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Sunderland v Norwich City - Premier League

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Fan Letters: Kristjaan Speakman, Alex Neil, Roy Keane & Madrox all under the microscope today!

“For the club to genuinely move forward, I believe Donald and Methven in particular need to sell their stake in the club to KLD – their presence in whatever capacity they’re officially or unofficially working isn’t productive at all.”

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report

Alex Neil may be the perfect choice but I cannot blame Roy Keane for deciding this is not the job that a man of his character would relish.

Yes, Mr Keane, we would like you to play strip poker and your future depends on promotion but by the by you must play with our deck of cards and you have no say on which cards are included in the pack nor how many cards will be available in each suit.

All you have to do is guarantee promotion otherwise we exercise your termination clause.

How amazing he did not jump at it.

Alan Hedley

Ed’s Note [Martin]: We don’t know the ins and outs of why the Keane deal fell through, but given the club have given Alex Neil a 12 month rolling contract it’s safe to assume that’s what was at least on the table for Keane. I just couldn’t see Keane working in the current set up anyway, so in reality it’s no surprise it didn’t come to fruition.

Dear Roker Report

I am pleased Sunderland have finally appointed a new manager and stopped the rot in terms of consecutive defeats.

The result today wasn’t perfect, but it was a difficult game not helped by some poor refereeing. Exactly the type of game we are used to seeing us losing and not digging in.

I thought the new manager picked a decent side, and made changes that gave players coming on a chance to affect the outcome.

Everyone should now get behind the new manager and hopefully, we can get into the playoffs on a much better run of form.

Ha’way the lads.

Ken Tuck

Ed’s Note [Martin]: It’s good to see a manager in place Ken – trouble is it should have been done two weeks ago. We should have put the club first and had someone lined up, rather than being seen to do the ‘right’ thing. Alex Neil would have taken the job a fortnight ago, but instead the powers that be gambled – and lost out massively.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Everyone will be behind the new head coach
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report

Come on every Sunderland fan: give Neil a chance and get behind the team.


David Forsyth

Ed’s Note [Martin]: I’m sure every Sunderland fan will, David – ultimately, every true supporter wants us to win every game, regardless of who’s in the dugout, boardroom or on the field!

Dear Roker Report,

After another depressing week in the life of a Sunderland supporter, In my view, our Director of Football, Mr Speakman, seems to have an overinflated opinion of his responsibilities and has yet again failed to deliver on the big decisions.

In terms of the sacking of Mr Johnson, Mr Speakman has been quoted as saying “I don’t think we want to be looking at these types of decisions around singular results. It’s the underlying inconsistency and the alignment to our philosophy and the way we want to play which has probably caused most concern”.

With all due respect those issues have not changed since before Christmas so why wasn’t a new coach brought in then? To all those Sunderland supporters who didn’t think he should be sacked, please, if you look at the games under Johnson our play was ponderous and predictable but more importantly, the number of clear goalscoring chances created from open play was totally unacceptable.

In terms of a succession plan, Mr Speakman has been quoted as saying “We have a really clear criteria on the type of head coach that we want to work for the club, what the requirements are of that individual, and what we are judging them against. Naturally, we are running a succession plan for that position so we have been tracking coaches over the last year”. It figures that these coaches that are being tracked would be successful or up and coming with potential, 99% of them would be in employment. However, it seems to me that a prerequisite of Mr Speakman’s succession plan was that they had to be out of work and therefore cheap!

On numerous occasions, Mr Speakman has referred to the style of play he expects “We are also not moving that strategy forward in terms of the game style that we want to see being played” …. “but we are also looking at who is out there who matches up with our style of play”. Is our Director of Football now dictating the style of play he expects from our manager? Are we seriously suggesting that Mr Speakman (ex-Birmingham City Academy Manager) is telling the likes of Roy Keane, or any other manager how he expects the team to play, what a joke? Is that why Roy Keane turned the job down? We don’t care what style our manager plays as long as it’s a winning style that gets us out of this league.

Does this also apply to the coaching staff and any transfers? You would expect any decent manager worth his salt to bring in his own coaching team and have the final say with any transfers or is Mr Speakman insisting that the new manager works with the existing coaching staff that he has appointed, and he has the final say on any transfers. Is that another reason Roy Keane walked away?

Mr Speakman has been responsible for appointing our current coaching set up, Mr Jevons (First team coach), Mr English (Head of Coaching), and Mr Dodds (under 23 coach). Mr Jevons was previously coach of Everton’s under 18’s, Mr English, was previously assistant academy manager at Birmingham City and Mr Dodds, was previously academy manager at, yes you guessed it, Birmingham City. I’m all for giving people a chance but are these really the CV’s of coaches that will lead us to the promised land. Having seen Mr Dodds and Mr Jevons in action against Doncaster and Cheltenham they were clearly unqualified and out of their depth, so forgive me if I sound concerned.

Steve Williamson

Ed’s Note [Martin]: There’s a lot to unpick there, Steve. I disagree with your assessment of our play under Lee Johnson. When we were good, we were excellent – pressed well, created chances and scored lots of goals. However, we were inconsistent, and struggled away from home. Is that to be expected with a squad as young as ours? Maybe.

As for the structure, yes – that’s the Sporting Director / Director of Football model. The style of play, recruitment, coaching set up etc is determined by the SD, and the Head Coach has to run the day to day and get the results, while also having input into incomings, and specifics of play. It’s a very different role to the traditional ‘manager’.

That has benefits in terms of – in theory at least – the new Head Coach not having players that don’t suit his style of play etc. We wouldn’t recruit a Head Coach who played a completely different style of play – that, and the limited responsibility on offer, narrows down the available options somewhatm and I was hugely surprised to see Keane’s name seriously linked, as I just didn’t envisage him agreeing to work in a set up like that.

For it’s merits, however, that set up relies completely on the Sporting Director being the right person – and some of the decisions Speakman has (seemingly) made over the past couple of weeks (playing on through Covid, sanctioning transfers out with no replacement and putting Dodds in temporary charge) raise huge questions over his long-term suitability.

Blackburn Rovers v Sunderland - Premier League
Don’t dream, it’s over. That was the last chance of Keane making a return to the SoL.
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

This was the letter I had hoped I would never have to write. It revolves around my feeling that the last two weeks have centered on a power struggle with Speakman clearly not wishing to cede power and control possibly supported by Madrox.

It is clearly a case of history repeating.

Let me explain.

1] Johnson dismissal

It’s just possible that LJ and Speakman had a disagreement on the purchase of the Centre Half Beevers from Peterborough with the DoF not happy with his wage demands followed by a U-turn on the last day of the window and losing the deal which would have plugged the Flanagan gap.

Secondly, I’m not sure that LJ wanted to sign Defoe and not certain how he could play the 39-year-old with only 9 minutes of football in him this season.

Madrox may have been keener on the signing as a way of increasing revenues and Club value which is very much still on their agenda (they were probably right there judging from the 38,000 gate last week).

Sacking Johnson instead of giving him till the end of the season was a huge gamble

2] The Case for Roy Keane

No one could have had a better playing record than Roy in terms of winning trophies than Roy with great experience of leading difficult characters (e.g. Beckham Cantona Neville etc). His leadership skills there were well and truly proven

In terms of management apprenticeship, he could not have bettered that with Ferguson and Brian Clough who both preached the keep it simple philosophy of football. Clough was Roy’s real idol. Clough was also my idol as a player alongside the great Charlie Hurley. Despite his Sunderland affiliation, we rejected him twice as Manager (Tom Cowie I think) Why? Because he was a strong character with a mind of his own. (Remind you of anyone else?) Clough for me went on to become the best ever English born manager with Derby and Forest.

Roy’s achievements at Sunderland last time were enormous taking us from the bottom of the Championship to the title in one season and then securing safety in the Premiership the following year. But it was his ability to lift a demoralised fanbase that I really remember (away trips to Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday stand out).

Roy’s Sunderland connections don’t end there. For 6 years he coached a very successful Irish team under Marin O’Neill (another Clough disciple and early Sunderland fan as he revered Charlie Hurley) O’Neill’s, who knows a thing or two about football and Sunderland, was: ‘’Roy Keane is a perfect fit for Sunderland’’.

Read Roddy Doyle’s Keane biography and you will have no doubt about Keane’s love of Sunderland and his need to complete ‘’unfinished business’’.

The very fact he was even interested in League One Football at our Club is testimony enough. He was the one who put photos of Hurley and Stokoe on the dressing room walls was also a clear sign that he “got’’ our club and its History and Supporters

3] Speakman

At 19 he had one year as Manager of Derby’s Under 18 team

He then had 14 years as Head of Birmingham’s Academy. He’s never had to manage gnarly older professional footballers. It’s interesting looking back at what Brian Dick of the Birmingham Mail said on his Sunderland appointment:

“I think what they have is a very able administrator. He’s someone with a record of getting young players out of the Academy and through the Development Squad.’’

He also has a Business degree from that famous academic institution the University of Derby topped up with a Certificate in Education. He no doubt is also aware of how Brian Clough challenged and fell foul of the Derby County Chairman Sam Longston.

Speakman was appointed by one Stewart Donald of Madrox


I don’t believe Speakman ever wanted Roy Keane in that he would have lost all his influence. He’s much more wedded to his long term project and connection it would appear to Donald and Methven (look at photos of them together at the Cheltenham game).

In this, he would be supported by Madrox who it seems to me still have an influence on KLD.

History has finally again repeated itself with the Club preferring Yes men to two guys who “got’’ Sunderland but would have been too challenging for the owners

I’m now waiting for the club to put out a statement to the effect that they couldn’t agree to Keane’s terms.

The whole thing stinks.

Of course, my theories could be wrong.

Sunderland Til I Die.

Colin Ions

Ed’s Note [Martin]: I think it’s clear that some people on the board wanted Keane and others didn’t – a recruitment process that was targeting Keane, Alex Neil and Grant McCann doesn’t seem aligned.

Given KLD’s ‘liking’ of the Instagram post linking Keane to the job, it seems he was perhaps the one pushing for it, who knows. I just couldn’t see Keane being told what to do by Speakman, and it would be easy to assume an element of self preservation in the appointment of the Head Coach.

It seems clear there’s a lack of clear leadership from the top, and if there are different people pulling in different directions we’re not going to get anywhere.

For the club to genuinely move forward, I believe Donald and Methven in particular need to sell their stake in the club to KLD – their presence in whatever capacity they’re officially or unofficially working isn’t productive at all.


Pause for thought


Sunderland are set for a massive summer after the inevitable sacking of Michael Beale!

Fan Letters: “The distraction of Beale is behind us”

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