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Fan Letters: ‘Thanks for the promotion, Alex – but it should have only been the start’

Lots of views on Alex Neil’s move to Stoke, this morning. Got something to say?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Martin, I just wanted to register my wholehearted agreement with your insightful analysis of the Alex Neil situation. Graft on the pitch and, apparently, off. Fans are raking the club through the coals for this one, but I completely agree that he likely is the real culprit. As you wrote, they likely called his bluff and let him loose. I only hope that management anticipated this situation (though likely not Stoke and not this early in the season) when they signed him. As you pointed out, it’s not like he hasn’t done this before (Neil wants the world, and he wants it now). My wishful thought is that Speakman has someone in mind already. I hope he can follow up this surprise appointment with one of his own. If there is no honour among Championship clubs, I’d go after Coventry’s manager.

Thankfully, Sunderland are not willing to mortgage their future on any one player or coach. Fans gave Neil a ton of credit for our turnaround last year, and he absolutely deserves praise. But I honestly think he landed on very furtive ground. The club was poised for any number of head coaches to be successful. I backed the club before he arrived, backed it upon his arrival, and I continue to back it now.

The management do need to jump on this situation with proper messaging. Wish him luck. Make a smart appointment. Move on. Throw some shade about the importance of a coach with commitment, vision, and ambition.

If the data operation can sniff out this much talent, they ought to be able to target another good coach. I just hope that, in the interim, fans rally around the players and not let their disappointment poison the pitch. We’ve got a good thing going here. WE supporters have a role in keeping it that way.

Many thanks and best regards,

Chad Fasca, Tokyo, Japan

Ed’s Note [Martin]: Thanks for that Chad, the money’s in the post! The reality is, the club has a plan for the first time in who knows how long. Whether it’s the right plan or not is completely open to debate, but given the significant progress that’s been made during the past 18 months or so then it certainly has its merits. Regardless of the job Neil did, if he wanted to veer away from that plan then he was never going to be the long-term solution. He did brilliantly for us, and I’m still really quite shocked he’s done what he has done, but he’s just one piece in the system, and the club will hopefully have some possible replacements lined up.

Dear Roker Report,

Morning (I won’t say good because it isn’t)

My initial reaction following the club statement that Alex Neil was talking to Stoke, was that he was using the opportunity to negotiate an improved contract with us.

Why would anyone leave Sunderland for Stoke given the current fortunes of the two clubs, the size of Sunderland, the success Alex has had, the bond with his players etc etc

Then I see all the reports saying it's a done deal and I worry big time.

He is a tactical genius, who last season turned us into being rock solid from a team that could easily be bullied. He gave us all belief. I went to Wembley worried but expecting us to win.

I am sure we will never know the full details but it has to be a bust up between him and the recruitment team.

We have brought in a speedy winger (Jewison Bennette) and are linked with a number 10 (Edouard Michut). The former doesn’t have much if any English, the latter seems to have an attitude at PSG.

They both may well be excellent long-term additions to the club who flourish and increase in value over time.

However, looking at it from the manager’s perspective and from my own, we are strengthening in areas where we are already strong. In terms of wingers, Roberts and Clarke are both excellent at Championship level, plus we have Dajaku and Diamond as backup.

For the no 10 role we have Pritchard, Embleton plus I believe Dan Neil and Roberts could be decent there.

I suspect Alex Neil is knocking the non-existent door down of the recruitment team, saying it's all well and good going after these players but not at the expense of cover for left back, centre back (given Ballard’s injury), striker and Corry Evans cover in holding midfield.

Personally I don’t blame him for thinking that the priorities in the recruitment team are very questionable.

I am devastated at losing him, he gave us hope and belief.

Tony Nancarrow

Ed’s Note [Martin]: Thanks for your email Tony. Striking the balance between the short, medium and long term is essential, and I do think by the end of the window we would have had – will have – the right depth needed. It’s clear the club has a plan in terms of signing good young players – Benette and Michut certainly fall into this category – and they need supplemented by an experienced core group. Football’s never simple – no club signs players in order of what they need, so the fact we’ve signed (or look like signing, in Michut’s case) two young attacking players doesn’t mean we won’t sign defensive cover at all. The priorities of the recruitment team are aligned with the club’s vision – and whether we think it’s right or not, the manager needs to buy into that completely. Neil seemingly didn’t. I don’t think anyone can say it’s not worked so far – from a footballing perspecive we’ve improved massively since Speakman et al came in.

Angers SCO v Paris Saint-Germain - Ligue 1
New arrival?
Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I am really struggling to understand why people are so fret up about Alex Neil leaving. At the start of the season, the target was to stay up and look to consolidate in the Championship. We’ve had a great start, and for moments I even thought with the squad and the manager we might make it into the play-offs. That is unlikely to happen now, we’ll stumble around and end up mid table. That is still a success based on everyone’s expectations at the start of the season.

Only six months ago we were furious Alex Neil got the job over Roy Keane. We watched Philip Parkinson preside over successive defeats in the FA Cup to Macclesfield. Has anyone forgotten that Callum McFadzean played for Sunderland?! The reality is we put a good squad in place at the start of last season (that had nothing to do with Neil), and while Lee Johnson couldn’t quite hold it together, it was decent enough for a decent enough manager to win promotion. He was but one piece in the Jigsaw.

Neil may have done a great job for the last six months, but the reality is we have a decent nucleus of a squad; if we pick a decent managerial replacement with some extra playing additions, we will still be a match for anyone. Changing managers is cheap compared to replacing Stewart, Neil or Pritchard, and frankly irrelevant compared to finding an Ellis Simms.

It is a shame for all, as if he was bright enough, he would have moved us on a bit and waited for a job at a top championship side or even a side struggling in the Premier League. Now he’s kicking turds at Stoke. I would quite like to see Big Sam (if we can afford him), Nathan Jones or Mark Robins come in - the latter two have proved they can take sides into the championship and push them on with a limited budget. Keane was tempted by us in League One and there will be no shortage of managers who want to manage us in the Championship. The home support has been epic for the first two games.

We are the biggest club in the Championship by a country mile, and we are trying to plan sustainably for the premier league. If we find the right replacement, we will be ok - to quote the venerable Black Knight, “this is but a scratch”. We had four miserable years in League One, so we can all settle for a few years in the championship building - it’s slightly more tolerable playing Norwich week to week rather than Crewe...

We are a titan of English football and heading in the right direction after years of malaise; it is imperative that we appoint the right man to build the foundations to establish ourselves in the top flight once again. That is down to judgement rather than budget.

Ha’way the lads!


Sean Nash

Ed’s Note [Martin]: I understand why people are frustrated and annoyed by this. Neil did a cracking job, seemed to fit the personality type of manager that works at the club, and showed he was excellent tactically. Where that frustration and anger should be directed is another matter. Some people decide it’s Alex Neil to blame, others by default attach blame to the club for everything. As in most things, the truth’s likely somewhere in the middle. The positive is that, unlike in the past, the manager / head coach isn’t the be all and end all from a footballing pespective, whereas in the past it certainly was.

Dear Roker Report,

When Sunderland overcame Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley in what, when looking back now, was a comfortable win to end our Wembley hoodoo it felt like after years of misery Alex Neil had not only given Sunderland fans their best day in many a year but had also given Sunderland fans their club back.

Massive season ticket sales etc it just felt so good to be out of League 1. Some fans were predicting another promotion push, some were being more cautious and would settle for a season of consolidation. What all Sunderland fans could agree on though, was at last we had a likeable, straight-talking manager who looked a perfect fit for the club.

After beating Stoke in our last game, there was so much for fans to be positive about. A side more than holding its own in the Championship playing good, attacking football. Yes, there were concerns over a lack of options upfront, but overall things were feeling pretty good.

Stoke decided to sack Michael O’Neil and Alex Neil was instantly linked by the bookies. Most fans dismissed the speculation. Why would he want to join a club if approached who’s gates are around 20,000 less than our own great club? Why would he leave a club where he recently agreed a new 12 month rolling contract that all parties seemed happy with? Why would he leave a club where he is so popular for a smaller club in the same division?

By Friday morning the shock news broke that he would indeed hold talks with Stoke. Surely he would be offered a new contract and persuaded to stay? He is surely just after a better contract at Sunderland? No. Our recent saviour was in fact going to leave us and throw our club back into chaos with the transfer window due to close in only a few days. You couldn’t write it.

Why he is leaving may or may not become clear the next few days. It might be for his financial gain, it might be because he has a greater say in transfers at Stoke.

Most Sunderland fans are gutted. Alex Neil may feel he is making a good career move but is he really? Neil Warnock spoke on TV recently saying how it was his biggest regret in football not managing Sunderland.

There aren’t many football clubs in England bigger than Sunderland. Alex Neil may have a bigger contract at Stoke but the reality is he has more than likely walked away from the biggest club he will ever manage and we will never know what might have been.

Thanks for the promotion but it should have only been the start.

Kind regards

Lee Walker

Ed’s Note [Martin]: I might be being slightly delusional here, who knows, but I firmly believe Alex Neil will look back one day and seriously regret the decision he made. It seems non-sensical, certainly isn’t a step up, and I hope he fails miserably.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final
Should have just been the start...
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

We don’t know the details yet but something has happened between Speakman and Neil regarding transfers. It’s the first time we have signed young players with potential not journeymen only there for the money. Neil must have known his budget at the start of the season, so why did he sign a new contract. It looks to me like he has been offered more money at Stoke. Again in football greed wins and loyalty goes out the window, Neil will regret this move big style. In the press, he mentioned Stoke signing the likes of Gayle that’s what he wanted at Sunderland. Sorry Neil, his good years are behind him he is average if anything and if that’s the sort of player you wanted on big money and who could not give a fuck about the club, I say good riddance to you. We have to be realistic we know the money is not there to just spend ourselves out of this league, but we have spent the third highest so far this season. Barland, Clarke, Roberts and Simms are good signings with more to come, and the manager walked away to Stoke. Who does he think he is Alex fu*kin Ferguson no one’s bigger than the club. Neil has let the club down his timing of the move is inexcusable and unprofessional, and we have now seen another side to the man , which the fans will not forgive him for. All the good work he has done is gone for what? Probably money. We have to move on and quickly appoint a new manager, not old school hopefully. My choice is fans' favourite Joey Barton – plays better football than Dyche.

Mark Wild

Ed’s Note [Martin]: Thanks for your email Mark. Looking at it objectively now, it seems like it was a marriage of convenice so to speak, which worked well for both parties. He is a ‘manager’, not a ‘head coach’, but had been out of work for the best part of a year and was hardly inundated with job offers. We gave him a chance to get back into the game and his stock’s risen since – he got us promoted. Win/win in many respects. Seemingly he wanted transfers that didn’t align with the model we have, so that was never going to work longer term if that’s the case. The club could have backed down, offered him whatever control he wanted etc, it might have been easier to do that in the short term if that was the issue, but they haven’t. We’ve paid heavily for paying over the odds for players and managers in the past – it’s positive that we’re not doing to again. Having said all of that – Joey Barton? No chance!


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