Four months ago, Sunderland experienced an all-too-familiar scenario: a mid-season drop-off in form, a managerial sacking, and uncertainty surrounding the short-term success and long-term direction of the club.
Lee Johnson’s firing was a bit of a surprise, albeit not a total shock, but the events of the following fortnight left fans baffled at the decision-making of owner, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, and Sporting Director, Kristjaan Speakman.
Johnson’s firing was followed by absolute chaos. January’s transfer deadline day was completed with no manager in the room and reports that the gaffer’s opinion of not signing a certain homecoming, club-legend may have contributed to his demise. Things went from bad to worse as reports of another club legend’s “maybe I will, maybe I won’t” attitude on coming to manage the club, led to major distractions from the task at hand; promotion.
The cherry on top of our New Years’ calamity pie was the job caretakers Mike Dodds and Michael Proctor did as managerial interviews dragged on.
Intense questions ensued as to the competence of the board room and backroom, namely Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman.
“What on earth are they doing?”
Enter Alex Neil.
KLD and Speakman both assured an underwhelmed fan base that Neil was their first choice and, by their assessment, the man to take us up.
Still writhing in pain over the string of results, piling injuries, and the Roy Keane saga, some fans were unimpressed and unconvinced that Neil was a good appointment, let alone the right one.
Almost a year out from his last job and five years out from the national spotlight, the response to Alex Neil’s introduction as Sunderland head coach was a prime example of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.”
Neil, however, was unfazed by the reaction and simply got to work. His attitude, leadership, and methodical preparations began the moment he came through the door and haven’t slowed down yet. It wasn’t immediate, but the results and grit that Alex Neil has brought have shown that he’s earned the praise KLD and Speakman gave him upon arrival.
My confidence for the final on Saturday is now sky-high. It’s not overconfidence or arrogance that’s taking Wycombe for granted - it’s a confidence born out of the certainty of what Alex Neil has brought to our club.
I’m sure that the gaffer will have motivated the squad so that all eleven players on the pitch are giving their all for the shirt. I’m sure he’ll have them well-drilled, knowing exactly what their jobs are individually and collectively. I’m sure he’ll have the game plan to rid our minds of playoff heartbreak and send us into a frenzied, victorious celebration as the final whistle blows.
In short, those involved in the decision to hire Alex Neil may not have done it perfectly, but they have most certainly got the right man in for the job of managing this beautiful club - and I hope KLD and Speakman can keep Alex Neil around for years to come!