Morgan - Ease Off!
Whilst it’s been a difficult start to the season for Sunderland’s U23s side, we mustn’t get too carried away. If Elliott Dickman was manager of the first team, I’d suggest his position would be under threat, however, we can’t get hung up on the title ‘manager’, and rather, we should focus on what he brings to the club.
Never have Sunderland had so many academy products in the first team, and not only that, never have they all been performing so successfully. Whilst the argument remains that being in League One would always result in the youngsters getting a chance, we have to consider the way they’ve all effortlessly made the step up. Dickman has been instrumental in their development and empowered them to succeed, and whilst the U23s results aren’t great, Dickman first and foremost is a coach, heavily involved in the development of these players, which has allowed Sunderland to take to life in League One like a duck to water.
Further to that, there’s been a monumental turnover of players and staff at the academy. The U23 side that was so successful over the last few seasons, now represent at least half the first team, and the rest have either moved on or left on loan. The very nucleus of that side has been decimated, and Dickman has been left to pick up the pieces.
Whilst Dickman the manager can be questioned on the results and performances, Dickman the coach - in my opinion his most important role - is not only achieving, but exceeding expectations, and he should be lauded for the impact he’s had on the likes of Gooch, Honeyman, Maja and many before them.
Whilst Kevin Ball seems primed waiting in the wings, we can’t forget Dickman has been at the club since he was a child. His influence on the youngsters both still at the club and many before them is measurable in their success, and the way every single one of them have excelled in 2018 speaks volumes.
Gav - He’s Been Poor!
There’s very little of what Morgan has said that I can disagree with. I can’t obviously speak with first hand experience of Dickman’s coaching ability, though the fact he’s been such a constant over recent years in the academy set up would suggest that his influence has been a positive one - after all, we’ve had a relatively healthy production line of young talent come through and everyone involved in the development of the likes of Asoro, Maja, Pickford, Gooch, Honeyman, Hume and Robson deserve credit in that respect.
These players have all graduated our youth team which has, of course, meant that new players have came through in their place. On top of that, players like Embleton, Stryjek and Shields are out on loan.
That said, it cannot be ignored how poor results have been since Andy Welsh left his position as U23s head coach in January 2017.
The team were relegated at the end of the 2017/18 season, and this season have performed even worse. Since the season began the team have played six games - they’ve lost 4, drawn 1 and lost 1.
Three of those four losses have been brutal defeats - a 7-0 hammering away at Wolves, a 4-1 demolition at Reading and then the most embarrassing of them all, a 5-0 whitewash at the hands of Newcastle United.
The quality of football on show has been poor, and the results even worse.
How much of that blame can we appropriate to poor coaching, poor management and poor tactics? I’m not really sure. I do worry though that we’re maybe underplaying the impact that losing has at any level of football - are these lads going out there and playing with the desire and heart it takes to get noticed? Are they being motivated by their coach?
I guess that’s entirely up for debate, though results on the pitch do indicate that there’s a worrying trend starting to appear.
This isn’t to downplay Dickman’s abilities, because there’s definitely a place for him in the setup, but I can’t help wondering whether there’s already a man more equipped for that job employed by the club. I did half expect this summer that Kevin Ball would be asked to take back over his old role with the U23s but it never happened - why, I’ve no idea.
All I can say is that as a regular watcher of the U23s side I’m worried by the level of performances and the manner of results, and naturally you look towards the man leading the team when you search for the reasons why things aren’t going well.
It’s not necessarily an immediate issue, but if we’re still sat here in six months talking about how poor our U23s side are performing it may be that the club will consider changing around the management team and moving Dickman back into a coaching role where he’s got a proven record of success.