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Michael Graham: “No quick fixes for sorry Sunderland”

“Unfortunately, there are just no quick fixes. The culture was eroded over time and it has to be rebuilt over time”, writes Michael Graham.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Right, we are in a right old pickle so let's thrash it out. I want to add my voice and a fresh opinion to the debate.

I'll be clear right off the bat, though. Nothing I'm going to say is being apologetic to anyone, and neither do I expect it to be popular. Believe me, I understand the anger. I feel the anger.

I had a season card last year and I have kept it for this. That means that, over the course of the last ten months since our last victory, I've spent £400 to specifically not see my team win.

Whether, then, you agree with me or not, I would just ask that you at least respect that this is an opinion that I have very much earned, regardless of how it compares to your own.

Where I'm coming at it differently than most is that I don't believe an individual can be blamed for all that is wrong with the club.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Don't get me wrong, I think mistakes have been made, big ones, and I don't seek to defend them.

The problem that I have with it is with blame-gaming in general is that it is wholly about the satisfaction of anger. In other words, someone has pi***d us off and we want them to suffer for it. That's fine - it's human nature - but it doesn't look forward and offer solutions to current problems, it looks back and offers satisfaction for past ones. And, frankly, I find that distracting from the real issues, which is what is happening now.

Because, honestly, I find it unrealistic to believe that all of the club's problems can be neatly wrapped up into one person and disappear with them. That's a fantasy we've been chasing for a long time.

The managers were the problem; the players were the problem; Margaret Byrne was the problem; the directors of football were the problem. All have gone. The problems remain.

In many ways, that above thinking is the very thing that is leading many to conclude that Ellis Short is the problem, and I can understand that. I just disagree with it.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Firstly, as I've mentioned, as much as I'd love to believe that it's as simple as just keep swinging the axe until it hacks down the right person, I just don't think it is.

Secondly, I don't think Ellis Short is at the club enough to be a bad influence. I don't think he's at the club enough to be a good influence either, but he's sort of influence-neutral, and looking at the problems we have I don't believe for one second it's caused by an absence of influence.

But more so than anything else, Ellis Short fits the pattern of people being affected by whatever it is at Sunderland rather than them affecting it.

We are, after all, talking about a very successful individual before Sunderland, yet can't seem to get it right here no matter what he does. How many managers does that describe over the years? How many players? It's a global issue, above Short himself.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Similarly, you could say the same for Simon Grayson. Had he been suffering a whole new set of problems, you could say he was creating them, but that's not the case. It's the same old issues, the same old problems. He's just caught up in them the same as the rest at the moment.

None of this is especially helpful, of course, neither in the satisfaction of anger nor attempting to pinpoint the problems the club face, but I do, like everyone else, have a theory.

For me, the issue isn't a person at all. It's a cultural thing. More specifically, it's an absence of culture at the club.

In footballing terms, a club is its culture. It's the standards that are unspokenly expected, the practices that are demanded, the group mentality, the team ethic, the sporting spirit, the will and hunger to compete. These are the things that form the bedrock for any successful football club.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League
The culture was eroded over time.
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

I don't see any of these things manifested on the pitch at Sunderland. No one helps each other out. No one does the basics as a matter of nature.

Often, nearly always in fact, the man in possession is abandoned to be challenged or forced into a backwards pass by teammates standing motionless next to their own markers, happy and safe in the knowledge they won't be getting the ball.

Often, nearly always in fact, players will watch a teammate press the opposition rather than go help him by cutting out the escape routes, rendering the initial press less than useless because it's merely served to pull a man out of position and open up space for them to exploit.

Often, nearly always in fact, players will stop and watch their own pass rather than make themselves available for the next, just apparently relieved to no longer have the ball.

This is just a few examples but there are so many. All of them are nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with attitude, and attitude is borne of culture.

Unfortunately, there are just no quick fixes. The culture was eroded over time and it has to be rebuilt over time.

I personally think there is no other solution than to commit to the long tough road and endure - and that's s**t. It's why my opinion on it tends to be so unpopular and I know it.

None of us should have to do it. As a club, we deserve so much better. But we'll only get out of it by dealing with the problem we have - the one with a sh***y and hard-to-endure solution - not the one we want with the quick and easy fix.

A horrible thought, but we are Sunderland. Horrible thoughts are just what we have to work with.

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