With Walter Smith and Martin Bain locking in on a few specific targets now seems a good time to reflect on those we suspect will be interviewed and shortlisted.
Over the past 48 hours three men have separated themselves from the pack: Derek McInnes, Nigel Pearson and Simon Grayson. Three very different men with contrasting CV’s but also similarities that reflect badly on Sunderland brass and their approach to replacing David Moyes.
Three bastions of British football with Championship experience that have established themselves in the managerial pool unimaginative Championship chairmen will interview for vacant roles. One suspects Steve McClaren and Alan Pardew would be shorter on the odds list if not for their Tyneside connections. Paul Lambert - a manager of similar calibre - is also likely to interview, according to The Telegraph.
All the drips and drabs of information we have paints an extremely worrying picture. Ostensibly Sunderland appear to be lazily targeting the most obvious candidates for the managerial role. The flavour of the month in our Chief Executive’s homeland, the unremarkable safe pair of hands in our division and a man who’s popular by association due to his small role in a football miracle.
This differs from our peers with similar if not greater ambitions. Norwich City are trying to replicate the success of Huddersfield Town and David Wagner hiring Daniel Farke, the Borussia Dortmund reserve team head coach, as their main man. Hull City for the second appointment running are looking at bringing in a head coach with Champions League experience.
Given the higher potential salaries and visibility of English football, despite relegation Sunderland could still attract talent from abroad as we restructure, maddeningly we appear to have not even considered it. The top 20 betting favourites are ex or current Sunderland players, managers currently in British football or men who have previously coached in this country. All apart from leftfield 11th hour betting outsider Czeslaw Michniewicz. The ‘Polish Mourinho’ as Wikipedia calls him, has popped up as a bizarre 18-1 option on Sky Bet.
Also conspicuous by his absence is Paul Heckingbottom, a manager who’s made an excellent start to coaching at Barnsley, securing a mid-table finish with a limited squad assembled on a small budget. On top of working on a tight budget the 39 year old is acutely aware of the realities of seeing your best players get poached by richer teams, perfect practice for the Sunderland job.
I have specific concerns when it comes to Pearson. His aggressive conduct towards fans and journalists in his final season with Leicester City was hard to stomach. His one job since his dismissal from Leicester ended abruptly at Derby County. Given the great difficulty awaiting whoever takes on Sunderland’s giant overhaul. Do we really want a combustible manager who lasted just five months in his last term? Derby also have a plethora of high profile ex-Premier League players and some of the most lauded young talent in The Championship, their arguably a more promotion ready club. If he couldn’t motivate and succeed there can he really turn Sunderland around?
Fairly or unfairly of the main three candidates, Pearson reminds me the most of Moyes. In the way Moyes clung onto his Premier League win percentage when dismissing his role in our relegation. One could easily imagine Pearson smugly pointing to laying the foundations of Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League championship winning season, whilst we languish in the Championship relegation zone.
Grayson likely appeals to Bain and Short as a safe pair of hands, as a manager that’s never ruined a club. He failed to match ambitions at Leeds United and Huddersfield, but has overachieved with Preston North End and started Blackpool’s unlikely rise towards the Premier League. However whenever expectations have been raised he’s been sacked. For one reason or another he hasn’t shown a capacity to get a club into the Premier League. Given the Black Cats have been a top six club during their past five seasons in the second tier, the Yorkshireman feels unsuited. His scattergun loan dependent transfer policy at Leeds also lacked structure and clarity, something Sunderland must find with their manager.
For all the negatives and lack of imagination displayed in Smith and Bain’s manager search, we might still survive unscathed. McInnes, the most consistently linked man offers certain reasons for optimism. He’s currently coaching and succeeding at Aberdeen having restored the club to their rightful place among Scotland’s best. At just 45 he’s managed for ten years and reports in Scotland often describe a motivated, tactically astute, coach on the rise. As already discussed in previous Roker Report articles, the former Scotland international has succeeded north of the border despite a lack of transfer funds and a club owned training pitch. McInnes on paper at least would offer a remedy from the crippling negativity of Moyes we suffered last year. He feels like a coach on the up with his best days ahead of him. His early career struggles to establish Bristol City as a Championship club, means he has unfinished business in England. He’d come to the Stadium of Light with a point to prove.
If McInnes comes and can provide optimism and stability, ultimately Sunderland will survive this uncertain and indecisive manager hunt. However the lack of movement on other fronts is worrying on several levels. Our released list still hasn’t been finalised with conflicting reports emerging as to whether Moyes favourites Sebastian Larsson and John O’Shea will be re-signed.
Transfer season is well and truly underway throughout British football with sports pages filled with transfer rumours and the first few deals of the summer being finalised. Yet there’s silence on Wearside, with hardly any whispers and rumours of new arrivals filtering out of the Stadium of Light. It appears Bain and Short are once again leaving recruitment to one man despite years of evidence suggesting this not the best way to operate.
Even the hiring of Smith to offer advice on who should be appointed our next manager seemed an odd waste of money. When considering Bain’s remit is to cut costs for our debt ridden club. Not only has Smith not held a relevant managerial post in over a decade, his mere presence undermines the importance of our mysterious Chief Footballing Officer, Simon Wilson. The lack of outward progress in the weeks since Moyes’s departure not only draws new questions on what Wilson is actually doing, it also makes the presence of Rob Mackenzie baffling. Why hire someone on a short term basis for their transfer expertise, if you’re not going to use their knowledge and leave one man to sign and sell two thirds of a squad on his own.
Short addressed previous failures in player recruitment himself in his blasé statement apologising for relegation. So if he’s aware of the problem why is our American overlord allowing Bain to remake his mistakes from five years ago. Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill’s failures should have laid bare the risks of allowing a manager autonomy on transfers and that’s without acknowledging Moyes’ miserable activity in that department.
Sunderland’s lazy half-hearted approach to our summer rebuild has the club staring at further crisis. Only hiring a remarkable manager looks like stopping the club from heading further into freefall. Decisive action this week can slow the damage Bain and Short have done to our club.
Here’s hoping this week marks the start of the long process ahead, correcting previous mistakes that have left our great club without a manager and out of the elite.