Sunderland’s quick work to replace the outgoing Alex Neil with Tony Mowbray should be applauded

Graeme Atkinson looks at the appointment of Tony Mowbray and how he can work with the young talent at his disposal

As another summer transfer window concludes we were all left taking breath after what had, frankly, been another turbulent period for Sunderland AFC. Just when waters around SR5 had become more tranquil, Alex Neil’s shock departure with a week or so left before deadline day, certainly created waves. Then, with as many new dawns here as Jupiter’s 10hr day, Tony Mowbray’s swiftly arranged arrival on Wearside became a pragmatic, if unglamorous, appointment drawing a line under the whole sorry saga.

However, it is ironic that with Neil’s replacement, the Black Cats acted more decisively when caught on the hop, than when they were doing the firing, as was the case with Lee Johnson. It took 12 days to appoint the now departed Scot and only two to hire Mowbray. Perhaps this is a reflection of a more streamlined shareholding and fewer competing voices behind the scenes. In any event, at a time when Neil’s exit could have created a fissure running through the club if left to fester, it was critical to get matters concluded quickly.

Mercifully, this time, they were.

Whether Mowbray ends up being as successful or as popular as Neil remains to be seen. Certainly a recent 3-0 victory against fellow promoted side Rotherham FC will not have done him any harm. Yet, what we do know with some certainty is the Teessider is a better fit for the ‘model’ the club have now firmly established. Indeed, with this window – bringing in further young and inexperienced players with untapped potential – it’s an approach that has only been double downed on.

Mowbray spent five productive years at Blackburn Rovers working in a very similar vein to what he now finds here. That must feel familiar to him and confidence of success may quietly emanate from him being already comfortable with this situation. Working with youth, loans and some more experienced heads, he helped stabilise the Blue and Whites into a side pushing for playoff places. His Rovers squad had an average age of 23.8yrs and finished 8th in the Championship. The average age of his Sunderland side now the window has closed is 23.2. In time, if he can quickly replicate that achievement here, it must surely be deemed a success.

Clearly the modus operandi set by Louis-Dreyfus et al is buy young, develop and look to sell for a large profit or, as Mowbray himself recently said, “Put talent into the club and let it grow”. He further acknowledged this in his first post match interview on the club’s social media channels, “I’ve said to them all [the players], their aspirations should be to play in the Premier League… and hopefully with this football club. But, don’t worry about this football club from the point of view of, if their talent is so good that if someone wants to pay big, big money for these young players…I never worry about selling real talent as long as you reinvest it back into the team…”

Whether we like it or not, it’s a comment that seems accepting of the path being followed by the club. Rightly or wrongly, we can be fairly confident that these words would not have emanated from Neil. It is evident Mowbray is more aligned with the direction the club is taking. His spell at Rovers suggests he will be content to work within the strict financial parameters the owners have set on Wearside. Yet, it begs the question if Neil was such a departure from the model – as would now seem apparent – why was he even appointed in the first place? He was always a better fit with supporters (up until recent events) than he was inside the club. Perhaps the end of his particular road here was mapped out very early on.

In many respects, with regards to the players brought in during the window little of substance can be said. Certainly not much detail is known on many given their lack of experience in senior football. With Édouard Michut (more can be read here on the former PSG youngster), Abdoulla Ba and Amad (Diallo) only 31 senior appearances can be found between them.

Exciting? Most definitely. Proven talent? Certainly not.

Much has been made too of the ‘gaps’ remaining in the squad post 1st September. This writer would tend to agree with that view. The squad certainly lacks experience in midfield, between the sticks, in the centre of defence at fullback and up front. Yet, for balance that was possibly never being sought out. Arguably, with the versatility of Amad, Michut and those already with the group those potential ‘gaps’ can be filled with little concern.

Recent comments from the club suggest that was indeed the thinking as the clock counted down to the transfer deadline on Thursday. Having said that, with deals being actively pursued until 9pm, some internal question marks may exist over whether these youngsters will be able to sustain a high level of performance throughout the rigours of a full season. As we saw during the tail end of the last campaign, several of the inexperienced group were struggling around January time. But, the World Cup break could ease those concerns on this occasion.

The sun has set on Neil’s tenure and now rises on Tony Mowbray’s. We are left to hope his experience, nous of the division and keenness to embrace Sunderland AFC’s methods can help quickly develop the young players here. If positives are to be sought, surely everyone pulling in the same direction is better than one railing against it.

For some, concerns will remain around the lack of experience within the group. The youngsters will find themselves thrust into an unforgiving league, for sure. “This is a young team and this is a hard, man’s league”, as Mowbray said himself. Yet, hope can also be found in Mowbray’s past success with a club that closely resembled the circumstances with which we now find ourselves. And, as the love affair with one manager turns sour, the arrival of another allows the club to look forward.

That, as the cliché goes, is football.