First of all, it’s difficult to talk now because feelings right after a game don’t help me answer that question. But I think there’s something wrong in the football club and it’s not an excuse. I need to find that. If I don’t find it we’ve got a problem.
Gus Poyet uttered these words in the wake of another Sunderland defeat in mid-April 2014. Sandwiched between a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss at home to Everton and a 5-1 demolition at the hands of Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham Hotspur, the Uruguayan cut a forlorn figure.
Yet he pulled no punches in his analysis of the club. Here spawned the now infamous “rotten core” phrase, without ever actually uttering the words himself.
The aphorism has been attributed to Poyet, but has always been ever so slightly wrong. A more adept statement would have been “rotting core”, which has now all but transformed into a “rotting corpse”.
Now essentially all but carrion, separate groups of vultures have stripped everything away while the brain saw fit to do naught.
Darron Gibson, Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell are three prime examples of precisely this problem. This rotting core is not just the players, but the whole club behind the scenes.
Rumours have long-swirled of a drinking culture at pitch-level, a spending culture in the dug-out and no culture (or direction) from the board. All the way from the upper echelons of the Stadium of Light, where voices once roared and reverberated off the ceiling, down to the languid and indolent maggots in the mud beneath the “hallowed” Stadium of Light turf, our beloved club has been battered, bruised and broken.
The gargantuan stadium, state-of-the-art training facilities and supposed Premier League “stars” act as a shallow veneer covering the cracks of a broken club set to implode. It is almost a David Lynch-ian Blue Velvet level of facade. Darron Gibson is merely a symptom of a husk of a club in which appearance is everything.
Club statement regarding Darron Gibsonhttps://t.co/oYCdnc969p— Sunderland AFC ⚪ (@SunderlandAFC) March 18, 2018
Gibson was suspended with immediate effect by the club last Sunday morning, having been “charged of driving with excess alcohol in his system” and allegedly crashing into a series of cars down a housing estate close to the club’s training facilities. I will neither speculate on Gibson’s actions nor future, but the swift nature of the response by Sunderland has been to the club’s credit - if only Margaret Byrne had done the same two years ago.
When on the pitch earlier in Chris Coleman’s reign, Gibson ran the show, bossed the opposition and put effort in. He showed he cared. But if he truly cared, deep inside or even slightly under the skin, he wouldn’t have been allegedly drunk at 10am on a Saturday morning racing his way to work through the streets of Sunderland.
This season, and almost every day on Twitter we are treated with videos and memories of classic goals from our past. Stuff like Super Kev cracker against Chelsea, or Rade Prica’s comical only-goal for the club. Be these memories genuinely awe-inspiring or hilarious, they’re all tinged with nostalgia - nostalgia that can turn one’s attention away from the true decay lingering beneath the surface.
Ellis Short is a master at the art of delaying the inevitable. He was able to utilize this veneer effectively to shift blame year-in, year-out by sacking managers, putting them into the firing line and calling for renewed hope, optimism and, crucially, transfer funds to hold off the vultures (us) on his own carrion. The largest chunk of blame must rest firmly at the Chairman’s feet. He has mismanaged the heir to the country’s first-ever invincibles to the point of oblivion, all in name of the glitz and glamour of being a Premier League owner.
Players have for too long swanned about the club without a care for the area, the fans, or even the badge on the shirt. Examples are rife over the last few years; from Johnson’s sexual misconduct to Rodwell holding the club to ransom, Cattermole’s drinking offences and now Gibson’s suspension. They may say they care, they may run around a lot and clap or point on the pitch, but if they did, we’d never be in this position.
They may lineup alongside George Honeyman, but the space alongside them when they lineup is a true narrow gulf.
The youngster gets stick week-in, week-out for “not being good enough”. Yet he characterises exactly what we as fans all try and proclaim we “only need in a player” - running himself into the ground for the red and white shirt on his back, coursing for his veins and in his heart.
However, not all is lost. Crucially, we are merely a “rotting core”, not a “rotten corpse”. I firmly, and possibly naively (or through sheer blind-faith) believe that Chris Coleman can turn this around, no matter how long it may take.
He has a proven track record of dragging mentally broken players back from the precipice and making them into something great. The latter isn’t necessary in our case, but arresting this current slide and salvaging anything from this husk of a club would be a great achievement, and done so at great difficulty.
He has never wavered - from day one he knew the size of the job and has constantly referred to this as a long-term task, otherwise why else join? His assurance that he will be Sunderland manager next season was not just a breath of fresh air, but an entirely expected one.
Yes, he makes mistakes. All managers do. Even the great Sir Alex Ferguson made tactical errors and lost matches. However, Coleman is a man operating with a blindfold on and both arms ties behind his back. What he does have is the right charisma, attitude and simple aura to be able to arrest this. He exudes confidence and warmth, even when as low as he was after another loss at the weekend. Compare this to David Moyes, who after a victory looked like he had just walked into a funeral convention.
We don’t need a firebrand like Keane or Di Canio, or even the sheer survival experience of Allardyce to push for safety. Those times have long gone once the managerial charlatan Moyes was allowed to do his damage. Now, we need a man who can take all of this on the chin, hold his head high and lead Sunderland back to where we should be.
That man is Chris Coleman.