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15th World Russian People’s Council At The Council

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Fan Letters: Super Kev, Vladamir Putin, Tony Mowbray & HPUs… it’s all happening!

Tony Mowbray’s departure continues to provoke questions. And should Kevin Phillips be in contention for the head coach role? Got something to say? Email us:

Photo by Contributor/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report

Why, why, why aren’t Sunderland considering Kevin Phillips for the Sunderland manager’s job? He’s so committed to Sunderland and he’s proved he’s good. I’m convinced he would do the job.

Judith Thompson

Ed’s note [Martin]: Thanks for the email Judith. Look, there’s a huge part of me would love to see Phillips in the dugout and making a success of it. He did pretty well at Shields. But in reality if he’d never played for Sunderland he wouldn’t be mentioned if only going on his managerial track record. I think we’re past sentimental appointments, and this one would fall into that category I reckon.

South Shields v Nantwich Town - Northern Premier League
Up to the job?
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report

I have just read Gav’s column on Mowbray’s removal.

With all due respect, and we are all entitled to our opinions obviously but I don’t think you (or the Sunderland Sporting Director for that matter) really understand the high-performance environment and the fact that what we see on the field is a direct manifestation of what goes on off it, and I don’t just mean the training itself.

Having been in some pretty successful high-performance environments myself, I can tell you the role of the senior players Mowbray wanted, and Speakman wouldn’t get, is arguably more important than the manager/coach himself.

That’s what Mowbray and Neil before him - both seasoned pros in a very tough division - have been saying.

Without that level of on-field leadership, they are kidding themselves if they think they are going to get promoted.

You saw that as recently as last Saturday.

I was at Millwall, and the kids simply got bullied.

The Millwall guys couldn’t beat them with their skills, so they simply dominated them physically and intimidated them, and some of the kids understandably backed off, opted out of the physical stuff, transferring the pressure onto others as a result.

That’s ultimately why things settled a bit after he threw some of the older guys he had into it, although none of those are clearly good enough to play at that next level.

Sure, the penalty might have been lucky (and it’s about time we had the luck!!), but the older boys had calmed it down a bit, and allowed the kids to focus on their roles, as opposed to spooking at what the opposition were doing.

And the value those players add extends a lot further than that.

It’s the most important aspect is in the dressing room, driving the standards at training and how the guys live off the field (by that, I mean behaving themselves, respecting the team environment, wider SAFC staff, public etc, and numerous other things like being early to engagements whether they be public or performance related like physio treatment etc.

Jack Rodwell provided an insight into what happens in Sunderland Til I Die when you don’t have that player leadership off the field.

In this instance, because you have so many players who are still learning their trade, both in terms of how to be a professional, and also how to live as a professional because they are kids, the older heads are even more important - invest in a few of them, and you will both accelerate the development of the young ones, and also increase the chances of the kids making it, and their value increasing.

Millwall v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dylan Hepworth/MB Media/Getty Images

Mowbray’s man management, getting the balance right between the pat on the back and the stick, was one of the reasons why Diallo was such a success.

The fact that he was coming out of a United group that had a few, albeit a few, decent senior players undoubtedly contributed as well.

Speakman, and by association Dreyfus, don’t appear to understand that.

It’s clear Speakman prioritises his control above team performance and REAL player development, both as men first then as players.

I have met many of those types in my sport of rugby, and they nearly always fail and often the fall is even greater if they have early success because they think they know everything.

I have been supporting Sunderland from afar most of my life - one of the reasons why I am in the UK at the moment for a few months is so I can go to a few games - hence I care and, for the first time, feel agitated enough to have my say.

Speakman will get his young manager, he may even get a new coach bounce, but it won’t last.

In this instance, by bulleting a manager/coach whom a lot of kids clearly looked up to and regarded as a father figure, he will have left a highly confused and vulnerable dressing room with no one there to guide them through what is a difficult time.

Three games in a week was undoubtedly a bridge too far for the kids, there is nothing in life that’s easy, and each of Argyle, Huddersfield and Millwall were entitled to fight for their jerseys and clubs and much as our lads would.

For most of our players, they would have never experienced a schedule like that before, and having to travel twice too, would have meant virtually no time on the training pitch and very little chance to reload for the next one.

Yes, it was the same for all championship clubs, but most of them aren’t loaded with kids.

I’ve got my fingers crossed it will work out but if you look at Speakman’s record, he has no success of note in terms of successful hpu in creating a consistently successful team.

A cynic might suggest they are scared of promotion (which I’d understand), but when it’s all about control, as it appears with the Sporting Director, it only ends one way.

Apologies for the essay, but I figure my hpu experience is appropriate for me to comment on this situation (yes it’s a different sport but team dynamics are similar if not exactly the same in all of them), and to comment on why I believe the sacking of Mowbray is evidence of the immaturity behind the scenes in the SAFC administration/hpu leadership.

Keep up the good work.

For a fan based halfway around the world in NZ who virtually never sees a game unless he takes a very long flight, your guys’ opinions are invaluable in keeping one connected with the team and the club.



Ed’s note [Martin]: Thanks for the message Matt, and you make some good points. I do think there’s a balance to be struck between getting the experience in and the job they can do off the field as much as on it, but I don’t think that’s against the ‘plan’ if you like. At present we have Evans, O’Nien, Pritchard, Roberts and Dack who are all what you’d consider ‘experienced’. How many do you need in a squad of 20 or so? We’ve see with Dack this summer, they’re happy to bring in more experienced players, but obviously won’t pay fees for them.

Having the right environment for these young players to grow up in is critically important, and to me yes, experience comes into it, but it’s character that’s more important. These lads today have been brought up in professional academies since they were 7 or 8 years old, that professionalism is engrained in them as they wouldn’t have got this far without it.

The whole point of doing what we’re doing, I believe, is to give these lads the experience they need to handle games like Millwall. Taking that as a single example, yes it was a physical game, but we stood up to it mentally and physically, and for the second time in two visits there we took a point. Yes, we were better after Pritchard, Roberts and Dack came on, but that’s surely the point of having that experience in the squad.

I get the scrutiny over Speakman will always happen when results aren’t spot on or there’s a decision being made that some don’t agree with, however I think he’s done a superb job with the club since he’s been here. The ‘plan’ is working, we’re improving as a club, we’re pretty stable in the Championship, the squad’s worth so much more than the one they inherited, and they’ll want to get to the top flight in the next 2-3 years. As we’ve got limited knowledge of what went on behind the scenes, I think it’s harsh to call it ‘immature’ – taking a step back, the club’s got an identity and a plan for the first time in decades, and we’re at the point where – while it’s healthy to ask questions – they’ve also earned a bit of trust.

Birmingham City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Corry Evans is one of a handful of experienced pros still at the club
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report

Well, it’s been an interesting week!

Firstly thank you to Tony Mowbray for all you did at Sunderland, the football played and the way you conducted yourself as our manager has been richly appreciated, you are a gentleman Tony and I wish you all the best in your next football adventure.

I have just seen ITV have got our FA Cup match, I am a little gutted as I was looking forward to the unbiased BBC coverage. Still, perhaps the BBC could do one of its objective football podcasts instead, how about the top 10 clubs owned by the world’s biggest human rights abusers? It may have to be a Certificate 18 production due to one of the usual contributors developing a really potty mouth recently.

Finally, the alleged war criminal Vladimir Putin has been visiting friends. Although it has to be said there are not many places he can visit nowadays, he was warmly welcomed in the country that claims its societies human rights are progressing at a pace and sports washing is a myth, the reports say Putin and the Saudi Crown Prince talked about oil production, however, don’t be surprised if a certain team's second kit next season is Russian red to replace this season’s Saudi green.

An interesting week indeed.


Ed’s note [Martin]: Thanks Neil. I suspect your ‘unbiased BBC’ comments are tongue in cheek, but hopefully we can put up a good fight against them, whoever’s broadcasting!

Dear Roker Report

It’s no wonder Alex Neil left when he was able to become a manager rather than a coach. Also, having been promised sufficient money, as happened in his case, to purchase 13 players of his choice. Yet there we are, Mowbray, having to utilise what Speakman decides and still doing a better job than his Stoke counterpart. As well as having to make do with mainly teenagers from abroad, there’s one full-back Speakman brought across crocked and still is. We are now looking for our 17th manager in 15 years. I read an article where it said “brave decision”. Not only do i think the opposite but it belittles the word “brave”.

David Haswell

Ed’s note [Martin]: Thanks David. Surely the fact Neil’s spent so much on dross at Stoke, and hasn’t improved them at all, kind of strengthens the argument for not giving a manager free reign over transfers. A couple more bad results and he’ll be out of a job, and a new manager will be left with a huge number of players they don’t really want. I must admit, I struggle to understand the argument for giving managers the players they want – yes, they should input into player selection, but it can’t be their sole decision any longer. It’s what got us on the verge of bankruptcy in the first place. Why did Mowbray do better with ‘Speakman’s players’ than Neil did with his own? Was it because Mowbray’s a significantly better manager? Or maybe, he had a better group players at his disposal?

Plymouth Argyle v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship
Who do you want to sign next, Alex?
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report

Now that Tony has gone, we are again looking at British and foreign, emphasis on the foreign guys, with Dreyfus and Speakman in charge any manager (not head coach) is going to be under the cosh from day one.

Give the new guy some say in who comes into Sunderland, not someone who comes in and is forced on the manager whether he likes it or not. What does Speakman know about managing a team? The four centre forwards he brought in are not Championship material, without a goal between them. Dreyfus pleads poverty, so I reckon half our lads will go to give him some cash – namely Clarke, Patterson, Hume and maybe Neil.

Bill Calvert

Ed’s note [Martin]: Thanks for the email Bill. The model we’re using, in which a Sporting/Football Director is in charge of the recruitment strategy, is common across the world and increasingly so in England. We’ve got a hugely promising squad – so why would anyone truly embracing the ‘head coach’ position be under the cosh from day one? I think our problem so far has been appointing people are traditional managers, rather than looking for a genuine head coach. By enabling managers to buy their own players, we risk once again having squads new managers are trying to change, and players who aren’t being used being stuck on contract. We’ve been there before, and it led us to the brink of extinction. If a manager’s going to stay for 5-6 seasons, fine. But they don’t seem to at Sunderland. Mowbray did have some say in players coming in – Bradley Dack was certainly his signing – and I don’t think it’s correct to say ‘whether he likes it or not’ as he was involved in those discussions, he’s said so himself. It’s the ‘pool’ of players that the club have identified they’re picking from that, as a group including the head coach. I’d certainly rather that than Moyes chucking the thick end of £30m away on NDong and Dilabodji. Regarding forwards, yes none have yet made an impact, however between them Hemir, Rusyn and Mayenda won’t have close to 10 starts. We’re signing players for the long-term, rather than the short term, and if and when one is sold – which will happen sooner rather than later – the big test of the whole operation is how that money is reinvested into the squad.


Sunderland can’t afford to follow a flawed process in their search for a new head coach


On This Day (28th Feb 1989): Missed penalties and wonder goals in Ewood Park deluge!


Fan Letters: “It felt like a natural ending for Tony Mowbray at Sunderland”

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