In our last two matches our beloved team looks as lost as a Hitch Hiker from Timbuktu with severe amnesia. They’re playing with as much organisation as strung out meth-heads trying to read a nautical map upside down.
Our manager looks increasingly lonely. Increasingly anxious. He claims to have done everything he can think of to help the team improve, but we’re not seeing any significant progress on the pitch. Some would argue there’s been none. And now we’re agonizing about what to do for the long term improvement of our squad and club.
Should we sack him? Is it better to take swift action? And what are the costs of delaying the decision? Deciding whether or not to terminate Jack Ross’s contract is actually difficult in real life - certainly harder than we imagine it is from the comfort of our armchairs or the worn leather stools of a public house, where we drown our footballing sorrows.
But for those who have to do the sacking - who have a relationship with Ross and his staff, who’ve made plans together, dined together and worked together - it’s an emotionally difficult task. Especially, if like many suspect, the money to pay off the management team is not exactly quick to hand in what seems to be an anaemic bank balance.
The decision is especially tricky for Stewart Donald because it’s not like Ross has violated any behavioural employment rules and isn’t egregiously underperforming or willfully harming the team’s performances — but is clearly falling short. Clearly.
However, its even trickier when a manager has lost the support of the crowd. How does he come back from that? In Ross’s case he’s going to have to do something quite amazing to return the will and love of the people that he enjoyed for the first six months of his tenure. Does he have that ‘something amazing’ in his skillset? I’m not convinced.
In essence, what I seem to have learned about Jack Ross is this - he scored lucky with Maja, an academy graduate that he inherited and only played after an injury to Charlie Wyke.
The football after that has been largely drab and unimaginative. Even with the benefit of a mind-boggling, League One fee of up to £4 million pounds for a striker with a proven track record, Ross has not found the formula that unlocks the key to Grigg’s goal snatching, nor has he figured out how to plug the gaps that have lamented his team’s performances since Maja left a few months after he arrived. The lack of pace and power. The lack of a commanding out and out centre half. The lack of directness and passing accuracy.
As for Donald - the great Tweeter of Oz, the man behind the hectic social media curtain - he will undoubtedly (and perhaps rightly depending in opinion) retain the default mode of believing Ross will turn it around. He turned away a manager who was popular and keen to stay after relegation in favour of a relative unknown, working in a league where some managers are part-time and the average manager’s salary is up to five times less than what Ross allegedly picks up at Sunderland.
So, while some may believe that waiting and giving Jack more leeway may be the route to patiently travel for improving results, others are just as convinced that delaying a decision is firmly ill-advised.
When your goal is to build a great team and the tip of the team is not as productive or as engaged as he needs to be for improvement to take place then you need to make a tough call, quickly.
Sunderland fans, like Donald and Methven, have to imagine our best management team and question: ‘is Jack Ross in it?’. If Ross told us he was leaving how much would we fight to keep him? Perhaps the key to Ross’s future here then is tied up in those last two questions.
I think I know than answer I’d get from most supporters.
If performances don’t significantly improve in the next two weeks, Jack Ross and Stewart Donald will be under huge pressure and the cost of procrastinating a very challenging decision will be incalculable for both footballing and credibility reasons. If Sunderland fans see Donald’s stalling, it looks like he doesn’t have the courage or the money in the bank to make a tough call - and I’m not sure which looks worse or more worrying.
In the meantime, morale dampens, and the team performance suffers and by team in this instance I include the fans as part of that body. The atmosphere around the stadium dips further into bitterness and grudge holding disappointment. The cost of prolonging the process is more than the value of paying off contracts and upsetting a colleague we’ve enjoyed working with. The cost is anger, loss of good will, lack of patience and relationship breakdown - and a PR-savvy guy like Stewart Donald knows that for progress to be maintained, he must satisfy the lust of his core stake holders - the supporters.
I was an admirer of Ross last season, particularly in the early days and was relieved we had a young coach with drive and ambition. Donald sold Ross as a Scottish Mourinho mixed with a youthful embodiment of Alex Ferguson; someone at the cutting edge of modern coaching and contemporary man management processes.
We finished fifth - the club with the largest squad, the highest paid players and arguably in players like McGeady, McLaughlin, some of the very best players in the league. We had the number one budget and record breaking attendances. But, we played negative, predictable football and finished fifth - not quite the vision Ross sold Donald and Methven in his interview.
Still, in my heart, I’d prefer it if Ross showed us his mettle and turned it around. I would love it (Keegan style) if Ross thought ‘Screw it - I’ll show every single one of you I’m the man.’ I would love for Sunderland to sign the right players for the right positions and play quick, imaginative football. In fact - smaller scale than that - I’d love it if Jack Ross didn’t panic and change formations three times in a match when his original ideas go up in smoke.
Thing is, Ross has no wriggle room whatsoever.
So, if any of this isn’t in Jack’s locker and if the lacklustre performances of our players are indicative of the respect they have the man moving forward, there is ultimately only one decision for the board to make in the weeks ahead.