A fortnight after his dismissal, Jack Ross has opened up on his “brilliant, but challenging” eighteen months at the Stadium of Light in an exclusive interview with The Atheltic’s George Caulkin.
In an expansive chat with Caulkin, Ross spoke at length about the challenges of the role, how his departure had “bothered him a lot”, but why he thought his sacking was ultimately “inevitable” going into his second season.
On his immediate thoughts in the wake of his departure, Ross said:
I’m so critical of myself that I immediately started thinking about what I could have done better.
When asked if he felt his time at Sunderland could be considered a failure, Ross admitted:
From day one, I said promotion is what I wanted, so I can’t set goals like that and then bristle at criticism.
He did allude to the problems he faced behind the scenes and claimed the role was “challenging” and that he would defend “his time at the club til he was blue in the face”, citing:
They [people who thinks Ross failed at Sunderland] don’t see the stuff we had to deal with. That job is tough. Ask me for one word to describe it and I’d say ‘challenging’. It was brilliant, but it was challenging. It’s a brilliant club and a difficult club, as well. And I don’t think I’m the only Sunderland manager to have said that.
When describing some of those difficulties, he talked of how he refused to show his unhappiness as he believed, as manager of the club, it was important he “set the tone”. Whilst discussing the upheaval of last season’s summer window, he commented:
The first conversation I had with Stewart, he showed me the squad and said ‘They’ll all be gone, it’ll be a clean slate’. Maybe they didn’t think they’d want to play in League One … but that first pre-season was anything but a complete rebuild. It was just bonkers.
The structure of the club was never where I wanted it to be, although that’s not to say I’m right.
Many fans had pointed to the sale of top-scorer Josh Maja as our primary reason for not achieving promotion last term, and our former boss admitted the departure of top-scorer Josh Maja was something he “never, ever” wanted to happen, before describing how he felt the mood changed on Wearside going into the current season and how he felt his departure was inevitable:
You could feel a difference from pre-season almost. League One went from being a novelty to being intolerable; that was the way somebody put it and it was a brilliant way of describing it. That’s a bizarre set of circumstances and it’s not healthy as a manager. The dynamics in that change are difficult.
So it goes to that feeling of ‘need to win, need to win, need to win’. Do you always need to win? Yeah, of course, but it’s a different feeling. Just win. You might not read about yourself or search for it, but if there’s a noise around you, around everything, it’s pretty impossible not be aware of it. There was a feeling for a while around the place that wasn’t particularly positive. How do you get out of that fog?
One particular result which seemed to really turn the tide against the former boss was last month draw at rock-bottom Bolton Wanderers, and he spoke to Caulkin at length about the abuse he received that weekend:
After the game, we came out and beside the coach there were kids asking for autographs and pictures. I would never not do that; I’d had a tough afternoon and I could have put my head down and got on the bus, but I’m happy to talk to fans and I remember how I felt as a kid loving football. I’d never walk past anybody in that way.
So while I’m having my picture taken with a nine-year-old kid, I’m getting a 50-year-man giving me abuse. He was shouting, ‘F*** off back to Scotland’. That’s not me criticising Sunderland fans, because I’m sure it happens at every club, but it’s not right, that. People seem to think it’s acceptable in football. No human being could enjoy that. Sometimes, you just get back on the bus, shake your head and think ‘Wow.’
Despite the difficulties and his obvious upset at losing his position last month, Ross spoke passionately about his time on Wearside, admitting that he “loved managing the club” and that he “doesn’t regret taking the job for a second”. In particular, he spoke passionately about his fonder memories of his time at the Stadium of Light - Ross revealed:
There were some amazing, brilliant moments. A lot of the time you were reminded, wow, what a big club this is.
I’d like to think the people who worked with me would say I’ve got very little ego, so if I’d been a disaster, I would say I crashed and burned.
Even this season, we went to Burnley and Sheffield United in the League Cup, two Premier League clubs, and won and even that was … ah, but it doesn’t really matter now. I never once took the job for granted. I left with my head held high. Maybe some people will say ‘f*** off’ to that, but it’s genuinely how I feel.
The full interview from George Caulkin at The Athletic can be read here.