Another week, another step towards relegation and naturally everyone wants to discuss who’s to blame for the club’s disastrous descent into League One.
It’s like the mirror-image of an Agatha Christie thriller. There are loads of suspects - Ellis Short, Martin Bain, Lee Camp, Lee Cattermole, Jack Rodwell, the list goes on - but no suspense as they’re clearly all guilty to some degree, all hanging around the library looking shifty with a candlestick and a rope.
Should Chris Coleman also be on the list? It’s been a hot topic of late. Again doing away with suspense, the answer is no, not really.
Being a member of the human race, Coleman is clearly not perfect. However, we haven’t seen enough of him to know for sure what his flaws and foibles really are. He’s had next to no time on Wearside and spent every moment of his tenure trying to dig the club out of the pit dug for us by Short and Bain. He’s failed but I don’t believe he’s the cause of the relegation, and nor do I think another manager could have come in and done much better.
What are the charges against Coleman?
First, he talks the talk but doesn’t deliver. Well, ‘talking the talk’ is not a crime: it is, in fact, an essential aspect of leadership to be able to convince the people you lead that you know what you’re doing and have a plan. What’s it like when a manager doesn’t talk the talk – hmm, let’s think, do we have any recent experience of a dour manager who doesn’t inspire confidence and sounds as though he wants to run away from Sunderland as fast as possible?
There’s one name springs to mind, Scottish bloke, now delivering his magic at West Ham. As for not delivering, that’s undeniably true but I think it’s only sensible to judge a manager once they’ve had an opportunity to build up their own squad. Coleman hasn’t had that opportunity.
What he has done, in moving on the players who don’t want to be here and building a team around some of the more promising youngsters, looks pretty sensible to me. There are signs it’s beginning to work – we are starting to get some results and don’t collapse like a house of cards when we concede – but it is too little, too late.
The second charge is that Coleman is to blame for bringing Lee Camp to Sunderland. But we have no idea who actually signed Camp. Did Coleman tell Bain to bring in Camp, or did Coleman tell Bain that recruiting a keeper in January was a priority and Camp was the outcome? Perhaps we’ll find out in due course, but my money would be on Bain.
It’s also worth noting that few if any top class keepers were likely to move to a relegation-threatened Championship team on a free transfer in January. When you are dross you’re in the market for dross.
The real scandal is that Bain sold Vito Mannone last summer and brought in Steele for half a million quid from a side that had been relegated to League One, putting him on a long contract. Steele looks like a bloke from the trenches whose nerves have been shredded by two successive relegations – he needs to be found a quiet place in the country where he can look after the gardens and never set eyes on a football again.
Thirdly, Coleman has been criticised for various selection decisions – persevering with five at the back when it wasn’t working, for example, and, now, preferring Fletcher up front over Asoro.
These are decisions managers are paid to make (and they have a lot more information than us about how players are coping, whether they’re carrying injuries and so on) and we are entitled to criticise.
It was interesting to hear Martin Smith on the Roker Rapport Podcast last week siding with Coleman because Asoro is a kid who is more likely to contribute as an impact player.
Fans are entitled to disagree, but suggesting that Coleman should go because of these decision is nothing short of ridiculous. One of the reasons we are going down again is because of the instability at the club, the constant chopping and changing of personnel.
We need a period of stability under a manager with a plan who can build things back up again. The managers we look back on as most successful – Smith, Reid, Keane – all had time to build. None of them were perfect but they left us with good memories. Coleman deserves the chance to do the same.