Yesterday, Gav provided Roker Report readers with a view on what Sunderland need from any potential new manager taking charge at the Stadium of Light. I ran a Twitter poll using the top 4 in the betting market, asking for fans to vote on who their preferred choice would be. The results yesterday were surprising but pretty conclusive: Daniel Stendel: 50% — Super Kev: 22% — Paul Cook: 14% — Gareth Ainsworth: 14%. With that in mind, I took some time to analyse the bookies favourites for the job to see how they matched up to Gav’s requirements.
1) Name Value
No name would generate more of a buzz than “Super” Kevin Phillips - Sunderland’s icon of the late 90s and early 00s would return to Wearside a king and would certainly get people talking in the SoL. However, as with Shearer and those up the road, the adulation and buzz soon is forgotten if performances and results don’t improve on the pitch. Still, fans seeing through the fanfare would question whether his appointment is genuinely an improvement on Jack Ross.
The average football fan may not know much about Paul Cook. A few seasons in the Premier league in the mid 90s with Coventry was the height of his playing career and his biggest managerial successes are in League One and Two. Cook is very well regarded in the bottom two tiers of the football league and as that is where we currently find ourselves - fans should be excited at the prospect of having him in charge.
Before Ross’ departure, the names of Gareth Ainsworth and Daniel Stendel will have been even more obscure to fans. Sunderland would be a huge step up for Ainsworth and with his current club Wycombe being his only appointment, it can be argued that he is not the instantly recognisable name or the improvement on Ross we need.
Similarly, while Stendel was unknown 12 months ago, his stock has risen in a short space of time by guiding Barnsley back up to the Championship in his first season. The Championship hadn’t been kind to Stendel this season, although he was operating with one arm tied behind his back. Whilst he has recent success and as such will be regarded as an improvement, he wouldn’t necessarily be the “big name” manager that some fans crave.
Winner: Kevin Phillips Runner-up: Paul Cook
2) EFL Promotion Experience
Three of the four top candidates touted by the bookies yesterday have good experience in moving their teams up the Football League Pyramid, the obvious omission being Phillips, who hasn’t been in a management position before or an assistant manager in a team that has experienced promotion.
The most recent success would be Stendel’s, who in his first season in charge went a little under the radar last season with Barnsley to take automatic promotion off of Charlton. Ainsworth too has a single EFL promotion on his resume with Wycombe, taking them out of League Two albeit via the playoffs. The major difference with Ainsworth is that it had taken him four years to build a team capable of challenging for a League Two title; time which simply cannot be afforded to him should he take the reigns here at what realistically would be a huge step up for him.
Paul Cook by contrast has been there and done it in the EFL - and in recent times too. Two seasons at Portsmouth in League Two saw a playoff finish in his first year, followed by a league title win the following season. Success earned him a move to Wigan, where at the first time of asking guided them to a 98-point League 1 title win while the squad he built and left behind in Portsmouth finished just outside the Playoffs in 8th.
Winner: Paul Cook Runner-Up: Daniel Stendel
3) Experienced Assistant Manager
In the unlikely case that Kevin Phillips should take charge at Sunderland it would be his first managerial appointment and as such, it is difficult to say who his backroom staff would be, or indeed if he would be allowed to choose it. His own experience as an assistant is also limited having only been part of Gary Rowett’s staff for six months and Paul Clement’s for seven at Stoke and Derby respectively.
Ainsworth has had Richard Dobson as his assistant manager for seven years. As a pair they have a lot of experience in working together, although they would both be experiencing the magnitude of a club with the size and expectation of ours for the first time, raising question marks over how relevant that experience would be.
Paul Cook would likely bring with him a man he trusts in Leam Richardson. After Cook left Accrington for Chesterfield, Leam was given the manager’s job at Stanley, before Cook brought him back into his backroom staff only six months later. Richardson has followed Cook to both Portsmouth and Wigan, sharing in his extensive EFL success.
In Christopher Stern, Stendel had taken a punt on a young and hungry coach. Having retired at 23, Stern became Assistant Manager of the Hannover 96 reserve side. When Stendel left Hannover for Barnsley in 2018, he brought Stern with him as his assistant. Although largely inexperienced, Stern no doubt will have been an important part Barnsley’s success last year.
Winner: Paul Cook Runner-Up: Gareth Ainsworth
4) Defined Playing Style
With Jack Ross’ detractors bemoaning his defensive playing style (or not having one), all four of the candidates can demonstrate a identifiable playing style which opposes that of our former manager.
Both Ainsworth and Stendel set their teams up in an aggressive 4-3-3 formation that works hard to win the ball back further up the pitch with a high press. Paul Cook’s Wigan consistently stick to a 4-2-3-1 that tries to remain tight at the back (25 clean sheets in their League One title win) and move the ball forward quickly in transition.
Perhaps crucially, he had Will Grigg spearheading that attack and Max Power in midfield feeding him. Cook got 26 goals out of Grigg that season and could be the inspiration the striker needs to re-ignite the talent that is undoubtedly there.
Both Clement and Rowett preferred a slightly more patient build up and both have been accused of relatively negative tactics and it’s unclear whether this would also be an approach of Super Kev.
Winner : Paul Cook Runner-up: Take your pick of the rest
Other names such as Roy Keane, Ian Holloway and Chris Hughton have been mooted, however for me, Hughton is out of reach and Keane’s attitude and persona (for me at least) does not fit what Sunderland need in 2019.
Ian Holloway would be an interesting alternative. He is a big name, a big personality and has successfully steered teams like Palace and Blackpool into the Premier League. His pedigree is there and he has said he would run here for the job.
I’ll get behind whoever the board appoint but for me personally, the solid option that ticks all of those boxes is Wigan’s Paul Cook… are you reading, Mr Donald?