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Michael Graham: No excuses, cop-outs, scapegoats; Coleman’s Sunderland already feels different

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No excuses, no cop-outs, no scapegoats. Ninety minutes at the Stadium of Light was all it took Coleman to figure out the cancer at this club and administer the first dose of treatment. 

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It’s an odd statement to make as your team sits bottom of the Championship table in January, but there has been a refreshing and welcomed change at Sunderland in recent weeks.

It’s not results, obviously, although they have improved in fairness. Sunderland may be bottom of the pile right now, but they’re also more involved in the battle than at any other point this season.

The change hasn’t really been performances either. The same old mental weaknesses have been evident, as have the ensuing on-pitch surrenders.

However, what has stopped - and it’s long overdue - are the excuses. This club has been excusing itself for producing total and wholly unacceptable rubbish for literally years.

A referee decision, injuries, fatigue, ‘bad apples’, managers quitting, poor appointments, geography, unkind groups of fixtures, not spending enough money, Jack Rodwell... literally anything and anyone that could be blamed for abject and cowardly and usually downright unprofessional crap on the pitch has been - and it’s not been the useful analytical kind of blame, it’s been the ‘wash our hands of it, don’t moan at us’ cheap dismissive type of blame that solves absolutely nothing.

Sunderland Players Return for the Start of Pre-Season Training Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

No more, it seems. Since Chris Coleman arrived there is a fresh strength at the top of the club. You can feel it, and so you can believe in it.

He set his stall out following the 3-1 home defeat to Reading.

It would have been easy to blame Callum McManaman’s stupid red card on the referee, but that wasn’t the message from the manager.

I’m disappointed with Callum. I thought he was just going to head it.

When we have looked at it, he got contact from behind and I am not sure whether his hand goes up or he is going up with his hand anyway, it is hard to see.

It’s tough for the referee then, but he thinks it’s a handball.

And McManaman wasn’t just told about accountability either. He wasn’t just the latest in the long line of excuses. He was shown, set an example to follow by his manager.

I’m not even going to say, ‘before I was here’ or anything like that. I’ve been here, I’ve had one game and I’ve fallen flat on my face.

This is me today, no points, that’s my responsibility.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - FA Cup - Third Round - Riverside Stadium
No excuses.
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

No excuses, no cop-outs, no scapegoats. Ninety minutes at the Stadium of Light was all it took Coleman to figure out the cancer at this club and administer the first dose of treatment.

Of course, the problem is that there is no quick cure for the ailments the club has. That’s why I’m kind of more patient than most with the club’s stance on spending right now.

You almost have to take money out of the equation as a motivating factor to players to detox them, get them here for the right reasons and have no doubts about it.

Right now, anyone coming into a club with the likes of Jack Rodwell, Lamine Kone, and, apparently, Didier Ndong happily sucking it dry from the inside are likely to fall under that influence themselves rather than change anything for the better.

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland is a contaminated squad so until that contamination is neutralised, you’re not going to be able to rebuild as anything it touches will just go bad too. We’ve seen that in action in front of our eyes for literally years now.

But now is, without question, the time to make a stand, and Coleman is the man with which to make a stand. Now is the time the club must reclaim its destiny from the squatters and leeches who currently occupy it and have dragged it into disrepair.

It won’t be easy and it definitely won’t be quick, but by calling out the injury-fakers, by giving amateur defending the public shaming it deserves, by holding players accountable... by putting a definitive end to the excuses, Coleman has already got further than anyone else who isn’t called Sam Allardyce.

Where the likes of David Moyes, Dick Advocaat and Gus Poyet saw the problems being in what the club didn’t have and moaned about not having the money to fix it, Coleman has seen that the problems lie almost entirely in what the club does have - i.e. its culture, its habits, its attitudes, and he looks like he’s very much on top of starting to fix it.