How excited are you about the game?
I think everybody that’s involved on this side of football looks forward to the first competitive game. I think pre-season periods are long and eventful, such as this one. I think when you get towards the end of that then the excitement of the first game is always there.
As a manager, I don’t tend to think about these things too much from my own point of view. It’s more just looking forward to seeing the players on the pitch. We’ve put a lot of work in over these last six or seven weeks as the players have come back in. It was nice for them to train at the stadium this morning and get that feel for the pitch because obviously we haven’t managed to play a game there.
We keep saying all the time that we’d like to be further ahead in terms of where we’re at, but equally the excitement doesn’t dull nonetheless.
Yeah, it’s been longer than normal as well probably because when I immediately returned from holiday I came down here. It was quiet at times because not many people were around and then it’s got busier as times went on with players coming back.
Obviously, we’ve had the turnover in the squad that we knew we would always have. I know people will focus on the ins, but the equivalent has probably been out for various reasons, with loan players as well. So, that turnover was always going to be there and that’s made it busier because obviously that can at times take away from the attention that would you like to give to what you can affect on the training pitch.
I’ve still been able to do that, but it means that your days are longer, and it’s been pretty full on in that period. The good thing is that we’ve made progress in that respect and as long as you see progress being made then it gives you encouragement.
On potential transfers...
I think that we probably still could do with a little bit more strength in depth in certain areas. Again, I’d love to say that no more will leave because I think Callum’s departure was an example of how quickly things can change, particularly with the permanent window closing so quickly as well.
So, I think that may affect not just us, but other clubs in terms of the week following the first game of the season. If there were any more outs, then that would obviously influence what we need to bring in as well.
Certainly, if the window were to close just now were in a lot stronger position than perhaps we might have imagined we would be. I think we’ve done a heck of a lot of work that’s enabled us to get into a reasonable position heading into the first game.
On controlling the expectations...
I think the expectation and the pressure is going to consistent at this club no matter what league they’re in. So, regardless of whether we’re in this league or we manage to progress, it’s always going to be there because of the size of the club and demand of the fan base.
I think it’s just how you use it; the expectation can weigh heavily upon people’s shoulders or it can make them grow. The latter is what we’ve been trying to do, and I think we’ve managed to build that confidence and belief, but that’s without playing a competitive game. So, that is easier to a degree than when you go into the competitive stuff and people become more critical and it matters more.
So, the challenge for me will be to continue to build that feeling around the place to say, well we know you’re coming to a club and you’re playing for a club where there are big expectations, but can you embrace them? I’ve looked upon that as a manager and I don’t think I’ve ever tried to dampen expectations at any of my jobs and certainly not here.
I’m pretty happy to say that I’ll take on the expectation and if I can’t reach it then I haven’t done my job properly. It’s just convincing my squad to do the same and I’ve got a core group that can deal with the expectation and drag everyone else along.
Would it be a failure if you didn’t get out of the league?
I think as a failure is probably for other people to judge, but certainly in terms of how I view my job and what I would determine success from my own selfish point of view or individual point of view would be getting out of the league.
I’ve always tried to set targets for squads, I’ve always tried to set targets individually for myself. I think they help drive you on, on a daily basis and for me, there’s not been one part of pre-season where I’ve ever thought about adjusting my expectations or my aims. My aim is always to get this club out of this league at the first time of asking. If I don’t do that, I suppose the time to judge it is the circumstances around it and how the team has played and all these different things. But, right now for me, success will only be getting promoted.
On the atmosphere around the club...
Good. I think a lot of the credit goes to the core group of players that were here and the staff that were here and then also the staff that I brought with me. The people that I work with engage with people and I think interact with them and they’ve immersed themselves in the club in that respect.
I think what we’ve done is we’ve had a shift in the atmosphere around the training ground and that’s then been evident on the training pitch as well. So, I’m comfortable with that and I couldn’t have asked anymore in terms of the atmosphere and the environment we’ve created. If we go and win games, then that will obviously grow again, and I think the mood in general is good.
I would hope that if you spoke to any of my players individually they would support that and support it genuinely rather than giving a sound bite for the sake of it because I know that happens all the time. But, I would take my response to that being from the feeling I get from these players on a daily basis and certainly I think a lot of them are enjoying themselves at the moment and they’ve bought into what we’re trying to do and long may that continue.
On Charlie Wyke...
First of all, naturally delighted because I think it was well documented that we had pursued him for a while and I think we had to remain patient as a club and as a manager because it’s very easy to just move on quickly and you run the risk of missing out on other potential players as well.
We’ve always believed we could get him here and I think he wanted to come here as well, which is obviously an important part of it. In terms of when he’s available, we hope sooner rather than later, within the next three weeks hopefully he should get back to being involved with me. If he takes a little bit longer than that, that might be the case but that’s the aim for me and for him as a player.
He’s desperate to be involved because actually his injury record is very good and his appearance record is terrific over the last few years, it’s just unfortunate the timing of this particular injury. The only positive to that is that we’ve had to prepare all pre-season without an out and out number nine, so having him not available for the first game, where as I’d much prefer to have him available, means that we’ve been used to that over the pre-season period.
So, once he becomes available on the training pitch it strengthens our options and changes our options a little bit as well. I’m looking forward to working with him.
On current injuries...
Tom picked up an injury in the early part of this week and we were actually concerned that it was a fairly serious one, but he’s settled in quite a lot as the weeks gone on, he’ll miss tomorrow. Initially we thought he might have been out for a significant time period, but I think it looks like he’ll be back sooner rather than later in that respect, but still might be out for a couple of weeks minimum.
Dylan remains a doubt for Saturday, it’s Thursday now and he hasn’t been able to train. So, we’ll assess that again tomorrow but it’s a balance between wanting your best players available and understanding that it’s a 46-game league season and if you add cup ties in there, but particularly the league season. It’s a long haul and missing one game as opposed to making the injury worse and missing six weeks is something to consider as well.
On the importance of Dylan McGeouch...
Yeah, I think when you plan as a manager and you see things coming together then naturally you want those players who are central to that to be available. It’s disappointing, but again it’s just my job to deal with that challenge. It’s easy to look for excuses in that respect, but that’s the reason we have a squad and we’re going to need that squad through the season.
I’d much prefer to have him available, but we’ve got different ways we can deal with his loss and if that means we have to make slight adjustments to how we play then so be it because that will be the case as the season progresses as well.
Thoughts on Charlton...
Well, I think first of all, it’s a really tough opening game for us when you look at the teams that filled the top positions in the table last year, it’s a team that obviously reached the playoffs and a big club as well. Probably that has went through some sort of turbulent period in recent times and they’ve also had injuries to contend with during pre-season.
So, there’s a little bit of synergy between the two clubs in that respect, the one difference being that they obviously enjoyed a relatively successful period season last year and we didn’t. So, I think it’s a tough game for us and I would imagine that they’re a club who believe that they will challenge again in those automatic or playoff spots. Aside from that, we’re quite thorough in our work and our preparation in terms of dealing with the opposition and that’s been new for me because normally when I’m doing that I’ve been very familiar with the players I’m looking at. So, I’ve had to educate myself in that respect, but we’ve worked hard to be as well prepared as we can, not just for this game but for every game moving forward.
I must admit, for me, I’m actually looking forward to it in that respect because although I’ve watched a lot of footage and I’ve seen a lot of games and looked at bits and pieces, it’s very difficult for me to gage properly the test we’ll have from oppositions until I see them on the pitch against them. So, in that respect, Saturday will help me.
On the anticipation of match day...
I think when you get to that, it takes you until the flow of the season, if you like. We’re very structured in what we do anyway, but once you’re into the competitive games and you recover and you train and you prepare, it kind of flows from there.
I think I said this during the week, I’ve grown up as a football fan from a very young age and I genuinely love the game, so I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to make a living from it in different aspects. There is no better feeling than going into a stadium that’s got a crowd in it and the excitement around that, it never leaves you. I was there as a supporter, as a player and as a manager, that feeling that I get when I walk out the tunnel was something that makes all the hard work that goes before it worthwhile.
It makes me grateful and appreciate the position that I’m in, so I’m really excited about it. I keep saying it, but this is a brilliant club, it’s a really pleasure to work at it and it’s a brilliant stadium. It’s a brilliant stadium with me being there with nobody in it, so the excitement for me is to then take my team when there is a crowd that’s going to be in it like on Saturday. Then the challenge for me obviously is to make sure that crowd keeps coming back and they bring more along, and we create something within our home stadium that we need to have and that’s maybe been missing in recent times. In that sense, nothing but excitement and anticipation in terms of looking forward to it.
On George Honeyman becoming captain...
When I came into the club I was open-minded to the squad in general, to their abilities, to their attributes, to their characters. I tried not to be prejudiced in any way when I came in. So, rather than speak to people and gauge their opinion on players, I did as much homework as I could do myself and then I wanted to see how I found them.
What I found in George is a player who reflects very much how I go about training on a daily basis. The intensity in which he trains, his attitude and application in training every single day is brilliant, and that’s a testament to how he’s been brought through the club by Kevin Ball in the academy.
Lynden is a bit similar, they’re similar ages and they’ve got a terrific work ethic about them. So when you add to that that he’s a good player, he’s an important part of our side this year, he’s a very mature and intelligent young man, and it means an awful lot to him to captain the club, so there’s so many boxes he ticks in that respect.
I’m actually lucky that I think I’ve found the captain that ticks all of those - normally you might have to give a little on some of them and they might have strengths in other areas.
And I know when I spoke to him about it he fulfilled the role in pre-season and we’d assessed how he’d handled that, and I spoke to him properly and he was thrilled to bits - it means an awful lot to him, and I’m sure if you speak to him individually you’ll find that from him. He’s got a massive incentive to be the Sunderland captain that lifts the trophy, and its a possibility, and that for him is a huge carrot.
Don’t underestimate how important that is for a young player. He’ll grow with the responsibility, and I’m also lucky that I’ve got a squad that’s got a number of players that have fulfilled that role - so Lee has obviously done it at this club and is close to George, then you’ve got Glenn and Jack who’ve done the role at previous clubs, Alim has done it at Hearts as a young player, Jon McLaughlin is experienced, Dylan had a lot of responsibility at Hibs, so there’s loads that’ll be supportive.
I look forward to seeing how he grows with it, and I look forward to him hopefully being a successful Sunderland captain, because I know that’s certainly his aim.
On youngsters featuring on Saturday...
Well, I think at the moment - where we are squad-wise, in terms of injuries - they’ll probbaly be around the match day squad. We are light on numbers because of that, because of the injuries that we’ve picked up through the pre-season period.
But, the comforting thing for me is that several of them are there on merit anyways. It doesn’t worry me about that they’re in the squad and I don’t worry about their capabilities.
I think Bali in particular has been involved in every pre-season game, and has been excellent in all of those, has been involved and has trained really well. So whilst some managers might bemoan the fact that they’re having to include that number of young players in their matchday squad, it doesn’t concern me because they have quality and have ability.
Ultimately the demands change when you get your competitive games in, and that will be another test for them, and it’ll be another opportunity for me to see how they deal with that. It’s not trial and error, I don’t mean that, just sometimes you don’t find out with young players until they’re thrown into that environment. So, they’ll all be around the squad for this weekend.
How impressed have you been with the youngsters?
It’s obviously been slightly different for me because of the under 23s football down here (in England), and I probably have my own views on whether that’s a good or a bad thing, sometimes I think it protects these young players up to too old an age. However, what the club has is a well-deserved reputation in terms of the academy and the players they’ve brought through. Sometimes you forget that Lynden and George have came through that system and are now regular first-team players. There are undoubtedly ones that have came through that have ability, and they’ve trained with me all through pre-season and they’ve not looked out of place in that respect.
I think the challenging aspect is to ensure that they retain the core principles that have got them that far in their career. That’s not a slight on those players, I think its more a generalisation, to ensure that young players remain driven right through their career rather than feeling as though they’ve progressed to the next stage and they can put a stop to some of the hard work that has went beforehand.
So, there’s a progression chance for us as a club because obviously it stops the best ones getting pinched from us too early - that’s just the nature of the beast now in professional football, but when you see the ones that have made that successful transition in recent years and the ones that are around the squad, it gives encouragement to the other ones that are currently in the system as well.
On Lee Cattermole...
I think that I’ve said on a number of occasions - and it goes back to my answer on George, about taking players as I find them. Lee has trained fantastically well since I took the job. He’s also been hugely supportive of what my staff and I have done on the training pitch.
So I can only speak from that side - his application to what we’ve done, conversations that I’ve had with him, I think that in a short period of time the personal relationship I have with him, the things we’re able to communicate and converse about that naturally remain private at times because they remain a manager and senior player conversation... can’t speak highly enough in that respect, and so I can only take him as I find him in that regard.
For as long as that remains the case, and he’s in a good place, then that’ll continue, but I mentioned earlier about ins and outs and how quickly things can change - until the window closes on August the 9th and the loan window closes on the 30th, you don’t know for certain what your squad will be.
But certainly, how I’ve found him, what he’s given me on the training pitch, how he’s applied himself and been around the club as a whole has been fantastic.
On the work of the Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven...
I think what they have done is be very open in their communication, and that probably goes against the grain a little bit in terms of what football clubs are like nowadays, and by all accounts a little bit against the grain of what it’s been like here in recent times. I’m probably fairly comfortable with it because I try to be fairly open in my own communication.
I speak about a work in progress all the time on the pitch because its a work in progress at the whole club - both Stewart and Charlie are alike as people, for a start, which is a really good starting point to have in that relationship as manager and owner, and I think that’ll always be the case, regardless, cos I think that they are genuinely good people. They’re easy to converse with and communicate, but its new to them as well - I don’t mean running a football club, I just mean this club and the enormity of it.
I’m learning all the time, and I’m sure they are as well, but I don’t think that anybody can argue with the atmosphere and the positivity that they’ve managed to generate, which is credit to them because having two consecutive relegations and managing to create this buzz around the place just adds to the expectations upon my shoulders.
Jack Ross looks ahead to Saturday's opener against Charlton Athletic FC.Posted by Sunderland AFC on Thursday, August 2, 2018