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Michael Beale was never a name that would have surfaced in discussions about potential new Head Coaches. He had no previous connections with the club and little in terms of a track record to suggest he was an obvious choice. Attention seemed to be on overseas coaches, especially from France and Sweden.
Whether these coaches were more qualified than Beale is debatable; we simply don’t know. However, had one of them been appointed, there would likely have been less criticism directed at the club for its selection. They would have benefitted from the element of novelty, perceived as a forward-thinking choice.
We do know, however, that they would likely have limited knowledge of the Championship or our squad, so the risks of appointing someone like Will Still or Kim Hellberg – while potentially intriguing and exciting – theoretically posed no less risk than selecting Michael Beale.
Much discussion has revolved around the “model” or “strategy”. We should now fully understand how KLD envisions the club’s development. We were never set to appoint a traditional or established name; it was always going to be a coach, and that’s what he has chosen.
Beale’s interview with SAFC.com, although generally uninspiring, contained an interesting point. He mentioned knowing some of our coaching staff from his academy-level work. With the promotion of Mike Dodds from Head of Player Development – a role focused on the academy – to Assistant Head Coach, it’s clear the top two coaches in the club have backgrounds in youth development rather than managing seasoned professionals in the Championship. This suggests the current priority is developing young players rather than an all-out push for promotion.
In the summer, we added several players who, in the past, would only have been signed for under-23 football. Only Bradley Dack – a clear gift to Mowbray – and Nazariy Rusyn – also a long-term project – deviated from this policy.
Of our summer signings, only Jobe Bellingham seems a definite first-team starter. The presence of nearly all summer recruits in the U21 team recently indicates they need considerable development, perhaps a task suited to Beale and Dodds with their academy experience.
Considering players like Abdoullah Ba, Jewison Bennette, and Chris Rigg – all essentially under-21 players – the club’s focus is evident, and this has likely influenced the Head Coach selection.
This approach bodes well for the long term. Some young players will succeed, others won’t – such is the nature of football. How many will reach the top of the Championship or even the Premier League? We can only hope.
Our transfer strategy post-promotion suggests a focus on young, future-oriented players. Beale and Dodds, with their academy expertise, are tasked with their development. A shift in this strategy in the upcoming transfer windows would be surprising.
Simultaneously, the first team, led by Beale and Dodds, faces the challenge of competing against experienced managers with seasoned players. This challenge was often highlighted by Tony Mowbray.
Should our players excel, they will inevitably draw attention and possibly move to higher levels. Can their replacements not only fill their shoes but also surpass them, aiding team improvement? While a seamless transition of players is feasible, advancing beyond our current standing will be challenging.
The club has significantly invested in upgrading the Academy of Light. This unseen investment by fans underscores the belief in a bottom-up rebuild, without quick fixes to years of failure and decline.
It’s valid to question whether the current policy can elevate us further. Breaking into the top six or two in the league is daunting. There’s a risk of perpetually being a squad for player development, which is concerning.
At some point, the club must acknowledge this. Avoiding stagnation is crucial, especially for a club with Sunderland’s demanding fanbase, which expects continual growth. This will necessitate more investment in immediately impactful players and a coach adept at tactical battles.
We had hoped the club would reach this stage by now, but we’re just over two years into this rebuild. The current appointments indicate we’re not yet ready for a significant leap, focusing on player development rather than on individuals experienced in securing promotion or Premier League survival. This isn’t to say they can’t achieve this; they simply haven’t yet had the chance to prove it.
I always viewed Mowbray as the precursor to the one who would lead us back to the Premier League. It now appears Michael Beale is set to prepare this young squad for either himself or a successor to apply the finishing touches, with time being the ultimate judge.
Patience is a difficult concept for football fans. I’ve waited over 40 years for success here. Who can remain patient when dreams are dashed on so many Saturdays, and each May brings despair or frustrated disappointment, with only occasional celebrations? Yet, patience is essential as this appointment shows we’re on a long-term journey of player development and improvement. Let’s hope Michael Beale plays his part effectively, accelerating our progress to where we need to be.