Dear Roker Report,
My initial reaction to Alex Neil’s departure was one of anger and extreme disappointment, but I’ve just read an excellent article by Giles Mooney for A Love Supreme called ‘Am I Bovvered?’ and it has made me pause for thought.
I always fancied Neil for head coach, even when most people wanted Roy Keane, and I think he did a spectacular job. My initial disappointment was understandable for someone who had my total backing from the start and did so much to help the club, so it really did feel like a betrayal.
The article highlighted the fact that Neil’s managerial record tends to plateau and then fall after an initial bounce. It also points out that he has a track record of jumping ship while his stock is high, but even if these things are inaccurate when it comes to Sunderland, I still don’t find myself feeling too crushed now that the dust is settling. Even if he’d come back from Stoke willing to stay, is he really the sort of person we want representing our club?
Neil has walked out on a contract that he willingly signed just four weeks ago.
He gave no indication such a move was on his mind, and he also did this in very suspicious circumstances. Is that particularly professional or loyal? He left the club in the lurch without a second thought, and he’s gone to a smaller club in every respect, who are also facing a transfer embargo. Does that strike anyone as a move made for sound footballing reasons or his long-term career?
None of this suggests that he is a particularly honourable man, but it does suggest that he is someone who is simply chasing cash.
The club appear to have done all they reasonably could for him because they gave him an improved contract that he willingly accepted and even offered him more when Stoke declared their interest. What more could they have reasonably done? The twelve-month rolling contract appears to have been Neil’s choice and we now know it was there to give him an easy way out as soon as something else came along. This is entirely self-serving and both the club and the fans deserve better.
In my opinion, we are right to stick to the model, even if it means that we have lost Neil. We know our recruitment model works, so why should we change it for him?
I think that I’m correct in saying that we’re the third highest spending club in the Championship so far, so the club is certainly investing in the squad and they’re bringing in some exciting young talent. It’s working well and we can’t abandon that for anyone, not even a head coach who, in my opinion, is the best we’ve had in decades with the possible exception of Big Sam.
Neil had no good reason to leave other than selfish greed, so we move on.
He didn’t deserve us and we need someone in the dugout who is far more committed than a man who will sell his soul for a payday. The moment he heard our improved terms and he still wanted to go to speak to Stoke, the decision should have been made that he wasn’t coming back, regardless of what they said.
I thought Neil was better than that but I was wrong, so good riddance. Onwards and upwards.
Ha’way the Lads!
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi Andrew, and thank you for your letter.
You raise some excellent points, and having had some time to dwell on the circumstances of Neil’s departure, I think that much of what you say is difficult to refute.
I always saw Neil as an ambitious coach, and as someone who could’ve eventually led Sunderland back to the Premier League. What I didn’t see him as was someone who would walk out on the club at such a crucial time, leaving everyone in limbo, and a fanbase completely shellshocked by his departure.
Clearly, there has been a breakdown between Neil and the club’s hierarchy, and if Stoke have offered him financial guarantees that we weren’t willing to match, that is their prerogative.
I remain absolutely adamant that Neil was onto a winner at Sunderland and could’ve fulfilled his aspirations on Wearside. He did an excellent job in getting us promoted, and the team spirit he built clearly remains very strong, but this club was here long before his arrival, and it will be here long after his departure.
Nevertheless, we now have a chance to move forward, and hopefully the club can continue on its new path without too much upheaval or disruption.
Dear Roker Report,
I feel that we have been badly let down by Alex Neil taking flight and doing so only a few days before the transfer deadline.
Just over a week ago, we were chanting ‘Alex Neil’s Red and White Army’ at the very same venue where he is now taking over. People within football, including managers, often complain about lack of loyalty from their players yet after six months, this is exactly what has happened because he has been offered a higher wage.
Let’s have a new manager in place and give the team our usual wholehearted support.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Thank you for getting in touch.
It is quite surreal to think that Stoke’s new boss is the same man who led us to an impressive victory in the Potteries just over a week ago, but football moves very quickly, and nothing is permanent in this game.
At the time of replying, Tony Mowbray looks set to take over, so hopefully that will be confirmed soon, and we can look forward to a game on Wednesday evening!
Dear Roker Report,
I wasn’t able to listen to Saturday’s game, but by all accounts it sounds like the squad gave their all against a top team in this division. Luck simply might not have been on our side, which is fair considering that we pipped one against Stoke.
This gives me a lot of confidence that our current squad is more than good enough to stay in this league and possibly secure a finish in the upper part of the table, if we have the right head coach.
After the shock of the news wearing off and looking into Alex Neil’s previous history, it’s not surprising what transpired. He is a good manager, but his modus operandi always seems to be hunting for the next big payday (along with his penchant for taking only short-term rolling deals) and jumping at the first opportunity.
Luckily, it’s early doors in the season and there is still time to get the right manager in, but we do need to do our due diligence. Hopefully we can close out the transfer window by getting our targets in and bolstering what is a shallow squad.
I blame the board for this entirely, as they had to have known what kind of person they’d be dealing with when Neil joined, but this does not absolve them of blame either, as this clearly points to issues behind the scenes that need working out ASAP.
For now, let’s just keep things positive as possible and hope that on the field things don’t deteriorate.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Azlynn. Thanks for getting in touch!
Saturday’s performance, albeit in defeat, was extremely encouraging and it demonstrated that we can certainly compete at this level. Norwich were able to call on some real quality from their bench, and that was arguably the defining factor in the game.
Our squad is definitely in need of reinforcements, and hopefully, we can bring in the players who can give us some all-important depth and will allow us to deal with injuries and suspensions, when they inevitably occur.
Dear Roker Report,
Well I have heard some rubbish from Sunderland supporters!
Sunderland were a big club about forty-odd years ago, but not anymore, and having a lot of supporters doesn’t mean that you are entitled to call yourselves a ‘big club’.
Recent history suggests Stoke are by far the bigger club, with ten unbroken years in the Premier League plus wealthy owners who do support the football club. Where have you been all these years?
Stoke are a well-run football club. Can you not see this, or are your egos that big?
Our current squad is light years better than yours. The players haven’t been performing, but there are reasons for that, which have now hopefully been addressed.
Club’s lose managers- it’s part of the game, or have you forgotten Alan Durban and Steve Cotterill, whom you pinched from us, or does that not count?
Get real, get your heads out of the sand, and grow up.
Big club? Not at this moment in time, you are not.
Ed’s Note [Phil] Hi, Kevin, thanks for getting in touch with us. It’s certainly interesting to get a Stoke fan’s perspective on the Alex Neil situation!
Regarding the status of both clubs, it is true that Stoke have enjoyed greater stability than Sunderland in recent seasons, but prior to 2017, we had also enjoyed ten unbroken years in the Premier League, albeit with plenty of close calls with relegation during that time. We certainly believe in the immense potential of our club, but unlocking it will be a challenge.
I honestly don’t feel that there is a great deal of bitterness towards your club from Sunderland fans. You clearly made Alex Neil an attractive offer and he’s taken it. The anger is more towards Neil himself for the manner in which he left Sunderland, which wasn’t particularly classy.
Dear Roker Report,
We played really well against the Canaries and the Lads deserved a pat on the back.
Their goal must have had a force field around it, because no matter what we did, the ball wouldn’t go over the line!
In the second half, we were dying on our feet, but the three numpties who were supposedly in charge were an absolute shambles. Not one of them was standing in the technical area in the second half, and they took an eternity to make substitutions when we were crying out for them.
KLD and Kristjaan Speakman need to get a new manager in as soon as possible, and not in two weeks’ time, otherwise we’ll be struggling like we did when Lee Johnson was sacked.
So come on KLD. Pull your finger out and get us back on track. Pay the money, stop your scrimping and pay for the goods, otherwise we’ll be back in League One.
Give us what we deserve for being loyal supporters. 37,00 were there on Saturday, and we deserve it.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Paul. Thank you for your letter.
I agree with your comments on Saturday’s game. It was obvious that we needed to freshen things up as the second half unfolded, but the changes came too late and by that point, we were desperately chasing the game.
At the time of replying, it looks as though the club have a new head coach lined up, with Tony Mowbray set to take over. They seem to have learned the lessons from Lee Johnson’s departure, and have moved swiftly to replace Alex Neil.
Hopefully this means that the disruption will be minimal, and we can head into Wednesday’s game against Rotherham ready to challenge for the win.
Dear Roker Report,
I can’t disagree with anything that has been said.
I’m absolutely gutted, because I thought that we had finally started moving forward with recruitment and the head coach. To be honest, I don’t think Alex Neil has covered himself in glory either. To drop us in it twenty four hours before a huge game tells me that he didn’t care about the club or the fans.
I don’t have a problem with moving on to better yourself or to move for more money, but why couldn’t he have waited until next week to sort it out?
To me, this smells of Neil lining his pockets, but in saying that, I think the club needs to rethink this rolling contract issue, as I can’t see it working long term.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Ernie.
Ultimately, the only person who truly knows why he swapped Wearside for the Potteries is Alex Neil himself. I’m sure that he will speak about ‘the challenge’ at Stoke, and the ‘potential of the club’, but we heard that when he joined Sunderland, so their fans might be wary.
As for our contractual situation, it will be interesting to hear what kind of deal our new head coach signs. I think some continuity and stability is needed over the coming seasons, and hopefully the club have taken that into account.
Dear Roker Report,
I was shocked by the news of Alex Neil’s departure, however, the more I read the more I understand his decision.
Sure, he could’ve stayed at the club that he got promoted and remained as head coach of the team that he has moulded, but why would he do that when he could earn three times as much somewhere else? Also Stoke offers him stability by offering him a long-term contract.
Also, he hasn’t been given much money to spend in the transfer market, which is what I want to ask about.
How much (hypothetically) could Sunderland have spent on transfers whilst keeping within FFP regulations, according to our last set of accounts?
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Malachi.
It seems impossible to escape the assumption that money played a role in Neil’s decision. He's a smart operator and if given the chance to secure his future, perhaps it isn’t a major shock.
Regarding the club's finances, it is difficult to establish exactly how much we would’ve been able to spend in this window, because of the complexities of the regulations and our own situation, but given that we have been operating at a loss for some time, the funds would likely be fairly modest.
Dear Roker Report,
I’m sorry to see Alex Neil go, and it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but was he offered a new contract or were Sunderland prepared to wait and see how things panned out in case they had to sack him so they wouldn’t need to pay compensation?
He could be just looking out for himself, and we will only know if one side tells all, but the post needs to be filled immediately.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi Trevor. Thanks for getting in touch.
My view on this is that Neil was absolutely looking out for himself, which is fine in itself, but the manner in which he departed the club, on the eve of a big game and with everyone 100% behind him, was deeply unprofessional.
I suspect that we will never know the entire truth, but hopefully we can start to move on and put the entire saga to bed.
Dear Roker Report,
It looks like discussions between Alex Neil and Stoke have been going on for a while!
Surely no club makes lucrative offers out of the blue for a manager without lengthy discussions over the terms and conditions. It is ridiculous to think that a club like Stoke would sack a manager and have a replacement in place within hours, without prior contact and without agreeing terms and conditions.
I don’t think we can lay the blame for this on Sunderland.
It appears to me that Neil had, to coin a phrase, ‘his mouth stuffed with gold’.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Thanks for getting in touch!
The entire affair seems murky and difficult to decipher, bar rumours and hearsay on social media. What I do think we can say, however, is that there has been either a breakdown in communication, or a breakdown in the relationship between Neil and the club.
For whatever reason, he has obviously decided that Sunderland were not his preferred option, and sadly, that’s just the way the cards have fallen.
Dear Roker Report,
If we don’t place trust in our manager and keep him on a rolling contract, why should he do the same? He is just as loyal as the club was.
To leave under these circumstances is still an affront to the club. There must have been a massive rift, and it has the potential to harm his reputation. Also, Alex Neil must be confident that his side of the story has more credibility in than Kristjaan Speakman’s, or the clubs.
Speakman wants absolute control, and a successful manager with a rapport with the fans is a potential danger for him. That’s why he couldn’t have Roy Keane, and now for the next to coach be displaced when things go wrong.
There is no ambition to take the club back to the Premier League. They want to stabilize the ship, spend as little money as possible and wait for a investor to sell to at a profit. I believe that Neil was much more suited to Sunderland than Speakman will ever be, and as long as he stays and executes the owners’ wishes, virtues like reliability, loyalty and trust will be scarce.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Udo, and thank you for your letter.
You raise some interesting points about Kristjaan Speakman, and I personally think that his time at the club has been mixed, to say the least.
The transfers that he has overseen have largely been successful, and the football infrastructure is certainly in better shape, but he often rubs people up the wrong way with the things he says, and I can understand that point of view.
Some might say that he was vindicated by promotion, but on the other hand, you could say that it was Alex Neil’s coaching ability that ultimately got Speakman off the hook at Wembley in May.
I do believe that there is a genuine ambition to take the club back to the top flight, but it is clearly going to be done differently. We aren’t going to spend freely and throw large sums of money around, and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds over the coming seasons.