The situation he walks into...
On May 11th 2016 Sunderland defeated Everton by three-goals-to-nil in front of a sell-out crowd at the Stadium of Light to secure their Premier League survival and condemn Newcastle to a season in the Championship.
A cauldron of noise boomed as the lads proceeded in their lap of appreciation and Big Sam treated us to his best Hulk Hogan impersonation just like ya drunk Uncle at a wedding dance. In that moment, there was a real togetherness around the place. A buzz. An almost indescribable feeling of joy and hope for the future.
Fast forward thirteen months and the reality is very different. We’ve endured a year of demoralising defeats, the fan base is disillusioned with both on and off field matters and the club seems to have had its soul ripped out.
So, it’s easy to see why the initial reaction to Simon Grayson’s appointment wasn’t initially met with much fanfare. Especially given that his arrival was synonymous with the news that Ellis Short would remain the club’s owner.
After last season’s struggles, many were keen for a fresh start which would bring momentum at the start of the new campaign. Would the German owners be a success? Who knows? Would they appoint a German manager with a new recruitment strategy? Who knows? But the change would have given fans a short-term morale boost and a journey into the unknown would have generated a bit of excitement and helped blow off the relegation cobwebs.
Grayson does not overtly provide such a lift, but there is still a lot of encouragement to take from the straight-talking Yorkshireman.
I’m not saying that the appointment of Simon Grayson will reinstate levels of euphoria felt just over 12 months ago, but he can go some way to slowly healing the wounds left behind by the 16/17 season.
He's not David Moyes...
The fact he’s not David Moyes is an automatic advantage for Grayson. The Scot spent a year telling anyone who would listen that Sunderland were a hopeless case and we should expect little different because we’ve been under-performing for years.
Essentially, he was the football manager equivalent of taking over a struggling GCSE English Literature class, giving them The Very Hungry Caterpillar to read every day in class before tearing their homework to shreds, telling them they would amount to nothing and then refusing to take any of the blame for the collective failing of the group.
Contrast this to Grayson who, while acknowledging the limitations of what he must work with, sees it as an exciting challenge rather than an impossible task.
In his first press conference as Sunderland boss, the former Preston manager opted for a little Moyes-style realism but tempered it with sufficient hope to ensure fans could get a little intrigued about his signings to come; “We won’t have the top budget in the league but not the bottom one. It will be a realistic budget". The man who preceded him would have have cut that sentence after the first six words in truth.
Grayson went on to outline what we can expect with his transfer dealings; “you don’t need household names.” Again, totally different to his predecessor who constantly bemoaned a lack of quality, his plague of injuries, a lack of transfer budget and generally rallied anything he could to distance himself from the Sunderland's problems. And for a red-and-white support jaded by second-rate highly paid players using the club as little more than a salary boost, those words were nectar to the ears.
The enthusiasm of the new gaffer is very pleasing, with Grayson describing Sunderland succinctly as “A proper club with proper people and that’s why I’m here.” He also talked at length about the working-class nature of the city and appreciating the size of the football club, describing Sunderland as a big attraction.
From a supporters' perspective it is pleasing to hear Sunderland being talked up for a change and it is a nice reminder that although our club is far from perfect we should still be proud of it and we are a big football club, particularly at Championship level.
For far too long now both players and managers have seen Sunderland as a step down and feel as though they are almost doing us a favour by being at the club. But hopefully that is about to change; Grayson has already stressed the importance of signing the right characters and not just signing players who want to be here for the money. Not a huge step necessarily but certainly a welcome one.
Time to reboot Sunderland...
I must stress that despite all this I do have reservations about Grayson and whether he can succeed at Sunderland but for the above reasons I feel there are grounds to be optimistic.
We may not be seeing a German revolution on Wearside, but moreover a quiet progression where the supporters and the club can begin to feel more unified and stronger as a result.
The former Preston boss has explained that he is already working on transfer targets and will be starting the recruitment process as soon as possible.
After a horrific last year or so we now have a manager who sees it as a genuine privilege to be here, has a genuine transfer strategy in mind and is prepared to work in challenging circumstances.
Whether or not he will be a long-term success remains to be seen but the more I read and hear about Grayson the more enthused I become about the new season and now more than ever is a time where we need the whole club to be united from top to bottom and if the players produce levels of commitment preached by the new man in charge we may just have a club to be proud of again.