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Barnesy’s Blog: “So.... Failure?! Jack Ross has not failed at Sunderland!”

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“Jack Ross should be applauded for taking a team to the brink of promotion despite the adversities the club has faced since he arrived” writes BBC Newcastle’s Nick Barnes.

Danny Roberts

“Failure” – someone or something that is unsuccessful.

It’s a word that’s being bandied about with abandon at the moment.

Currently on BBC2 there is a series called ‘Great British Menu’ pitting in some cases Michelin starred chefs against other chefs in a bid to take a dish to a banquet. All the chefs run restaurants and are high achievers. It follows therefore that every dish they produce should earn ten out of ten. But no. Tens are a rarity and as often as not the scores are sixes, sevens, eights and nines. Occasionally fours and fives. Failure? The chefs themselves probably feel they have failed but most of us would look at their dishes and admire their artistry and skill, regarding them with nothing but awe. Some dishes we won’t like, some we will. The mechanics of their production though are to be admired.

Jack Ross says he would feel he had failed if he doesn’t get Sunderland promoted this season. Would he have though, especially if Sunderland reach the play-off final? The lottery in which on the day either side could profit. Finishing fifth in League One. Failure?

It’s hard to take and it’s unquestionably a low point in Sunderland’s history, but here is what Lee Cattermole says:

The change in the club from the end of last season to where we are now, I think we’ve come a long way. You can see the atmosphere every game, every away ground we go to, and it has been like a cup competition all year for us.

We’ve handled it. We’ve brought again a lot of new players in, a lot of new staff, with new ownership. We’ve changed almost everything you can change in a football club. We’ve done that this year. We’re now entering the final period of the season.

It’s a new competition so we need to freshen things up again and go again. We’ve got two games and then hopefully another trip to Wembley.

In two or three weeks’ time we’ll find out whether it’s been a failure this year or not because if we don’t go up I’ll be viewing it as a failure but I think we’ve still got a strong chance of doing that.

Therein lies the conundrum. The drastic changes the club has seen over the last ten months have been that - turbulent, drastic and far reaching.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

One argument levelled at Jack Ross is that he has had at his disposal the best squad in League One. True to a degree. On paper it is the best squad, but it is a disparate eclectic squad thrown together. Cattermole added it was a recruitment policy flawed last summer because it was a case of getting bodies in quickly rather than a result of a well thought out strategy.

One thing glaringly obvious from Sunderland’s season has been the lack of a long term plan. This has been a belts and braces season.

There’s a body of fans who want Jack Ross to leave. They posit he is out of his depth, doesn’t know his best team and has squandered opportunities tactically. It’s an interesting hypothesis for a team that scored nine more goals at home than Barnsley and conceded one less goal than their rivals. Away from home they scored more than Luton. The crux of Sunderland’s season has been the number of draws.

No-one has denied that but the reasons for them are myriad.

Losing Josh Maja in January was key but even with Maja, Sunderland were drawing matches, not finishing teams off from winning positions. They couldn’t keep clean sheets. It seems a paradox that Sunderland scored more goals at home than Barnsley and more away than Luton but in the same breath couldn’t hold on to leads or put matches to bed, but the key goes back to the summer recruitment which was unfulfilling and fuelled by necessity.

Jack Ross would be the first to implore the club to establish a template for the future. Barnsley have one. Portsmouth have one. Each have recruitment policies tailored to their respective ambitions. Player ages, player size, wage structures etc are all part of their blueprints.

Sunderland v Walsall - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

That Jack Ross has achieved a top six finish in his first season at a club lurching from financial meltdown and last summer no conceivable structure for building for the future is an achievement in itself.

Ross is an organiser. Methodical and thorough.

In Paul Reid as Academy head he has a like-minded colleague.

What the club lacks is a clear sighted policy when it comes to building for the future. If Ross was to leave, a new man arrives and the summer is lost again to turmoil and change. He stays and whatever league Sunderland are playing in next season the summer will have some clarity. Lessons learned from this season.

They are palpably obvious to you and I and if fans believe they are not to Jack Ross then one can only say they are delusional. Ross is only too aware of the fallibilities. He will hold his hand up to errors he has made and to think he hasn’t is disingenuous as he like all of us is only human, but in Ross’ case working under immense pressure and strain - not something he shies away from. That comes with the territory as the manager of Sunderland AFC.

So... failure?

Jack Ross hasn’t failed.

Sunderland AFC failed over the past decade to put in place the checks and balances to avoid financial meltdown. Failed to get a grip of recruitment. Failed to establish a template to allow managers coming through the revolving door a chance to build rather than disassemble and start again.

Jack Ross should be applauded for taking a team to the brink of promotion despite the adversities the club has faced since he arrived in spite of the apparent riches some would argue he has had at his disposal. To return to my earlier analogy, Jack Ross has looked to take a dish to the banquet but in judgement has been awarded eight out of ten.

As with the ‘Great British Menu’ judgement comes down to personal taste and in the case of Sunderland this season opinion will be divided but in judging do so with objectivity rather than emotional irrationality at the core.