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Fan Letters: “Bringing in exciting young players should be celebrated by Sunderland fans!”

Praise for Sunderland’s new business model, and opinions on Alex Neil’s departure are in the RR mailbox today. Got something to say? Email us:

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I felt that I must send an email in response to some of the fan letters that were published on 3rd September, particularly the letter from Steve Williamson.

I sincerely hope that this man does not believe he speaks for me, or indeed the majority of Sunderland supporters.

As a club, both on and off the field, we are in the best position we have been for years. After finally securing promotion back to the Championship with an exciting and attack-minded young squad, we have made an excellent start to life at this level.

As supporters, we must get out of this ridiculous mindset that we should immediately be looking for promotion back to the Premier League.

Our time there, from 2007 to 2017, was punctuated by a string of costly failures and bad decision-making, and the damage done to the club was immense and ultimately led to our fall into League One. The process of rebuilding is a long one and we have only taken the first tentative steps back to where we ultimately want to be.

There seems to be a desperate desire from a certain group of fans to attack Kristjaan Speakman at every opportunity.

Whether you agree with his approach or not, he has stabilised the club, meaning that we still have a club to support. Just look at the perilous position others have found themselves in recently, because we could very easily have been one of those facing winding-up orders and financial ruin.

Speakman has implemented a model which has so far been successful.

Bringing in exciting, ambitious, hungry young players should be celebrated by Sunderland fans, because it is a clear move away from wasting money on overpriced has-beens. Many previous managers were guilty of this - none more so than Roy Keane, who Mr Williamson seems so obsessed with. Appointing Keane after Alex Neil left would have been a massive backwards step and a total abandonment of the model that has served us well so far.

That brings me on to the next point, which is Neil’s decision to walk away from our project. No matter what Neil claims, the fact is that he left for one reason: money.

He wanted bigger wages and Sunderland were not prepared to break our wage structure to keep him. I also note that Neil was referred to in some fan letters as ‘manager’. He was not a manager - he was a head coach. He knew exactly what he was buying into when he took the job, and to now claim that he wanted greater autonomy is a nonsense argument and was simply his way of justifying his decision to ditch us for bigger wages.

Luckily, Neil was not the architect of this project. That is down to Speakman, and it was reassuring to see that the club had a plan to deal with such situations and didn’t descend into chaos.

Neil was quickly replaced, and the club will continue its model of having a head coach who uses and develops the energy and ambition of young players. His departure was a setback, but it will not derail what we are trying to achieve.

This is a time for forward-thinking and optimism by Sunderland AFC and its supporters.

For some fans to still be in the mindset of bringing in overpaid managers with no real record of success, and spending money we don’t have on mediocre players is baffling. Football has changed and those days, certainly for our club, are thankfully over.

Speakman and Kyril-Louis Dreyfus are rebuilding the club from bottom to top, in a way that is sustainable and will ensure future stability. There may be bumps along the road, but we are playing attractive, attacking football and making the club financially stronger in the process.

Owen Pace

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Thank you for your letter, Owen.

I do feel that Kristjaan Speakman has been the subject of some harsh criticism since he arrived at the club, but if we are to judge him on his actions, I think it is fair to say that he has succeeded more often than he has failed.

The majority of the players he has brought to the club, bar Fredrik Alves, have played significant roles in recent times, and his emphasis on opting for youth and luring players from the Premier League, as illustrated with the likes of Dennis Cirkin, Jack Clarke and Daniel Ballard, shows that he is determined to bring about lasting change.

Fundamentally, the old way of operating was not working and an overhaul was desperately needed.

For the first time in a long time, there is some genuine rhyme and reason to our recruitment, and players are no longer being signed on the basis that they will ‘do a job’, and that is a crucial step forward. The model that we are now using is very much in tune with the modern game, with many clubs utilising similar structures, often with impressive results.

On the subject of the head coach’s position, it feels as though Speakman learned the lessons from the aftermath of Lee Johnson’s departure, and that is a major positive.

When Alex Neil left, Tony Mowbray was quickly identified as the number one candidate to replace him, and little time was wasted in bringing him to Wearside. As such, the disruption was kept to a minimum, and the players were able to deliver a superb performance and result against Rotherham.

Speakman may not be to everyone’s taste, but as long as he is efficient and effective in his role, and makes the right decisions for the good of the football club, everything else is secondary.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I am sick and tired of listening to people rabbiting on about why Alex Neil left the club.

In my opinion, he left for one reason and one reason only, and that was money.

Managers are always bleating on about loyalty in football, especially from players, but Neil did not show any loyalty whatsoever when he jumped ship before the Norwich game. He couldn’t get out of the place quickly enough, and for me it showed exactly what the guy was all about.

As for our new head coach, Tony Mowbray, I just hope that he is given the chance to prove himself. One thing is for certain: he won’t jump ship at the first opportunity.

With regards to buying youngsters to sell on for future profit, what is wrong with that?

We have tried spending millions on average and worse-than-average players for as many years as I can remember, and look where that got us. If we can blend some of these youngsters with a balance of old heads, then why not?

It can’t be any worse than what we have done for the last twenty years or so, and if it means we sell on one or two to balance the books, so be it. After all, Leicester City have been doing it for years and until recently, it worked for them.

We need to stabilise our position in the Championship for a couple of years and build a team, not buy a team.

Ernie Robinson

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi Ernie. Thanks for getting in touch.

I agree with you to a point about Alex Neil.

It seems to be common knowledge that he has essentially doubled his wages at Stoke, and although you can’t blame the guy for taking advantage of the offer, the way he left Sunderland was utterly classless and incredibly badly-timed. The fans and players gave Neil a lot during his time here, and it is understandable that people felt let down.

Regarding our new business model, I agree that patience is needed and that we need to ensure that we build steadily for what will hopefully be an eventual return to the Premier League.

This model has worked superbly for other clubs, and if we can continue to develop it over the coming seasons, there is no reason that we cannot gain promotion with the strong foundations that are needed. The mistakes of years gone by cannot be repeated, because the consequences were utterly disastrous.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I find it incredible that some supporters have swallowed whatever tripe Alex Neil has come out with. In fact, I would be amazed if Neil and Stoke hadn’t come to an agreement before Michael O’Neill was sacked.

Whatever you think about how the club is being run, for now it is working, and things are immeasurably better than they were a year ago.

Remember when we didn’t know if Ross Stewart could replace Charlie Wyke? Now Stewart and Ellis Simms are a joy to watch.

Enjoy the ride!

Jim Wales

Ed’s Note [Phil] Hi, Jim. Thank you for your letter.

The speed at which Alex Neil’s departure happened did make me think that something had been developing in the background during the previous week, but ultimately, we’ll probably never know exactly what went on. At the end of the day, all we have to go on are the opinions of Neil and Kristjaan Speakman, and it’s one man’s word against another’s.

On the subject of Ross Stewart, he has been one of the best signings we have made in recent years.

He arrived at Sunderland as a relative unknown, but he is loved by every Sunderland fan, and I would like to think that we can get his contractual situation sorted out quickly. That would give everyone a huge lift!

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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