How momentum is building once more for Sunderland AFC and why it must not be taken for granted again

Graeme Atkinson looks back on a positive few days for Sunderland AFC, for once

72 hours into Sunderland AFC’s hugely successful new kit launch and CEO of Hummel, Neil Burke confirmed, “…record sales of home jerseys, selling 8 weeks cover in one day!!”

It has been a quite remarkable weekend for the Black Cats, working alongside partners Hummel and Fanatics. Even those with fevered, optimistic outlooks could not have imagined – coinciding with the opening of the stunning new Stadium store – the exuberance generated, in such a short window of time.

Such was the scale of the accomplishment, the club’s previous launch day record was reportedly broken inside 40 minutes.

Following his recent internal promotion, the club’s newly anointed Chief Business Officer, David Bruce, could not have gotten off to a better start. He very likely poured himself a large glass or two of his preferred alcoholic beverage on Sunday night to celebrate. And, well deserved it would be too.

The legacy continues…

Even putting the sheer number of ‘units’ sold to one side, another significant part of the project it must be said, has been the iconic moments/references peppered throughout the related club PR campaign. They feature in the club shop too and were even woven into the fabric of the shirts themselves.

It tapped into the passionate fan base and as a result, it all struck rather an emotive chord.

This was as much part of the success as anything.

It was perhaps a timely reminder of the deep links between supporters, the club and the legacy of the once industrial local area, of which there is a strong shared heritage.

The whole experience felt more significant than a simple kit launch.  

As touched on above, it has become an opportunity to once again rebuild some ‘green shoots’ of momentum around SR5 ahead of the new 2024/25 season.  Momentum which so spectacularly imploded towards the end of 2023/24. Once fully charged, it is that which carries teams up on the shoulders of success. Once lost, it becomes difficult to recapture the same energised spirit.

For the owners of Sunderland AFC, this – right here, right now – is a gift of an opportunity. It should be grasped firmly and built upon. Not taken for granted and left to fizzle out.

Not this time.

In fairness to the board, on matters of off field performance, supporters have finally been listened to, to some extent.

The club belatedly heard their calls for improvement in respect of the commercial arm of the business. What we witnessed over the weekend was a small but significant step forward. The subsequent plan was perfectly executed and lo and behold – taking our feedback onboard – the fan engagement was even greater than most anticipated.

Arguably it was a joint venture – supporters and club working together – and it paid off handsomely.

Welcome to Wearside Régis

This is the backdrop against which new Head Coach, Régis Le Bris arrived on Wearside, having now given his debut interview across Sunderland AFC’s social media channels over the same weekend.

He spoke well, appearing genuine, calm and measured in his style of communication. A stark contrast to his permanent predecessor who spent much of his time deriding supporters rather than building a connection.

Le Bris stated, “Sunderland is a club which is quite different from many others. It has great history and the community is very linked with this club. We can feel the energy and the passion around the club.”

For all opportunity is certainly there now for the Black Cats to push on, it is not a moment of complete reset for Kyril Louis-Dreyfus (nor should it be given the scale of the club’s blunders in recent times). There is much work still for him to do to convince some supporters – including this one – that he is capable of taking us back to the Premier League. But, it is an opportunity for a shift of focus nonetheless and for Le Bris – after his departure from Lorient – an opportunity for a clean slate.

Will lessons now be learned?

Given the reemergence of some good feeling then it is important to springboard from here. And so, the question now after such a lengthy time taking stock is, has the club finally learned all of the lessons they need to?

We all know it took 124 days following the sacking of Michael Beale and 50 days from the end of the season, before the Frenchman was confirmed. That in itself provided further reason to question those tasked with course correcting a club which, had last season lasted a few weeks more, could easily have found itself returning to the third tier.

The protracted nature of the managerial search surely betrayed the difficulty that the board had in securing a preferred candidate. It seemed obvious from the delay that some potential applicants – whether from a five man list or otherwise – were not wholly agreeable to the circumstances and/or terms presented to them.

We can speculate that this may be down to some of the prevailing gaps in a playing squad bereft of meaningful experience for too long and/or access to finances which are not comparable with those competing at the top of the table.

Yet, to what extent this was really the case and under what specific conditions contracts were possibly declined, we may never know.

Given how last season spiralled, it also seemed evident that the club seriously misjudged the good work that Alex Neil and Tony Mowbray did in joining the players, fans and club together. Both individuals managed to paper over cracks behind the scenes and still achieved some success. It is a rare talent to be able to do this and, after the disastrous short lived Beale tenure, followed by Mike Dodds being hung out to dry across a turbulent 13 game spell, it is one error which cannot possibly be countenanced happening again.

And so, Le Bris must have the ability to bring all of club’s moving parts together, supported by his own backroom staff, and be a figurehead we can all get behind once again.

In the context of the fabled five-year plan, it is an appointment which the owners need to work, for their sake as much as anyone.

Although, sticking a pin in the Head Coach discourse for a moment and we surely cannot go into a new season without adapting our footballing model which, statistically, offers little hope of promotion to the Premier League as it currently stands.

Those tweaks are as fundamental as anything else.

Yet, ultimately for many supporters, whichever side of the argument you sit regarding the drawn out managerial process, it will likely all be moot if broader lessons have in fact been learned and Le Bris can quickly settle into his new surroundings.

So, what will the club do with this new found momentum and what are Le Bris’ chances of success? As the song goes will he be “speaking words of wisdom” such that he can help Sunderland AFC compete towards the upper echelons of the Championship?

Should you wish to brush up on Le Bris’ background to help make that judgment, fellow Wise Men Say contributor, Michael Lough’s piece is worthy of your attention as is our recent podcast with Get French Football News. What the Falk’s pod with a Lorient supporter is a good companion listen too.

However, simply put his CV has sufficient credibility to offer lots of optimism, while Lorient’s relegation naturally cannot help but bring with it cause for some apprehension. On this evidence alone, the view with which you leave the conversation may be based on the mindset you carry into it.

For what it’s worth, on balance and in context of competing in the second tier, there are more reasons to be hopeful around Le Bris as Head Coach than concerned. The opportunity to build on some recently acquired positive momentum cannot harm his chances.

In fact, it could be crucial.

Le Bris’ appointment is certainly an intriguing move by the Black Cats and they must now offer him all the tools required to ensure he has a real chance of success. It is surely true though that Le Bris will likely only succeed if Sunderland AFC has now learned how to sustain momentum, not lose it.

This past weekend kick started something good again around Wearside without even a ball being kicked. Ultimately, we will know for sure how successful Le Bris and the club can now be at maintaining it as the season gets underway.

In the meantime, if we were to speak further words of wisdom and in the style of a certain Beatles classic, perhaps it is ok to somewhat wistfully conclude…

“…Maybe he’s the answer, Reg Le Bris.”