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Fan Letters: “Sunderland’s hierarchy can’t be afraid of making tough calls”

Arguments for and against Sunderland’s current way of operating are in the RR mailbox today! Got something to say? Email us:

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’m writing in defence of ‘The Model’, and of Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

The sacking of Tony Mowbray has understandably stirred up some strong feelings from fans who didn’t want him to go, and there’s been an inevitable backlash against Speakman and Dreyfus.

These are complaints that I’ve seen published on Roker Report and elsewhere, but I firmly believe their conclusions are wrong and misguided, and I’d like to explain why.

First of all, I should point out that I was one of the few fans who was quite enthusiastic about Mowbray’s appointment, and that I think he did a great job at Sunderland.

He was the right man at the right time, but that doesn’t mean he’ll always be the right man and as sad as it was, I do believe that sacking him was the right call, for a variety of reasons:

  1. His track record suggests that he’s a very good Championship manager, but that he wasn’t going to take us beyond that.
  2. It was becoming increasingly obvious that he had no plan B, so things were becoming extremely predictable.
  3. His substitutions were increasingly bizarre.
  4. He seemed to be pathologically tied to his favourite players, regardless of form or the demands of the team and the match.
  5. He shouldn’t have spoken out so obviously against the club and its way of doing business.

Speakman and Dreyfus have been very clear from day one about how we would operate and they’ve stuck to that plan. They’ve never hidden this and it’s working.

If Mowbray didn’t like that model, he either shouldn’t have taken the job, he should’ve left earlier, or he should’ve remained quiet and done the job he was paid to do. If he started calling out his employer in public, they’re entitled to respond exactly how they did.

The first fan complaint I’d like to take issue with is that Speakman ‘should’ve been sacked instead of Mowbray’ because he’s allegedly manipulating a naive young man in Dreyfus and dragging the club down because he’s unfit for the job.

Exactly where these wild conclusions come from, I don’t know, but they don’t seem to be based on any actual evidence that I’ve been able to find.

Dreyfus determined the model we would follow and Speakman was hired to make it happen. The plan has never been hidden from anyone and Speakman has done exactly what he’s being paid to do.

The ‘model’ has been implemented exactly and it’s been done successfully.

We have an incredibly talented squad of players that’s one of the youngest in the entire EFL. Furthermore, we have a sustainable wage bill for the first time in a long while. We’ll make money on this squad, and I can’t remember the last time that was the case.

Ridiculous conspiracy theories aside, Speakman is doing a great job, simply because he’s doing exactly what he was hired to do and he’s doing it very well.

Another thing I heard was that we should’ve kept Mowbray and allowed him to bring in whichever players he wanted.

Some fans clearly have very short memories, because chopping and changing head coaches, each of whom have their own playing style and preferred players, is exactly what drove us to the brink of bankruptcy.

Our current model gives us consistency, whereas the old approach that some fans seem to want to return to breeds inconsistency and trouble.

Although my preferred candidate to take over is Will Still, I firmly believe that if he wants control over transfers, I would want us to appoint someone else instead.

Nobody should be bigger than the club and nothing should take us away from this model because it’s working and it’ll also work in the long term if we stick with it.

Finally, onto Dreyfus.

According to some, he’s a chancer who isn’t up to the job and is ‘asset stripping’ the club while investing nothing.

They even seem to think he’s already making a fortune from Sunderland, but I’ve got news for these people. We may have a huge fan base but we also have massive overheads and it’s been many years since strong attendances alone meant a profitable club.

As a club, we’re not making big profits at the moment and if we’re breaking even, I’d say we’re doing pretty well, so this is hardly a Dreyfus cash cow.

The reality is that he’s brought us a clear and effective plan that’s working, and we’re better in every way since his arrival.

‘But he only buys kids and never pays much!’

Yes, and we’ll make good money on most of them while preserving a very skilful and exciting group of players who are playing the best football we’ve seen in most of my lifetime- and I’m fifty nine years old.

If we’re going to thrive in the long term, we not only have to win matches; we also have to be financially sustainable.

We simply can’t rely on some idiot with more money than sense constantly dipping his hand in his pocket. We had that with Ellis Short and the eventual outcome was inevitable. Many other clubs have suffered the same fate with the same approach.

I’m sorry, but phrases such as ‘Just pay him what he wants’ and ‘Dreyfus should put his hand in his pocket’ are idiotic. One way is Brighton and the other way is Everton. I know which one I’d prefer!

‘But we need experienced players!’

Yes and no.

If experienced players were the answer, we should’ve been winning the Premier League regularly during the Short years and David Moyes would’ve taken us to the title at a canter.

We’ve had plenty of experienced players in the past and all they did was sponge a living from us while contributing the square root of nothing.

During Dreyfus’ ownership, we’ve stuck almost religiously with the policy of youth and how many times have we signed duds? Our data-driven approach with is working and it’s working spectacularly well.

There are two obvious occasions when we’ve veered away from this model, with Jermain Defoe and Bradley Dack. One was brought in because of fan sentimentality that was divorced from reality, and the other was likely to appease Mowbray.

The first was an unmitigated disaster and the second has added nothing of any great note that distinguishes him from our great young players.

If any further proof is required that Dreyfus and Speakman know what they’re doing and that sacking Mowbray was the right call, just look at our last two games.

From being humiliated by relegation-threatened teams, we’ve confidently beaten two strong candidates for promotion. From throwing substitutes on at random, we now have effective tactical changes being made and from tactical inflexibility, we now have a team that’s adopting different tactics to suit the opponents.

We’re not even doing this having appointed a world class replacement for Mowbray, as all this has been achieved with an interim head coach in Mike Dodds.

The players we’ve recruited are good and I’d go so far as to say that many of them are going to be very good. A competent head coach should be able to do well with this group of players and if they can’t, the head coach has to be changed- not the model or the recruitment team.

This is an exciting time to be a Sunderland fan and we haven’t had it this good for a long time.

We finally have an owner and people in charge who know what they’re doing and are doing a great job. Let’s not find fault where there is none, and let’s not get drawn into repeating the mistakes we made in the past.

Giving a manager free rein to do what he wants doesn’t work. Buying older players on huge salaries doesn’t work. What we’re doing now does work.

It’s not an instant fix and it’ll take time as well as patience, but it’ll work and it’ll be sustainable.

Andrew White

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Andrew. Thanks for your letter!

Without writing a ridiculously long-winded reply in response to every single point you’ve made (all of which I agree wholeheartedly with), I’d simply say that you’ve summed up Sunderland’s current way of working and its potential upsides better than anyone whose opinion I’ve read for a long time.

As you say, the old way of operating, a method that involved relying on a rich benefactor throwing money around like there was no tomorrow and hoping that it would cure all of the ills at the club, failed miserably.

It led us into a five-year period of unprecedented upheaval, turmoil and no small amount of ignominy as we ended up in League One when the whole house of cards came crashing down.

This club can’t ever allow itself to get into that position again, and the reality is that financial sustainability is a very, very important and admirable thing to prioritise.

Without that, you have nothing, and football nowadays is just as much a business venture as it is a sporting one, so it’s imperative that we’re run efficiently at both boardroom and on a footballing level.

The foundations at Sunderland are stronger than they’ve been for many years and the path we’re now on, although in many ways uncharted, is one that could lead us to a very bright future if it can be seen through, and I really hope Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus do exactly that.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Having been unconvinced of ‘the model’ going forward, momentum is definitely gathering among the fans as to the actualities of it, especially concerning new management on the footballing side.

Against West Bromwich Albion, I was one of many who were discussing our new head coach, whoever he may be.

The outstanding reasoning was that there’s a school of thought that says the model will only serve to see a procession of head coaches walk through the revolving door at Sunderland.

I’ve said countless times that we’ll have a new and hungry guy come in, but once he sees the restrictions placed upon him in reality, he’ll either walk or be shown the door.

Of course we’ll be inundated with applications as this is still a very high profile job and a head coach can raise his stock by being here, but forget about longevity as it just won’t happen.

We’ve lost two perfectly capable head coaches because of the constraints placed upon them, signing players who they know are needed and not just because the suits expect a head coach to mould a player to fit a certain position.

The new guy will willingly sign up to what’s expected, but there’ll come a stage when he has his own list of players. Mowbray did bring in a few of his own but let’s be honest, those guys were only ever bit-part players.

When the head coach goes to the recruitment team with his preferences only to be told he’ll have to take what he’s given, he’ll go. Any head coach with a bit of backbone would, and who could blame him?

I’m afraid we’re in for a long running saga of ‘Groundhog Day’ unless the board gets a grip on reality. Trust me on this, because it’s the only way unless change is afoot.

Peter Milton

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

Your letter provides quite a nice contrast to Andrew’s above, and although I can see your point about a head coach expecting to have full control over recruitment, the reality is that modern football is moving away from that kind of structure and towards one where the signing of players is conducted in a different way.

The days of the manager who’d run a club with an iron fist and would keep a keen eye on everyone from his star striker to the tea ladies are over, and it’s a safe bet that our new head coach will be someone of the modern school of thinking and who’d be willing to work within such a structure.

It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s the way the game is going and this is a structure that Sunderland should’ve put in place a decade ago.

Had we done that, we might’ve avoided the downturn and eventual downfall that almost destroyed us from the 2016/2017 season onwards.

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