Sunderland were in a rinse and repeat cycle: results not right? Sack the manager, ride the new manager wave, go again. Recruitment policy? Nah, that’s all fine.
It’s the manager to blame.
Well, when Premier League survival was continually at stake, option A was far easier than option B. Option B would have required some long-term planning, which as it turned out, wasn’t in Ellis Short’s ‘running a football club’ manual.
The short-termism had worked, in a fashion. Martin O’Neill was (unfairly) sacked and replaced (ridiculously) by Di Canio, who kept us up - just. Before imploding.
Poyet came in, did a great job for the majority of the time. Before imploding.
To be fair, Poyet’s implosion had much to do with his relationship with sporting director Lee Congerton.
It was never a match made in heaven – Poyet wanted to do things his way, but those signings that were definitely ‘his’ – Scocco, Ustari and Bridcutt – didn’t give anyone a great deal of confidence that leaving signings completely up to Gus would be the best path to take, anyway.
So, after the Gus Bus got a flat tyre with Sunderland one point above relegation, having managed just one win in 12 League games, Congerton tapped into his contacts book to find someone who’d be interested in a short-term, high stakes - potentially highly lucrative - gig.
One phone call to his former Chelsea mate Frank Arnesen later, and we had our man. One Dick Advocaat. The Little General. Big Dick. Whatever you wanted to call him, he was appointed on this day eight years ago – and is surely the manager with the best track record we’ve ever had.
This was a gaffer who was globally renowned - he’d managed six international teams, some good, good, clubs, and commanded respect across world football. This was his first foray into the English game. At 67 and with a contract until just the end of the season, it wasn’t destined to be a long-term appointment (when have we ever done that, regardless of age?), but his authority and confident air brought immediate reassurance to the whole situation.
This was a manager who’d been there, seen it, done it, and not only bought the t-shirt but designed the whole clothing range.
He arrived with Zeljko Petrovic as his assistant, and long-term allay Bert van Lingen, while Paul Bracewell was promoted from academy coach to work with the first team.
Upon his arrival, Advocaat said:
Sunderland is a big club and I’m very much looking forward to the challenge ahead. I can’t wait to get started. We must now concentrate on Saturday as a priority.
The chairman, Mr Short, made his annual address to the press on the occasion of appointing a new manager, saying:
Dick has an incredible CV and vast experience of managing at the very highest level. We have one aim only now – to climb the table and everyone is fully focused on the task ahead of us.
Advocaat’s first game in charge of the lads would come a few days later, with a clash against Sam Allardyce’s West Ham.
Little did he know at that point just how much both Allardyce and West Ham would feature in the final chapter of his Sunderland story, but for now Advocaat had his eyes firmly fixed on the challenge that lay ahead.
I’ve never been relegated. I always have the feeling I can never go down. If you see what I have done in the past, I’ve been quite successful. We have to play as a unit with the ball and without it. If we start playing again as a team, with everyone fighting for each other, then I’m not afraid of the results. We have enough quality. The good thing is that I can see the players want to prove themselves to the new manager – that’s always a good sign.