Chris Coleman’s appointment as Sunderland manager was a bit of a coup, let’s face it. Who'd have thought that Martin Bain would pull a successful international manager from a search that had, predominantly, appeared to focus on lower league coaches?
Since his arrival, Coleman has brought a sense of optimism and hope to a fan-base that has, in recent times, been largely apathetic and increasingly disinterested.
Results may have improved, with a few wins and some clean sheets racked up, but with those teams around us in the league also finding a way of getting results, our position within the Championship has not improved - and now we're out of the FA Cup at the first stage.
I’m sure that we can all agree that January is a crucial month for Sunderland AFC. Refreshing the team is essential, as is fleshing out a flimsy and threadbare squad.
Matters have clearly not been helped with a number of long term injuries to key personnel and now, to top it off, our leading goalscorer has decided to chance his luck elsewhere in the hope of a final payday with a permanent move away from Bournemouth.
So just what is Coleman to do? There are three main avenues normally open to a manager, certainly one appointed just before a transfer window.
Option One: BUY
Martin Bain seems to be very happy with his choice of manager but he is not the one holding the purse strings. Short has to be equally committed, yet, despite replacing Simon Grayson, our owner remains aloof, at best; totally disinterested at worst.
Short may invest to keep the club afloat, but given that it’s been under his watch that Sunderland have fallen so far, that’s the bare minimum we should expect of a mega-rich owner that affords Sunderland to be ranked within the top 90 richest clubs in the world. As we slip uncontrollably towards League One, should he not wish for more?
Well clearly not, as we have heard that any January sales are likely to be subsumed into the running costs of a club hemorrhaging money. It would appear Short's sole ambition is to sell Sunderland AFC and recoup his outlay.
In the absence of a transfer kitty, even a self generated one, Coleman has two further options.
Option Two: LOANS
This is the time of year when Premier League clubs re-evaluate the situations of their Academy stars - youngsters who haven’t made it into the first team squad and would benefit from experience elsewhere.
Championship clubs trawl through this market to plug short-term gaps or replace the star players that they have lost. We certainly have gaps to plug, so it’s likely to be the main source of reinforcement open to Coleman. We already know of several rumours linking youngsters from other clubs to Sunderland.
The loss of Lewis Grabban means Ben Woodburn’s name will come to the fore once more. Long rumoured to be on Sunderland’s radar, the young Welsh forward is known to Coleman and would seem to fit the bill in terms of being hungry, able and ready for the next step in his career.
Similarly, the loss of Cattermole and now Gibson through injury, Ndong and Rodwell through - well, who knows - has left a gaping hole in the defensive midfield berth. Ethan Ampadu, Chelsea’s Welsh youngster, is the latest name to be mentioned in dispatches as interesting Sunderland.
Finally, the ageing legs of John O’Shea and the inconsistency of Marc Wilson means central defence remains a problematic position. It is no surprise, therefore, that Chelsea’s England Under-20 centre back Jake Clarke-Salter looks set to be named as Coleman’s first Sunderland signing in the coming hours.
Option Three: PROMOTE
The final avenue open to Coleman is to promote players from our own Academy.
In the past, Sunderland managers have been loathed to throw our youngsters into a relegation battle for fear of undermining their progress. However, this season was supposed to see a number of them graduate; to step into a lesser standard of competition within the Championship and make it into the first team.
True enough, then, as George Honeyman has run his socks off at this level and Lynden Gooch has made the starting eleven on occasion. Donald Love has recently been utilised in Coleman’s five-man defence and has contributed to a number of clean sheets. Josh Maja is the latest to be given a lead role in league and cup games.
We went into the FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough with a number of senior pros missing. This provided Ethan Robson with a rare opportunity, one that he took very well. He was, perhaps, our best player, showing maturity, calmness and technical ability.
Elliot Embleton and Tom Beadling again made the bench. Joel Asoro has become something of a fixture there already and they were joined by a new name - 19-year-old right back and central midfielder Owen Gamble.
Coleman won’t have the benefit of option one. He won’t be able to perform the same miracle Sam Allardyce pulled off by recruiting experience in January and launching a great escape.
He will also have to box clever to make the limitations of option two count. I have faith that he knows what he wants and who he needs. His comments this week about making sure prospective loanees are up for the fight and ready to contribute suggest we won’t bring players in just to make up the numbers.
The final option, though, is one I’d like Coleman to fully embrace.
In my view, many of the senior pros have given up the fight. Coleman spoke this week of lost desire and passion and I have to wonder how many of these seniors are no longer up for it; content simply to take their wages and see out the last few months of the campaign as the club slips into League One.
Some will be out of contract in the summer and I hope to goodness that the club stop renewing contracts of players who see Sunderland as an easy ride.
Others need to be sold, loaned or released. I accept paying up contracts can be costly, but there are players contributing nothing to the cause. Some never really have and others have lost the passion to belong to Sunderland. We can't allow that mentality or culture to prevail anymore.
The club needs to start again, instill professionalism, commitment and desire - perhaps, even, a return to the days of Roy Keane, when coming to Sunderland meant you would have to adhere to certain standards and accept a level of discipline in return for the rewards of reaching your potential and being part of a big club.
Maybe it's time. Coleman might just be that man.
For some, though, there is an obvious desire to do well; not just as a professional footballer, but a footballer for Sunderland AFC. Look at the younger players; players like George Honeyman. Okay, so his natural ability is limited, but he works his socks off. At Boro we saw the same passion to play for this club from Ethan Robson. Given the chance, I’m sure Tom Beadling would offer the same. If the club does succumb to successive relegations, these are the players we will rely on in League One, like it or not.
So why not give them their heads now? Why not put Beadling in for Wilson? Why not see Robson become a familiar figure in the engine room? Why not have Embleton pulling the strings further up-field? Sure, bolster our youngsters with the cream of Chelsea or Liverpool’s academy, but let’s finally put the old guard out to pasture.
The worst that can happen is we go down fighting, but with a team that is being built and moulded by Coleman to come back fighting. The best we can hope for is they pull off another miracle, but it’s not one I see the seniors achieving at all.