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Potential runners and riders should Sunderland pull the managerial trigger

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With pressure rising on Phil Parkinson, and a change in manager seeming highly likely should a change of ownership finally happen, Tom Albrighton puts some potential replacements under the spotlight.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

With Sunderland seemingly again on the cusp of new ownership (though we’ll say that tentatively for now), it seems an – almost – appropriate time to look to the future.

It’s safe to say any new incoming owner, especially if they’re serious, will be looking to change manager in a bid to turn Sunderland’s fortunes around on the pitch, while creating a positive platform to build on. Let’s have a gander at a few candidates.


The dreamer’s choice – Gus Poyet

Newcastle United v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

A man very much front of mind for most Sunderland fans. Whether it’s due to a pining for days gone by or his frequent appearances on football podcasts in recent months, Poyet – perhaps unwittingly, perhaps deliberately – has thrown his hat into the ring.

From the outside, Poyet’s name is surely the most alluring when considering the other viable candidates. While some may see the notion as somewhat pie in the sky, with Juan Sartori allegedly upping his stake in the club, his Uruguayan links would serve him well.

Add to this Sartori’s vocal backing for feeder clubs in Uruguay, and a seemingly unlikely proposition begins to gain traction.

When broken down into a purely footballing equation, Poyet makes sense to many.

While his ventures since leaving Sunderland – in Spain, China, Greece and France – haven’t borne fruit, the unstable nature and political backgrounds of the clubs he took charge of never really helped him from the outset.

Bordeaux v Mariupol - Europa League
Poyet’s encountered a number of issues at the clubs he’s coached since leaving SAFC
Photo by Manuel Blondeau/Icon Sport via Getty Images

From his time in England, though, Poyet has the credentials, and he may well have the desire to reestablish his name in managerial circles.

Dropping down to League One wouldn’t be a new thing to Poyet, who started his managerial career with Brighton in English football’s third-tier.

He eventually got the Seagulls promoted from League One at a canter – not vacating the top spot in the league from the eighth game of the season.

Of course, we are all fully aware of Poyet’s capabilities as a Sunderland manager.

During his time in the North East, Poyet often spoke candidly about situations at the club with his ‘we need a miracle’ response becoming the headline of Sunderland’s incredible Premier League survival.

Poyet instilled a clear football identity. Under his management, we become a side that passed the ball for lengthy periods in neat triangles to get in behind the opposition.

While it was not always the smoothest of systems, Poyet did well with what he had, mastering the art of getting players who were out of position to not only invest themselves into their new role, but to excel in it too, bringing an exuberance and quality to Sunderland’s overall football.

If he did take over Sunderland today, Poyet would inherit a side desperate for direction, but also with the capability to play to his preferred style.

Despite being perpetually lightweight, Sunderland – perhaps more than any other side in League One – possess a side brimming with technical ability which is, as yet, untapped.

With a host of exciting youth prospects pressing for a place in the side, he would take on a squad of players already pushing each other.

If that ability and competition could be harnessed in the right way, Poyet has a chance of building a formidable side should he decide he has unfinished business on Wearside.


The ambitious choice – Danny and Nicky Cowley

Derby County v Huddersfield Town - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Photo by Mike Egerton/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

This managerial option comes as a pair and represents what could be a bold vision from Sunderland’s hierarchy.

Young, aggressive and progressive, the Cowleys have already made great strides in their short managerial careers, and have captured many a fan’s attention.

Unlike Poyet, the Cowley’s have not traversed the globe and haven’t experienced management at the top level of English football – though that should not deter our current or (potentially) new owners.

The Cowleys have perhaps done things the more traditional way, climbing their way up through the football pyramid, from Concord Rangers to Huddersfield Town, in little over ten years.

Undoubtedly though, their finest achievement to date remains the stellar work they achieved at League One rivals Lincoln City.

They won promotion to the Football League for the first time in six years while cementing their places in Lincoln folklore by leading the club to an FA Cup Quarter-Final, becoming the first non-league side in over 100 years to do so.

Following this, the Cowleys consolidated Lincoln’s place in League Two before taking them to League One the following year – a dramatic rise for a side that had not experienced such heights since before the millennium.

What makes this feat even more incredible is that the Cowleys achieved it on a shoestring budget, and using crowdfunding to plug the gaps where they appeared.

The Cowley brothers bring with them experience – both with and without the weight of expectation.

A stint at a failing Huddersfield, where they helped the club maintain their Championship status despite clear constraints in recruitment, has shown that they can handle high-pressure situations.

Question marks will remain over their ability to handle the high-stakes environments of larger clubs, however, with Huddersfield being their biggest challenge to date.

Huddersfield Town v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Another string to the Cowleys’ bow is the forensic attention to detail with which they approach all of their games, encouraging their sides to be adaptable to their opposition and their own personnel.

This analytical approach, which results in proactive in-game management, is something Sunderland have been crying out for.

During their time at Lincoln the Cowley brothers were more than happy to switch their style, be it playing more directly or out from the back, to suit individual needs and situations.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that they were always successful, but their fearless approach and proactive management style is something that would be well received on Wearside, especially in direct comparison to their potential predecessor.

This analytical and fear-free approach is something the Cowleys instil in their sides – and an element that also seeps into their recruitment policy.

Shrewsbury Town v Lincoln City - Checkatrade Trophy Final Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Given the fact the Cowleys haven’t had either the creative freedom or the means to realise their vision entirely, what they have achieved so far on limited resources is far beyond what most would deem as conceivable.

And while questions about whether they could handle a sleeping giant like Sunderland linger, the chances of them being daunted by such a task seem highly unlikely.

Given the additional pull of Sunderland’s Category One academy status, and facilities far superior to any side in League One, the Cowleys could represent a less obvious, but far more ambitious, choice of staff.


The left-field choice – Ryan Lowe

Plymouth Argyle v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Ryan Lowe is probably the most peculiar name on this list and one not on the tip of many people’s tongues – however, that doesn’t mean he should be discounted.

Lowe is an experienced league footballer, amassing more than 600 league appearance over his career, varying between clubs mainly in League One and Two – which has no doubt manifested itself in a thorough knowledge of the lower tiers of League football.

He first delved into management in 2018 as caretaker manager of the now-famously-troubled Bury.

Despite being in charge from January, and the club suffering relegation, he’d made a good enough impression. Appointed permanently after the drop, he rang the changes and, on absolutely no budget at all, led Bury to promotion at the first time of asking – with the team becoming one of the highest scorers in the football league in the process.

Naturally, the ability to work on little-to-no budget would make Lowe appealing to Sunderland’s current ownership.

Lowe has since taken control of Plymouth on the south coast, and again achieved promotion to League One in his first full season.

Plymouth Argyle v Swindon Town - Sky Bet League Two
Lowe and behold, Plymouth got promoted
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Although Lowe is somewhat an unknown quantity, the excitement and gung-ho attitude of his football has certainly caught the eye, with the man himself citing inspiration from Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola – although, which manager doesn’t draw inspiration from those two?

As a result of this, Lowe has seen his sides turn into attacking, exciting and direct teams.

He favours three at the back, which would make the team’s transition from Parkinson a little easier. His preferred 3-1-4-2 formation would also work with our glut of midfield options.

However, many question marks will remain over Lowe, mainly due to the fact he hasn’t managed in League One for any lengthy period of time, as well as not managing a club even a fifth of Sunderland’s size.

With fewer than 150 games under his belt, it would represent a huge gamble at this stage to appoint Lowe – who we know very little about – though with high stakes invariably come high rewards.

As a manager still finding his feet, it’s not unfair to suggest that this job may be a bit too much, too soon for him, especially given the huge weight of expectation that would be immediately placed upon his shoulders.

Add to this his identified philosophy of simply outscoring the opposition, as we recently found out, will not always appeal to the clean sheet fetishists of which there seems to be an abundance of at Sunderland.

So, even while boasting a 50% win record this season and a 45% win record overall in management, Lowe’s relative inexperience may just prove one hurdle too many for Sunderland’s decision makers.