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The Meat Of The Matter: Was it ever Tony Mowbray’s place to dictate the direction of the club?

Tony Mowbray admitted himself that he knew what he signed up to with Sunderland - so why is anyone surprised that there was an unwillingness to veer from the plan so he could get what he wanted?

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I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the conversation emanating from the local media surrounding the departure of Tony Mowbray.

I get that everyone was very fond of him and they’re sad to see him leave, but it feels like there’s really no nuance when it comes to boiling down the discussion over why he left.

To me, it seems like the blame is being shifted towards Kristjaan Speakman for essentially not giving in to the demands of Mowbray when it came to recruitment, when really what’s actually occurred here is that the man in charge of the team has grown more and more frustrated with his own role in proceedings - like Alex Neil before him, he ultimately wants more of a say in who we sign, how we operate and what we do.

Mowbray himself admitted in what was his last public airing of grievances that this was the job he signed up to, and that he’d have to get on with it.

Whilst that was perhaps said through gritted teeth, you certainly can’t accuse Tony Mowbray of not knowing what he’d gotten himself into, nor that the goalposts had been moved between the time he took the job and the time he left it. His title was Head Coach, not Manager. He was there to coach the players, and his involvement in transfer dealings were kept to a minimum as ultimately that wasn’t his job.

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

I’m sure we’ve all got our own opinions on what the right approach should be, but we should remember that it has been made very clear from almost the moment that Kristjaan Speakman walked through the door - he is in charge of the footballing operation and, along with the club’s owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, their say is final.

Whether we or any of the staff beneath them ultimately agree or disagree with their actions is largely irrelevant, because they have a plan and are the ones who are in charge of implementing it.

I keep hearing people come back to the discussion around strikers and whether Tony Mowbray should have been given more of what he wanted — which, quite clearly, was more experience not just up front, but throughout the team.

Whether me, you or anyone else agrees, the fact of the matter is that there is a very clear plan for how things run, and they - the powers that be - aren’t going to deviate from that or rip the plan up and throw it in the bin for any given individual.

The buck ultimately stops with them, the guys at the top. That is because they run the club.

That doesn’t mean Tony Mowbray’s opinion didn’t matter — it just meant that there’s only so much bending and swaying they would ultimately be prepared to do to keep him happy.

And like I said at the top of this piece, Mowbray was very much aware of what he walked into at Sunderland, and he was free to walk away from it whenever he wanted to. Voicing his frustrations with the model publicly — and perhaps revealing a little too much information about the directives he’s under when it comes to game-time and who those above him would like him to prioritise — was uncalled for and a step too far.

Sunderland v Luton Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It isn’t the first time Mowbray has said things publicly that he shouldn’t have — the constant criticism of Hemir for instance was unhelpful and better saved for conversations behind closed doors with those who really need to hear it — and truthfully, the Head Coach bringing the working methods of his club into question in an emotionally-charged manner in the wake of a string of bad performances was only ever going to end badly.

So whilst I remain a big admirer of Tony Mowbray and think he did a great job all things considered, I think it’s absolutely fine to admit that he had maybe outstayed his welcome here and that ultimately he wasn’t the right man for the job if he wasn’t happy with the conditions which he was working under.

I don’t like this narrative that appears to be being spun that he was ultimately working under unfair conditions and that the end of the working relationship between he and the club highlights incompetence within the ranks.

If anything, that demonstrates to me that they’ve got guts, and the balls to stand by what they believe in - whether those decisions make them popular or not with the masses. It’s ruthless, but it’s the way things work in the world of business, and the Louis-Drefyus family are serious business people. It would be very difficult to run a successful enterprise on emotion alone, and sometimes there has to be a very black and white way of thinking to ensure you stick to your principles — something I imagine is very difficult when you are the custodians of a football club which is loved and adored by emotionally-charged football supporters.

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The task, now, is to find someone who is fully understanding of the situation and is more than willing to work within those parameters. And not only work within them, but to also embrace the situation and see it as a challenge.

I don’t want a yes man next, but I also don’t want us to employ someone who ultimately is too long in the tooth to change their ways. Mowbray had managed almost 800 games when he arrived on Wearside and had never found himself in the position he was in at our club, where his sole purpose was to coach the team. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” springs to mind.

Did Tony Mowbray do a great job at Sunderland? Undoubtedly. But was it the wrong decision to let him go? No, I don’t think so. Nobody is bigger than the club and the ultimate authority comes from the very top. True leaders in any company know what they are doing and know what they stand for, and they stick to their plan and don’t waiver.

The sooner we all recognise this and recognise that, maybe after all, Tony Mowbray just wasn’t the right fit for the job he was asked to do, the easier it will be to move on and understand what the club choose to do next.


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