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Dear Roker Report,
I’m still in shock following Tony Mowbray’s departure but in trying to make sense of it, I’ve found myself considering two aspects of the situation.
On one hand are my feelings about a lovely person whose company I enjoyed at a distance, someone with solid north east values, and on the other hand, there’s the track record of a group of people making strategic decisions on behalf of the club.
I loved Mowbray’s humanity in his press conferences.
You got the sense that in addition to his role in developing good footballers, he was determined to try and help them succeed as people, or in his words, ‘to become the best versions of themselves.’
His departure is like a well-loved character being written out of a drama. You think, ‘I can relate to you and I’m not ready for you to go yet.’
When the board replaced Lee Johnson with Alex Neil, supporters were underwhelmed, with the usual small minority of keyboard warriors predicting disaster and mayhem.
Neil’s persona wasn’t particularly likeable, and I think he made a point of cultivating it. However we really care about that when the final whistle sounded at Wembley in 2022? Not one bit!
After four years of exile, we were on our way back and with a head coach who appeared to know how to get the job done. A pat on the back must go to the board for the change they made and for recruiting the right candidate.
Neil might’ve had strong personal reasons to prefer the geography of Stoke to Sunderland or he may have been swayed by promises of money being around in a manner that our board had decided wasn’t wise.
Either way, he left us in the lurch at a critical moment and it was vital for the board to get the next decision right. Cue more feelings of being underwhelmed with Mowbray’s appointment, myself included.
Now, along with the default mindset that any decision would be wrong, the keyboard warriors could get their teeth into conspiracy theories about his Teesside roots.
Did the board get that decision right? You bet! Not only did we stabilise, we blew everyone’s expectations out of the water!
Therefore, in terms of getting crucial decisions right, isn’t that two nil to the board? No matter how sad I feel, don’t I also have to trust in their track record of strategic decision-making? As it happens, I do.
I also know that our young group of strikers are struggling, but we’ve made some great signings in recent years and we have a team that’s a joy to watch most of the time.
I think history will show that for Sunderland AFC, Tony Mowbray was the right man at the right moment. He’s left a legacy he should be proud of, and we should be grateful for.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Alan. Thanks for your letter.
I think you’ve summed up Mowbray’s time at Sunderland perfectly.
I wasn’t particularly excited when he got the job, even though I thought his experience would be crucial, but the impact he made was significant.
When he used words such as ‘values’ regarding the development of players, I have no doubt that he was sincere and as you say, he was clearly keen on helping them to grow as men, and not just as footballers, which is why we now have such a likeable and honest squad.
Regarding his replacement, I do believe that Kristjaan Speakman and company have earned the right to make the big decisions for the good of the club, and this is another important call, without a doubt.
If he returns to the Stadium of Light in the future, I’m sure Mowbray will receive a very warm welcome, and rightly so, because he did an excellent job for us.
Dear Roker Report,
It seemed inevitable and sure enough, Tony Mowbray has been given the boot.
However, where do we look now and who comes next?
Whoever comes in is going to have to realise that they’ll have no say as such on incoming players and they’ll have to get used to new signings playing to the best of their ability, only to quite possibly see them sold on and inferior players brought in as replacements.
That’s the brutal reality of the sacred model we now have and I honestly believe this will be a regular occurrence as I can’t think of anyone who’ll come in and stay under such restrictions.
I have no doubt they’ll bring in someone dynamic and full of fresh ideas, but the impetus will fade when they go to recruitment meetings and they’re told who’s coming in, as opposed to having a genuine say themselves in the matter.
Thinking about it logically, it really is a no-win situation for an aspiring head coach.
I’m reading with interest and disbelief at the various names purported to be in the running for the hot seat, but what I find quite concerning is the club’s apparent reluctance to pay a certain amount of compensation for a preferred choice and perhaps opt for a bargain basement option.
They need to understand that at certain times, you simply have no choice other than to open the wallet.
If they’re dithering about paying compensation for their first choice, God help us if we eventually get to the Premier League, as they’ll have exactly the same thought process.
That doesn’t bode well and we’ll plummet back down after one season. They’ll then sack the head coach and the whole farce will begin once again. The so-called ‘model’ is showing distinct signs of disrepair all over it.
They talk about longevity being their aim going forward, but this must surely include longevity of a head coach’s reign and not pointing the blame elsewhere because they’re too greedy to put up some cash.
It’s ludicrous that a club this size and with such a potentially massive fanbase is playing guessing games over a position that’s vital to us.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Peter. Thanks for getting in touch.
Regarding your point about the model showing signs of disrepair, I don’t think that’s true but at the same time, the way we’re operating now is a radical departure from how Sunderland have done business in the past, and it’s fair to say that we haven’t perfected it or got every decision on player arrivals and departures correct.
There are two fundamental truths about the way we’re operating now.
The first is that in the wider world of football, this approach isn’t particularly radical, and the second is that had we implemented such a structure a decade ago, there’s a good chance we might’ve avoided the turmoil and upheaval that we encountered post-2017.
I also don’t believe this job is a poisoned chalice for a head coach.
Yes, he’ll have to show flexibility and a willingness to compromise, but it’s also an excellent chance for an up and coming coach to take on a job of huge prestige.
That in itself ought to be an attractive prospect for whoever might come next.
Dear Roker Report,
I’m so angry about Tony Mowbray being sacked.
Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water? Quite a bit of me hopes we don’t win for a few weeks, because I really thought we were better than this.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Shaun. Thanks for your letter.
It’s obvious that Mowbray’s departure has divided opinion and hasn’t been universally welcomed, but recent weeks have hinted at problems that seemed no nearer to being solved, and Saturday’s draw at Millwall did feel like the end of his time in charge.
Ultimately, where we finish this season will either justify the decision or suggest it might’ve been wrong. Those running the club aren’t afraid to make big calls, and they’ve done so again. Hopefully, they’ll be proven right.
Dear Roker Report,
It’s a disgrace that we’ve gotten rid of Tony Mowbray.
It’s no secret that Kristjaan Speakman didn’t get on with him, and that he also has the ear of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
If we were getting hammered every week and were near the bottom of the league, I could understand, but I believe the fact they have no ready replacement shows it’s Speakman attempting to show who’s boss.
The fans took to Mowbray but never to Speakman, and I believe that irks him. Unless Dreyfus gets a grip, this great club will be back in League One.
Dear Roker Report,
It’s certainly been in interesting couple of weeks and supporting Sunderland is always never short on a bit of drama.
It’s a strange feeling seeing Tony Mowbray depart, and whatever your thoughts on him over the last couple of weeks, he’s certainly left a positive legacy and I genuinely wish him well for the future. He brought back a bit of optimism and hope when we all really needed it.
It’s very much a ‘heart and head’ situation and I’ll always have a tinge of nostalgia when I think back to last season’s playoff home leg against Luton or the 5-0 performance against Southampton.
My head is telling me that this is probably a bit more of mutual decision than we realise and probably more than about the personalities within the club hierarchy than simply results.
It’s a huge call from the club to pull the trigger at this point, and my only big concern is based on who the ‘suitable replacement’ is. The managerial merry-go-round of the last few years has been damaging for the club and we have some big games coming up.
It can’t be a drawn-out process and I hope the club has learned from previous mistakes.
Dear Roker Report,
After Tony Mowbray was sacked, what happened to the talk of Sunderland becoming a club with more of a long-term focus?
Yes, results have been awful this past month, but bad runs of form are part of the game and surely he should’ve been given more time.
I seriously hope the board have a new head coach lined up already, and the timing merely gives the appearance of blind panic after a few bad games.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi John, Ian and Craig. Thanks for getting in touch and for voicing your opinions on Tony Mowbray’s departure!
To begin with, I do understand why Kristjaan Speakman’s decision to part ways with the hugely popular and always-affable Mowbray hasn’t been welcomed by everyone, but at the same time, if we want the club to keep progressing, we need to be confident that the sporting director is willing to make decisions that might not be popular but are done with the good of the club in mind.
In recent weeks, it’s become obvious that all was not well behind the scenes at Sunderland.
Exactly what was said between the key figures, we’ll probably never know (similar to when Alex Neil departed), but nevertheless, the decision has been taken and the most important thing is that we bring in a replacement who can continue the excellent work completed by Mowbray during his spell in charge.
Speakman will rightly be judged on who he brings in to fill the vacancy, but his appointments of Neil and Mowbray were ultimately vindicated and assuming he hires a head coach who can ensure that we continue to progress, he’s fulfilled his brief once again.
The stated aim of the club is promotion and its obvious that decisions such as this weren’t taken lightly.
On the other hand, they also have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t stagnate or regress, and hopefully the new man at the helm, whoever that may be, can breathe new life into our season and begin to get the best out of a very talented squad who are currently low on confidence.