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Sunderland’s Stadium of Light Managers, Part Four: Dick Advocaat, Big Sam, and Moyes

From 2015 to 2017, Sunderland attempted to stave off relegation with yet more changes in the dugout, but in the end, the instability finally caught up with us and our ten year Premier League journey came to a shuddering halt

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dick Advocaat (2015)

If the standout moment of Martin O’Neill’s time in charge of Sunderland was Ji Dong-Won’s thrilling last-gasp winner against Manchester City, Advocaat’s brief spell in the dugout was undoubtedly summed up by that Jermain Defoe strike against Newcastle at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland v Newcastle United- Barclays Premier League Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

An arcing, sweetly-struck volley for the ages that left Tim Krul diving in comedic fashion and still getting nowhere near it, it was the undoubted highlight of the former Rangers manager (and arguably Defoe’s) time on Wearside, as well as one of the greatest and most important goals ever scored at the stadium.

Defoe and Ji’s goals were called by Martin Tyler for Sky Sports and on both occasions, he was absolutely on the money. As Defoe wheeled away in celebration, leaving John Carver and his team deflated, everyone knew they’d seen something that would go down in folklore.

However, that peak was to prove all too fleeting, and despite the Dutchman overseeing yet another escape from relegation, the chaos and upheaval within the corridors of power at Sunderland eventually claimed another victim, but that was still to come.

Following Gus Poyet’s departure, you might’ve been hard pressed to find a single Sunderland fan who had Advocaat circled as his potential replacement, and the bookies would’ve probably offered long odds on such an appointment, too.

Despite a long and successful career in management, the affable ex-Holland, Feyenoord and PSV boss hadn’t been in the spotlight for quite some time, and it was something of a shock when he strolled into the Academy of Light in March and set about his work.

A mere two losses from his first nine games in charge was a more than respectable return, and he seemed to connect with the fans from the very start, which was doubtless due to his charm and gentlemanly demeanour, as well as his impressive pedigree as a manager.

Despite rumours that he would depart at the end of the 2014/2015 season, our fans had taken to him to their hearts- not least after his emotional reaction to securing Premier League survival against Arsenal at the Emirates- and were desperate for him to remain in charge.

Arsenal v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

So much so, in fact, that in a classic Sunderland gesture, we arranged for flowers to be sent to his wife, along with a note imploring her to let her husband remain at the club for another season!

It was a wonderful and touching thing to do, as well as a heartwarming episode at a time when genuine cheer was hard to come by. It worked, however, and Advocaat ultimately decided to extend his stay on Wearside.

Sadly, despite bringing the likes of Younes Kaboul (whose agent had once famously proclaimed his client wouldn’t join Sunderland even if there was an earthquake), Jeremain Lens and Wahbi Khazri to Wearside during the summer of 2015, we endured a desperately poor start to the new season and by mid-October, Advocaat was sadly gone, his brief reign as manager abruptly cut short after barely six months.

Sam Allardyce (2015-2016)

There’s a running joke surrounding the Allardyce/Sunderland era that’s long running and is always good for a bittersweet musing as we occasionally reflect on the turn of events that triggered our eventual slide into League One.

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

If Roy Hodgson hadn’t stuck Harry Kane on corner duty at Euro 2016, England's tournament wouldn’t have ended with a loss to Iceland, Hodgson would’ve kept his job, Allardyce wouldn’t have been lured from Wearside to replace him, and history would’ve looked very different.

Seven years have passed since that turn of events, and although we’re in a much healthier place now, the uncertainty during the summer of 2016 was quite frightening as we found ourselves on the wrong end of yet more misfortune.

Following Advocaat’s departure, Michael Gray’s belief that Big Sam, a no nonsense boss and a former Sunderland player to boot, would be the perfect man for the job was finally realised as the cocksure ex-Bolton manager swaggered into the Stadium of Light in October 2015.

There was never any question of the job being ‘too big’ for him or whether he’d successfully mesh with the fans, because on both counts, Allardyce’s boisterous personality, tactical nous and ability to galvanise players set him in excellent stead.

Arriving relatively early in the season also meant that time was on his side, with plenty of games in which to turn things around and ensure that we retained our top flight status.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Allardyce’s impact at Sunderland was huge, and it’s not unreasonable to suggest that had he stayed for three or four seasons, we would’ve stood a very good chance of establishing ourselves in mid table and perhaps changing the trajectory we were on at the time.

Whether he would’ve been able to work alongside Ellis Short in the longer term, we’ll never know, but one thing is certain: he would’ve weeded out the bad apples and ensured that the dressing room wouldn’t have turned into the toxic cesspit of subsequent years.

Forget the perceptions of Allardyce’s brand of football being dour or uninspiring, because we played some excellent stuff during his time at Sunderland, with a combination of much-improved defending and well-crafted attacking play paying dividends.

The likes of Jan Kirchhoff, Yann M’Vila and Wahbi Khazri thrived under his management, and with Lamine Kone emerging as a rock at the back, the trademark defensive solidity that was a feature of most Allardyce sides was established as well, and it gave us a platform on which to build as the season unfolded.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Following a 3-0 victory over Everton that took place against the backdrop of one of the Stadium of Light’s greatest ever atmospheres, top flight survival was confirmed (yet again) and the sight of Allardyce dancing on the pitch hinted at better times to come.

Sadly, England’s failure in the European Championship had a knock on effect for Sunderland, as Hodgson left his position as manager and Allardyce eventually left Wearside for the job he’d coveted for so long- a job in which he'd last for a single game after being snared in an undercover reporting trap, mouthing off in less than professional fashion.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when our downward slide began to gather speed, but you’d be hard pressed to find any more compelling proof than when Big Sam headed south after our pre-season friendly against Hartlepool.

He was quite simply a perfect fit for us, and despite spells at various other top flight teams since 2016, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’ll forever be a sense of unfinished business between Allardyce and Sunderland.

David Moyes (2016-2017)

We know how it ended, and also what it led to in the years that followed.

FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-SUNDERLAND Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images

During our game against Chelsea at the end of the 2016/2017 season, quite possibly the most gutless charade ever overseen by a Sunderland boss took place, as David Moyes allowed his players to pause in order to give John Terry a ceremonial send off at the end of his final league game for the Blues.

That was the final act of a season during which the morale of the club and its fans was destroyed, relegation to the Championship was confirmed, and the slow decline of Sunderland AFC began to gather pace.

Whatever you might claim and whatever mitigating circumstances his defenders might point to, Moyes played a huge role in the collapse, despite the multitude of issues that were affecting us at the time.

Longtime fans often use Laurie McMenemy as a low water mark for Sunderland managers, but but no boss in my lifetime has burdened the club with such a sense of self importance and a built-in Messiah complex, and few have shown such utter contempt for the club, its history, and the fans who support it through good times and bad.

Despite his appointment actually making a good deal of sense when it was confirmed (surely he’d arrive with a point to prove after failed spells at Manchester United and Real Sociedad?), and Ellis Short proclaiming that he’d been chasing Moyes for some time, it turned out to be the final nail in our Premier League coffin.

Had we secured the services of the 2002-2013 version of Moyes, things might’ve turned out differently, but it was just our luck that the manager of his Everton pomp had been replaced by a different incarnation entirely.

The Scot managed to alienate the supporters and spread doom and gloom through the corridors and concourses of the Stadium of Light barely five minutes after he arrived, by declaring that we’d be in a relegation battle during 2016/2017 (a brilliant way to maintain morale, I’m sure you’ll agree), and it set the tone for what was to come.

FBL-ENG-PR-SUNDERLAND-SWANSEA Photo credit should read SCOTT HEPPELL/AFP via Getty Images

From threatening to slap a female reporter to stacking the squad with some of his ageing former Everton players including Joleon Lescott and Darron Gibson, Moyes proceeded to dismantle what Allardyce had put together and after ten years, we slipped through the trapdoor in shameful fashion.

The football was dire, the results were generally wretched, and any optimism slowly drained away as the season ground mercilessly on. Relegation was eventually confirmed after a loss to Bournemouth, and its inevitability meant that it was greeted by apathy and a sense of ‘what next?’ as opposed to outright anger.

Was Moyes responsible for all of the ills at Sunderland? No, but as manager, it was his job to at least try to deal with them and keep the ship in reasonably calm waters. Instead, he waved the white flag disgracefully early, the players responded in kind, and there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Sycophantic articles in recent times might’ve rewritten history to claim that Moyes’ time at Sunderland was a mere aberration and that he’s one of football’s ‘nice guys’, but such epithets gloss over his brief spell on Wearside.

Our recent recovery, at the end of a four year grind through League One after the shambles of 2017/2018, represented the closing of a chapter that began under Moyes and led to an unprecedented amount of turmoil, humiliation and instability.

He might’ve rebuilt his reputation in the eyes of many, but his CV also contains an enormous blemish, and 2016/2017 remains one of the worst seasons in our recent history.


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