Imagine being Sunderland and putting together this job description:
NEEDED: Manager for two months. Expected to save the club for relegation with a sub-standard squad. Must live in gray, northern city. Pay will not be astronomical.
Who the hell wants that job? And it comes with the rumors that the Black Cats are looking for a permanent manager to take over come the summer, so it’s not even a situation where you can save the club from relegation then convert a fat transfer budget into a Premier League side next season.
Yet Sunderland managed to get a man who has won four different leagues, a UEFA Cup and led national teams like the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and Serbia. So what’s the catch?
Maybe Dick Advocaat isn’t that good of a manager anymore?
There is no doubt that Advocaat used to work wonders. He won the Eredivisie with PSV and consecutive Scottish Premier League titles with Rangers, but those came in 1997, 1999 and 2000. Even his short bit of success with Zenit St. Petersburg, where he won the league and the UEFA Cup, was seven years ago.
Since then, he left Belgium and eventually landed with Russia, who he barely qualified for Euro 2012 in a weak group, then failed to make the knockout stages. He also failed to collect any silverware after returning to PSV despite a stacked team with Kevin Strootman, Ola Toivonen, Dries Mertens, Memphis Depay, Jermain Lens, Georginio Wijnaldum, Tim Matavz and Mark van Bommel. And yet that wasn’t as bad as his stint at Serbia that followed, where he only won a single point from three matches and was sacked.
So since Zenit, he has gone: failure, failure, failure.
He’s done it for country, he’s done it for club. He’s done it with great talent and mediocre talent. He’s done it with an attacking team and a defensive team. You really have to applaud his versatility and consistency, so long as he is not your team’s manager.
Unfortunately for Sunderland, he is their manager now, and he’s been hired at a most precarious time. The club’s Premier League survival is at stake, and things are trending downward. It doesn’t have much to work with and desperately needed a change from Gus Poyet. But there’s little reason to believe that Advocaat is the change it needs.
The Dutchman was once a great manager. He was once someone who put together well-balanced teams, motivated players and simplified complicated tactics to make for disciplined, well-oiled teams. But that isn’t the case anymore. The game has evolved, and he hasn’t evolved with it.
Advocaat is hardly the first manager this has happened to. In fact, it’s happened in close proximity and on a much bigger stage to his countryman, Guus Hiddink. Once a brilliant manager and considered one of the best in the world, Hiddink failed to qualify Russia for the World Cup and flamed out with Turkey and Anzhi Makhachkala. Now back with the Netherlands, he has the World Cup semifinalists in third place in its Euro 2016 qualifying group, behind the Czech Republic and Iceland. The days of managing Real Madrid, having a stadium named after him in South Korea and getting Australia into its first World Cup for 32 years are gone.
All Hiddink can do at this point is point at his CV and his past glories. It continues to earn him big jobs; and if not big, at least high paying.
That is no different from Advocaat. The jobs are just smaller. He is a man living off of his legacy. He can point to that Eredivisie title, or Scottish Premier League title, or the double he won with Zenit. But those are from an age gone by, and his failures since are beginning to outnumber his successes from years ago.
Sunderland isn’t hiring a manager. They’re hiring a legacy. Unfortunately, legacies don’t often keep teams from relegation.