Dear Roker Report,
This is indeed a dire time to be a Sunderland fan, and given that we’ve been served up mostly dross for a number of years now, that’s quite a claim.
I am, however, broadly a fan of Chris Coleman. Yes, he’s made some poor team selections, and yes, he’s made some poor substitutions, but given what he has to work with and the pressure to keep us out of League One, his current role is a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.
I’d also stick with him at the start of next season because I’m far from convinced we’ll be able to get anyone better. If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not totally convinced we’d get anyone at all!
With us now effectively preparing for next season in League One, I thought now might be a prudent time to look at some of Coleman’s and Sunderland’s more obvious mistakes.
This is something Sunderland keep doing, and it very rarely works out for us. They’re all either well past their best, or don’t have enough talent in the first place.
None of them have any vested interest in Sunderland and just don’t care, but worst of all is the fact that these loan players are keeping our own youngsters from the squad while not being any better at all.
Where do you start? Of the options we’ve tried this season, Ruiter looks to be about the best, but he’s injured and let’s face it, he’s only our ‘best’ option by virtue of the fact that Steele and Camp are so awful.
Steele has been a complete waste of £500,000 and at the moment we’d probably have to pay someone else £500,000 to take him off our hands.
Bringing in Camp was an understandable idea, but like most older players who come on loan, he was only ever being loaned out because he was well past his sell-by date. All we achieved in loaning Camp was to pay another traffic cone to stand between the sticks and let in goals. This was clearly a mistake by Coleman, but I understand the reasoning.
What I can’t understand is why he persists with Steele and Camp when it’s obvious to everyone else on the planet that they’re two of the most useless goalkeepers ever seen in professional football and in Steele’s case, even in amateur football!
What he should be doing is playing Max Stryjek in goal because he is the future of Sunderland, he’s more likely to care and he’s almost certainly better than the talentless options we currently have playing.
Clearly this has been an issue all season and I accept our defensive options are very limited, but we should be able to get the basics right and we’ve got them wrong.
Firstly, we shouldn’t be playing people out of position, yet we do this regularly. This is simply a matter of square pegs in square holes, yet we’ve spent a lot of this season trying to use a sledgehammer to force square pegs into round holes.
Jones isn’t great as a full back, but he’s hopeless as a centre back and yet we’ve repeatedly played him in that position. Yes, we’re short of central defenders, so why have we just released a youth prospect this week who looked like he could be a perfectly acceptable option in League One next season?
Furthermore, the only reason I can see for playing O’Shea is to provide an experienced and steadying hand for Kone, but if Kone needs that much support, why is he playing in the first place? O’Shea might have been OK in his day, but for the last few years at least all I’ve seen is a player with very limited ability and no legs. All he seems to be able to do is hoof the ball up the park when he sees it and he can’t even do that well.
I don’t mind Matthews so I’d be happy to stick with him and Oviedo can be good on his day, especially when he links up with a player like Honeyman, but I’d be happy to drop the rest and replace them with options from the U23 squad in readiness for next season.
Why, why, why are we still playing Catts? The man has been nothing short of a complete liability this season yet he seems to be the first name on the team sheet every game. What is the justification for this lunacy?
Like most of the Sunderland team, the midfield has been largely missing this season, looking as if they either have no talent or can’t be bothered or both. Who would I rather play than these aging old crocs? Well, a midfield of Honeyman, Gooch, Robson and Embleton immediately looks like a stronger line-up than the ones we’ve used for most of this season, and that’s without even starting to consider our other young options. They’d at least play with a bit more passion and probably more ability.
I’m beginning to wonder if Bain and Coleman took a backhander to keep playing Fletcher when it’s perfectly obvious that he’s our worst attacking option. Watmore was a very useful option at this level, so his injury problems are unfortunate and a concern for the future. But even without him, Asoro and Maja work well together and have pace to spare. Yes, they’re not tall but that just means we have to play to their strengths and that’s NOT just lumping the ball into the air and praying.
Then there’s Nelson, who appears to be doing very well in Scotland so in attack we have a strong four, all of whom are already our players so why are we wasting time and money on loan deals?
The myth of experience
Coleman has said that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and I’d agree with that completely, but he’s only taken this principle so far as he insists on also keeping experienced players like O’Shea and Catts in the side. WHY? What are they actually bringing to the party other than gifting the opposition possession and goals? What example is their gross incompetence actually giving the younger players?
These players are certainly experienced, but the trouble is that they’re just experienced at losing - though in fairness they appear to be bloody good at it! From what I’ve seen this season, if we really needed experience in the team, we’d have been better off bringing back Quinn, Phillips, Ball, Reid and Montgomery and playing them because, even at their age, they wouldn’t be any worse and would certainly play with more passion. I’m damn sure Montgomery would be a huge step up from Steele!
Perhaps I’m naïve but why are footballers so different to other workers? I am working on a two year contract in the Falklands and it started with a six month probationary period. If at any time in my contract I fail to fulfil my duties or conduct myself in an unprofessional manner, I can be sacked. I see nothing wrong with this at all as it’s perfectly reasonable.
I have a contract to do a job to a good standard and certainly do my best; if I fail to meet these standards, my employment is terminated. So why is Rodwell so different? Why is any footballer or manager different? Why on earth are Sunderland handing out contracts that are so lax that a player like Rodwell can do absolutely nothing and still be paid more than many of us will earn in two years or more?
I dislike a lot of the current Sunderland squad, but I find Rodwell a particularly loathsome character. I don’t blame him for the terms of the contract, he simply took a really good offer that was on the table. The lunacy of the contract is entirely Sunderland’s fault and that’s why I’m mentioning it in this letter, but I do blame him for not even trying.
As far as I can see, he’s decided to retire to the north east for a few years on an eye-wateringly good pension before retiring to a sunnier climate and apparently, without having to do anything - even training, we still have to pay him this obscene amount of money. I blame him for claiming ‘it’s not about the money’ when clearly it’s all about the money and nothing about the football. The main reason I’d be happy to go into administration is to get this sponging parasite off his private gravy train.
These aren’t the only mistakes Sunderland have made by a long way but they do represent some fairly fundamental mistakes that we can’t afford to repeat. It now looks certain we’ll be playing League One football next season and there’s also a strong possibility that we’ll have to overcome a 15 point penalty due to administration if we want to stay in that division.
Now is the time to give youth its chance; now is the time to invest in a proper scouting network; now is the time to develop a clear football philosophy for the club, and now is the time to start investing in the right players to fit that philosophy rather than bringing in random players who happen to be available and then trying to find a system that works with them.
Sunderland is a great club and Sunderland is a great city in a great region with great people. We deserve better, but if we are going to be great again, we have to be a lot brighter than we have been and stop making all these mistakes.
Editor’s Note: A really comprehensive letter, Andrew, and I don’t find myself disagreeing with much of what you’ve said. I totally agree that we need to shift deadwood - like Rodwell - that’s dragging us down, and I hope the club do indeed create a clear identity and assemble a squad capable of securing a return to the Championship at least.
That being said, we’ve ambled from blunder to blunder over recent years, and my worry is that we won’t be able to break the habit of a lifetime - hence why I think new ownership is a must for us.