When Paolo Di Canio was sacked as Sunderland manager in September 2013 the Sunderland Echo described the situation as “another fine mess”.
Fast forward almost four years and the phrase is equally as apt - in fact the Echo could have wheeled out the same headline after every managerial sacking or resignation since. But this fine mess is perhaps the most drastic since our last relegation in 2006. David Moyes’ self-serving, overdue resignation has made life unnecessarily hard for his successor.
Had Moyes shown a smidgen of dignity and resigned once our relegation was confirmed, a new manager would have had time to accurately assess the players at his disposal and been in a better position to cast judgement on players soon to be out of contract. Now, however, Moyes’ replacement will have limited time to draw up his plans for pre-season before undergoing a root and branch reform of our current playing staff.
The man likely to be saddled with this unenviable task is Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes. This in itself is not a problem because as a fanbase we must be realistic about the calibre of manager we can attract given our recent track record and financial state. In fact, the more I hear about him the more I am warming to the idea of the Scot being given the opportunity to rebuild the club. I like his seemingly bullish media persona, and the reported high pressing, direct style of football he has favoured at Aberdeen could be ideally suited to the Championship. It is also encouraging that he is used to working on a shoestring budget considering the financial mess we currently find ourselves.
But for all these positives, the way in which the club seem to be going about recruiting our new manager is ringing very familiar alarm bells.
As stated above, I would be relatively happy with McInnes if he was to be appointed, but as with every manager appointed by Ellis Short there have been overt reasons to be positive. Dick Advocaat arrived at the club with a highly impressive CV, yet even a small bit of research into his background would have shown that he was ultimately ill-suited to the Sunderland hot seat.
Throughout his career the Dutchman had often spent large sums of money in order to achieve success throughout Europe, and played an aggressive brand of attacking football which leaves a team hopelessly exposed at the back if you don’t have the right persons at your disposal to adopt such a system. Even David Moyes was initially a popular appointment, but ultimately proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Of course, I am talking with the benefit of hindsight, but we are making the same mistakes in recruiting managers as we have continuously made when signing players.
All too often we have signed players based on their reputation and short-term fan popularity rather than looking at how they will fit into a system. Jack Rodwell was signed for £10 million on the back of a promising early career at Everton and was considered something of a coup. But even at the time there were question marks over his suitability, is he a box to box player? Is he an attacking midfielder? Is he a ball winner? Ultimately, he has proven to be none of those things. Similarly, Fabio Borini was signed at the end of the August 2015 transfer window but has struggled to make any impact at all on his second spell on Wearside. Ironically, twelve months earlier he would have fitted perfectly into the left-sided attacker role favoured by Gus Poyet, but at the time he was signed he was not what we needed.
With managers, we have repeatedly made similar mistakes, particularly with the appointment of Moyes it appears that the club appointed him purely on his CV without considering his suitability for the club. It’s almost as if the hierarchy at the club receive a recommendation before quickly examining his past achievements and hastily making the appointment.
This is where I have an issue with McInnes’s potential appointment being made on the recommendation of Walter Smith. With respect to the former Rangers boss, does he really have an exhaustive knowledge of a range of prospective Sunderland managers? It would be much more refreshing to see an assortment of managers from a range of backgrounds being sounded out as Moyes’ successor rather than a man based primarily on Smith’s suggestions.
There could very well be an ideally suited candidate out there who we have never heard of. Marco Silva was a virtually unknown quantity in this country, but he won over the English media and almost pulled off a miracle escape with Hull City. Over the years the likes of Southampton and Swansea have also appointed a succession of managers who may not have been the obvious choice at the time, but have gone on to be successful - even if Swansea have struggled in the last twelve months.
It would also be good to see candidates placed under a higher level of scrutiny at the interview stage. With a lack of football knowledge to be found on the board itself, it is difficult to think of Martin Bain asking a series of pertinent questions about recruitment and styles of play. Therefore, we should be utilising the “football” people within the club. Men like Kevin Ball or recently appointed Simon Wilson should be tasked with scrutinising potential candidates. Ball in particular has a wealth of knowledge as to how the club is run, the expectations of the fans, as well as being an experienced coach himself.
Either by chance or design I hope that we do make the correct managerial appointment, but from the outside looking in it looks as though we will have to rely on the former if we are to return to the top flight anytime soon.