This week, Sunderland hired Dick Advocaat to try and keep it out of the second division. The Dutchman hasn’t done anything of note in management for several years, and the appointment is a bizarre one, even for a club with an astonishing recent track record of bizarre appointments. Advocaat is basically what happens when you Google “well-known soccer managers” and click to the 14th page of results. Assuming this hire goes as badly as it should, the only thing that can save the Blacks Cats is the enduring awfulness of the three teams that are still somehow beneath them in the standings.
Almost immediately after giving noted racism apologist Gus Poyet his walking papers, someone at Sunderland strategically leaked the club’s plans for the managerial hot seat to the press. According to The Guardian:
His long-term successor will be expected to work as a head coach, reporting to [Lee] Congerton in a continental-style director of football system. This dictates Sunderland are likely to seek a Steve McClaren-type tracksuit manager rather than a Sam Allardyce-style figure.
Methinks the PR hack doth protest too much. That statement translates to “I know we’ve made a mess of things, and it looks like we’re about to make it even worse, but trust us.” The club is trying to preempt the collective fan cries of “what the blithering fuck” with reassurances about the long-term future.
That said, Sunderland is right to try a different approach. Its dependence on a series of disappointing managers and lack of guiding philosophy is what landed it in its current predicament. Sunderland is absolutely one of those clubs that should follow the lead of their more stable Premier League rivals and go the “continental” route. It needs an overarching vision for the future – one in which the manager plays a role, rather than steers the whole ship.
The danger lies is doing this now, when the club is both fighting relegation and, in a best-case scenario, likely to be doing the same next year. There’s also the chance Sunderland finds itself doing its much-needed rebuild in the Championship,onethat increases if the club starts the process while fighting for its Premier League survival.
Much is made of the “fire fighter” – a manager who can come in late in a flailing club’s season and help the team avoid the drop. Amusingly, this is what Advocaat (above) is expected to be, but Sunderland’s problems run deeper than just having a poor season. The team has been dire for years, and it has little talent left on which to even build a long-term future.
What Sunderland needs is more than a short-term blaze-put-outter. It needs a medium term get-shit-doner. It needs a man that can end its cycle of appointment, relegation battle, crap our pants, panic. And if there’s a manager out there who is potentially available in the summer (should the team survive) and who has always gotten shit done, it’s precisely the man Sunderland went out of its way to rule out: Sam Allardyce.
Appointing a manager in the mould of Allardyce is a little like getting a payday loan or ordering from the Taco Bell late night menu. It does nothing for your long-term goals, and could be potentially dangerous, but damn it sometimes you just need that fix right now. In an ideal world, you would replace all the junk in your pantry with healthy food and finally stick to your exercise routine, but it’s hard to responsibly plan your life when you’re so hungry you can’t think straight. That’s where Sunderland currently finds itself. It needs a whole new foundation and structure for the future, but in the meantime, the present is buried knee deep in dogshit.
Allardyce has no notable record of developing youth, or even a particularly clever record in the transfer market. He’s even possibly done some shady deals in the past that call his integrity into question. He’ll probably sign some known Premier League quantities, likely for more money than they’re worth (get ready for those Andy Carroll transfer rumors), but he will steady the ship. He’ll fashion a half decent defense and simplify the team’s style to get the best out of the players available. And there’s virtually no chance that he’ll allow the Black Cats to be relegated. It’s not a plan for long-term success, but it’s as close to a safe bet for the medium-term as there is.
Changing direction, or rather finally attempting to find a direction, is an admirable and long due move for the Wearsiders. Constructing a long-term plan that is not necessarily beholden to the next manager is the right decision. But before Sunderland can even get to a point of semi-stability from which to build this platform, it needs someone to stave off relegation in the next year or two. With the new TV deal soon to kick in, this is not a good time to drop out of the league. To avoid missing out on all that sweet cash, Sunderland would be better off holding off on its ultimate, reorganizing goals and settling for a steadying force.
It’s a compromise, but a necessary one. Never make a deal with the devil, unless you need to. In which case, you probably should.