentum behind them and who would not treat their role at Sunderland as a step down. We need passion and ambition and that does not have to come from established Premier League managers. I would like to see us be willing to pay for the right manager, instead of only pursuing those we can secure for free and spending that money on an average player instead.
Admitting you’ve made a mistake and taking action to correct it is not something to be ashamed of. It is is far worse to refuse to admit your mistake and not take positive steps to correct it. It is time to correct your mistake Messrs. Short and Bain.
Sack Moyes and do it quickly.