Dear Roker Report,
While I agree that football is a game of opinions, I feel I must take issue with the views expressed by some fans recently. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to support every person’s right to his or her own opinion, but I feel compelled to put the case for the other side.
The first thing I would like to take issue with is that the ‘S’ in SAFC is for ‘Speakman’s Association Football Club’, as expressed in a recent fan letter. This seems to be entirely based on comments made by Alex Neil, who is described as a ‘well-respected’ manager. This in itself seems odd given that in leaving us the way he did, Neil was entirely unprofessional and disrespectful, so how could he be ‘well-respected’ with that sort of behaviour? Even if he was, surely basing this entire view on one man’s comments, which will inevitably be biased, is foolish. Let’s face it, Neil can hardly turn around and say he left because he’s a money grabbing slug so it’s in his own interests to fling the mud elsewhere and hope it sticks. If Stoke’s structure gives a manager everything he needs to succeed and we don’t, why are we doing so much better?
It is also often claimed that Speakman isn’t doing his job properly because he hasn’t brought signings in immediately, but you can’t force a club to sell and you can’t force a player to move. It’s not like Sunderland are unique in not getting all their business done early, which is why every club is frantically making deals on the last day of a transfer window. Fans often say that Speakman is ‘playing us like a fiddle’ but that makes no sense. He’s an employee, so he is only doing the job he’s been paid to do.
Was our process wrong in appointing Alex Neil? I would say that just because he left after 7 months for a huge pay rise, that doesn’t mean the process was wrong at all. Neil was hired as the best person to get us promoted, and he achieved exactly that. Furthermore, he would have been told the strategy of the club before he agreed to join, so presumably he told the Board that he was right on-board with their strategy. If he later changes his mind or was lying in the views he expressed at interview, that’s hardly Sunderland’s fault. It’s not like they went out of their way to hide their strategy from him just to hoodwink him into joining the club. It’s not a matter of getting someone who ‘won’t rock the boat,’ it’s about getting someone who buys into the strategy of the club and if they do that, why would they rock the boat anyway?
Some fans seem to believe that we should have a manager who runs the club and the club should simply do whatever the manager wants. That seems idiotic to me! We’ve been down that road before and all it means is that every time we change manager, we have to start again. We already know that such an approach leads to chaos rather than long term success. It would be like Tesco appointing a store manager and telling them to just do whatever they want. When they fail and are sacked, they recruit someone totally different and tell them the same thing. The store lurches from one style to another, never getting anywhere. Instead, Tesco decides how they want their stores to be run and then recruit managers who can run the store that way. That isn’t getting yes men; that’s getting well qualified people who buy into the company’s vision. By the way, this isn’t unique to Tesco, because pretty much every successful business will operate this way, yet some fans seem to think football should be different. These businesses are successful, and that’s what Sunderland are doing now. It’s the first time the club has been run properly in decades and unlike these fans, I certainly don’t want to go back to the way it was. I suspect I’m not alone in that.
The other obvious thing to point out is that we don’t have a manager, we have a Head Coach. Frankly, if the only thing Speakman ever did in his role was prevent Roy Keane from returning to Sunderland, I would say he had earned his salary and we should all be grateful. It would have been suicidal to bring Keane back and I’m delighted it all fell through.
Some seem to argue that our model of developing youth is not sustainable as players will leave, but that’s the point. We will sell players and we will inevitably sell really good players we will miss, but the whole point of our model is that we sell them at a profit and reinvest that profit into more young players that we will develop and then sell for yet more money. I remember years ago when Southampton started using this model, before it was adopted by the likes of Brentford and like Brentford, it took them to the Premiership and they didn’t particularly struggle when they got there. One of their supporters was asked how he felt about their top talent constantly being sold but he said he was relaxed about it. It used to bother him, but by that time he was used to the fact that whoever they lost, there was someone else ready to take their place. They had become a production line of talent and that’s exactly what Sunderland aim to become. This is far more sustainable than buying the tired old pros we used to get who saw Sunderland as an easy ride and a bumper pay day.
Is the ambition of some of our supporters unrealistic? Yes, absolutely! We were perilously close to bankruptcy and KLD has made it very clear that he will not take the club down that route again. I support that approach 100%. We’re just a couple of years into a long term plan and the nature of a long term plan is that it takes time! Is Mowbray the man to lead us to Premiership glory? No, almost certainly not, but that isn’t the question we should be asking. Instead, we should be asking if he is the right person to establish us as a top side in the Championship and develop all of these great young talents we’ve acquired, ready for the next step in our upward trajectory? I would say he is, and that’s why he has a two year contract and not a five year contract. Just like the players we recruit, managers are also going to be recruited for the needs of the club at that particular stage in our development.
I sympathise with any fan wanting an immediate return to the Premiership and if we go up this year, that’s great, but it’s not essential. We’re not just building a team for promotion; we’re building a team that will do well in the Premiership and is sustainable in the top flight. That is what takes time and we need to learn to walk before we can run. This strategy is still in its infancy and needs time to fully develop after years of complete mismanagement.
The bottom line is that KLD has bought the club with a clear vision of how he wants it run. He made this very clear from the start and I think most supporters believe it is the correct approach. His commitment to this approach has never wavered, other than flirting with the foolish idea of appointing Keane and bringing back Defoe. Speakman has been appointed to carry out this plan and it is exactly what he’s done. Speakman isn’t running the club however he sees fit at all; he’s running the club to the model that KLD has given him. He won’t get everything right, obviously, but I would argue that so far, he has got a hell of a lot more right than wrong. We have a great squad of players who are largely really exciting young players who are hungry to succeed. That’s a lot better than the last time we were in the Championship!
We need to have faith in the model we’ve adopted and accept that it isn’t going to be an overnight success, but when we do return to the Premiership, it won’t be to join a perpetual relegation dogfight. I really don’t want to go through that again.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: Hear hear. Can’t disagree at all! Stop talking sense.
Dear Roker Report,
Did I miss something last night and we lost 5-0? Some of the reaction on facebook and twitter and RTG to the result has been ridiculous. We have 38 games left and we are going to lose a fair few of them. People better get used to it. At the very least we should be content that on a bad day the lads never gave up. When I was a kid people used to say of players “all we ask is that you give us 100% effort” but apparently that was a crock of shit as I saw players who have been great all season getting slaughtered. Get a grip you melts.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I’m with you Rhys. Clarke and Gooch probably had their worst games in a while but they’ve been great all season for us so you just have to chalk it down to being one of those days. I’ve seen people picking out Simms... he’s still a young lad. One who barely had a pre-season, and one who maybe needs a little break, which he’s not going to get. He’s trying his best up there and with a bit of support I’m sure he’ll be hitting the back of the net again soon.
Dear Roker Report,
The Boro defeat hasn’t dampened my spirits, I still think we’ll win on Saturday v Millwall. Losing Stewart is a blow but we aren’t a one man team and these Lads have done brilliantly as a squad, I’m sure they'll be fine. I’d like to see Alese come in at left back and move to a 4-3-3. Embleton and Pritchard either side of Evans in the midfield, with Clarke and Roberts playing with Simms. I think that would cause problems. What do you think?
Ed’s Note [Gav]: Until we know the extent of the injuries sustained by Cirkin and Stewart it’s too early to say, however I think given the options in our squad that a move to a system that has four at the back might make sense longer term anyway.