Sunderland’s hierarchy need to back Regis Le Bris to the hilt as we begin a new chapter

Michael Lough takes a look at Sunderland's new man in charge

“There’s never a dull moment with this club”, has become an accepted truism in the life of Sunderland fans for generations.

Traditionally, our seasons end with a promotion push, a relegation battle, or there’s at least something on the line going into our final few games of the season.

But 2024 has so far been the exception that very much proves the rule, in fact calling it dull would be an understatement.

Dull is finishing 12th, with just enough wins to give you hope that next season might be better, dull is safe, dull is certain.

Our year so far has been more akin to a megabus journey to Plymouth, in 25 degree heat, with no air con, you forgot to charge your headphones before the journey, and a fella gets on at Manchester with a tuna sarnie.

But things are finally moving at pace on Wearside, in the past week alone, the fixtures for next season have been released, we have announced a new head coach, unveiled the most universally loved home top in years, and finally announced who our domestic opposition will be on our Spanish pre-season tour.

On paper the appointment of Régis Le Bris has a number of question marks over it. Last season Lorient won just seven league games, shipped goals for fun and lost eight of their final ten matches.

However, managerial tenures cannot be judged fairly by merely looking at a Wikipedia page, and the context behind their relegation must be taken into account.

In his first season at Lorient (and his debut season as a first team Head Coach), he guided Les Murlus to 10th in the league and their second highest points total in the French top flight.

This success attracted the attention of some high profile clubs, including Leeds United and he was on the verge of joining Nice before the move collapsed due the compensation fee demanded by Lorient.

The rug was very much pulled from underneath him last summer as a series of vital players were sold and the replacements were not up to the required standard, despite having the eighth highest wage bill in the league.

While the relegation on his CV isn’t ideal, the appointment has logic to it, for a start his fluency in both French and English can only help the squad currently at his disposal, he has enjoyed great success in youth football, and even masterminded a Coupe Gambardella triumph with Rennes back in 2008.

He has also developed a reputation for nurturing young talent within a first team structure and he is used to the French transfer model of buying in high potential players and selling for a profit.

In terms of his style of play, there has been praise for its intensity, where he likes to get full backs and wingers to create overloads in one half of the pitch and after beating the press, he prefers his teams to move the ball quickly in attacking areas.

Conversely, his tactical stubbornness has drawn criticism in some quarters, and despite operating in challenging circumstances, it is a worry that he couldn’t arrest Lorient’s decline.

The sheer number of goals leaked by the Lorient defence, cannot be ignored either, particularly given how easy we were to score against at times during our most recent campaign.

From a personal viewpoint, I believe Le Bris deserves our full backing from the off, both from the stands and the boardroom.

The success or failure of his reign will say more about our direction of travel and our recruitment than it will about the Frenchman as a manager.

So far, he’s had one excellent season and one poor one, so we don’t have a huge body of work to go off.

For factors I’ve already mentioned it could be a shrewd appointment, but it comes down to the tools he is ultimately given.

In both ours and What The Falk’s recent podcasts on the new gaffer, the French football guests emphasised Le Bris’ reliance on having a proper centre forward to help link the play and get on the end of low, drilled balls into the box.

They both also mentioned that the former Lorient gaffer favours two holding midfielders, with one carrying the ball and having a bit more licence to get forward, while the other is very much an anchorman.

We all know how frustrating the striker situation has been since Ellis Simms left the club and Ross Stewart sustained a long injury lay-off before being sold to Southampton but the lack of a holding midfielder is an equally big concern.

Pierre Ekwah is capable of carrying the ball, but his best displays in a Sunderland shirt have usually come in a slightly more advanced role.

Dan Neil has also been a victim of playing in such a deep role over the last 18 months and he has been able to play less decisive, defence-splitting balls since playing in a deeper role.

Despite a disastrous end to the season, we have plenty of players who are attracting interest from the Premier League and it is expected that at least one high profile player will leave this summer.

I don’t raise these points to try and be negative and in fairness to the club, they have so far been stubborn in their high valuations of players, therefore it is unlikely we will accept low-ball offers for the likes of Bellingham, Neil, and Clarke. It just emphasises the role that the recruitment will play in the ultimate success of Le Bris on Wearside.

If we believe him to be a talented coach, who develops young players, can get us playing good, front foot football and ultimately winning football, he needs to be given every opportunity to be a success.

It also remains to be seen whether Le Bris will be bringing his own staff with him, I personally don’t hold the same level of animosity towards Mike Dodds and Michael Proctor that some do, because I feel it’s unfair to criticise them for last season without praising them for their coaching during our successful 2022-23 season.

Despite this, I hope they will be taking more of a back seat in the coaching setup and the new man has some familiar faces on the training field and in the dugout with him.

Primarily, because it is essential to keep the voices and ideas fresh within a coaching set up and while continuity can be an advantage, it feels like Dodds and Proctor are carrying quite a bit of baggage and it would be good for the Le Bris to have some of ‘his people’ to lean on.

As much as I did not have any time for Michael Beale, he was a product of the poor recruitment process that led to him getting the job and the limitations he was working under throughout his time at the club.

In January, he was not provided with the players we needed to try and sustain a play-off push and prior to his exit and Mowbray became increasingly frustrated at the lack of first team ready players in the squad

By sacking Mowbray when we did, we set out a very clear message, ‘being outside the play-offs isn’t good enough for this club.’

Therefore, the expectation of the new man in charge is to get us back in the frame for a top six finish, the last 12 months have been a significant blot on the copy book of the ownership, but now is the time to show the fans that this is the type of manager they’ve been waiting for and back him accordingly.

Welcome to Sunderland Régis Le Bris, let’s hope he gets the backing he deserves and this is the start of an exciting chapter in the history of Sunderland AFC.