Whenever your manager speaks ahead of a derby game, you always think he “gets it”. You get that wrapped up with the emotion of it all, most words that reference the importance of the game can’t help but strike a chord with you. Di Canio even banged on about the civil war and the battle of Boldon Hill (which we won with some help from our Scottish friends).
But one thing Big Sam said yesterday really does hammer home the reality of this one. “If we go down, we lose half the employees here. That’s what you get when you get relegated. We are trying to look after everybody who is employed at Sunderland Football Club. That’s how massive the game is.”
You could leave it at that, to be frank. Despite what you think about any one group of players, nobody wants to see that. But when relegation seemed inevitable before Christmas, I’m not sure who seemed that arsed. One good transfer window later and that’s not the case now. After all we’ve all been through, we need to do this survival thing just one more time. Surely if we do, it’ll finally be better next year.
Gonna go off on a bit of a tangent here.
To fans of other Premier League clubs, Sunderland must seem a bit like the old proverbial turd that won’t flush down the toilet. A club lacking definition and purpose, being shown how it should be done by the likes of Southampton and Swansea; darlings of the media and of Match-of-the-Day-watching football fans across the land. I reckon there’d be little sympathy outside of Wearside if the lads in red ‘n white finally went down the shitter this season. Look at the national smugness expressed at the demise of Aston Villa, a side with similar problems to our own in many ways. I think it would be the same if them up the road failed too.
The thing is, we’ve tried to modernise ourselves, and keep ourselves in line with clubs like Swansea and Southampton and do things how they do things. I’m sick of hearing about fucking Swansea. There have been progressive ideas at board level to an extent, we’ve just had the wrong people trying to implement them. I truly believe there’s been well-intended method behind the erratic-looking madness (when it comes to footballing decisions anyway).
If you listened to Lee Congerton speak, for example, he sounded impressive enough, outlining the type of character he felt was missing from the dressing room. He convinced me he knew his onions so why wouldn’t he convince someone like Ellis Short? Gus Poyet almost cracked the beautiful football thing too – almost. I honestly, honestly believe that.
But things unravelled quite quickly for Gus, and being around him as his seeming paranoia unfolded through a series of misjudged post-match ramblings was genuinely a sad thing to witness. And while Congerton gets justified criticism for his part in what has been a disastrous period of staggering ineptitude in the transfer market, the signings with Poyet’s pawprints on them were the worst ones.
When Gus had a go at the fans after a pathetic loss at home to QPR, I was left opened mouthed. I stood there, literally, open mouthed as he questioned the fans daring to acknowledge an improved second-half performance in which players hassled and harried the opposition. There were no calls for brainless long balls up to the head of the ghost of Niall Quinn, as he suggested. This was mere appreciation from the fans of much improved levels of player application and desire.
It was probably that moment I came to peace with the fact that the club had lost its way somewhat, and that a desire for this model incorporating Spanish technique with English heart or whatever the fuck it was, didn’t suit Sunderland as a football club at that time. Offering a bit attacking purpose and going “direct” when you needed to was alright by me.
And it still is.
Now I’m not suddenly turning into a football dinosaur, but I want what’s best for Sunlun at this time. By all means come to me when the lads are finishing in the top ten of the Premier League and we’ll speak then about progressing our style of football. Let’s give ourselves a chance to get there first though. We’ve been looking to the likes of Southampton and Swansea for inspiration when we should be admiring the work of someone like Stoke. Remember when we joked that they signed all of our shite players? Now look at them.
We should have been striving for steady, solid evolution; not some massive blood-soaked revolution like most of us called for; guided by this impression the club is cursed, or that there’s a deep-rooted issue that can’t be fixed by signing a few better players in key positions.
Load of bollocks.
Sign some players that improve your starting eleven. Do it at least every other window. There’s your masterplan lads and lasses.
We’ve had head coaches with some ideas and a Directors of Football with other ideas. The playing staff, on paper, should have been nowhere near good enough to overcome all of this and continue to allow this club to dine at the top table. Just how have we avoided relegation, on reflection, and in hindsight?
The floating turd of the Premier League.
Yet there’s now this feeling we’re getting there, isn’t there? Despite the uncomfortable and disappointing events off-the-field recently, people are looking forward going to the game again because of what’s happening on the pitch. When was the last time that happened?
Although I, like most of us, was charmed by the early work of Advocaat, the basics of what is demanded by fans had not been honoured on the pitch in quite some time until very recently. Since Sam stamped his authority all over this side at the start of 2016, they hadn’t been honoured for ages in fact, probably since O’Neill’s first six months in charge.
Gus almost got some things right in a stylistic sense, but the lack of intensity and purpose deflated most of his good work. Intensity and purpose get our fans interested.
The irony of going down, now we seem to have some of this back will be too much for me. And just look at the last transfer window we’ve had, man. Sensible signings, three of which have improved the side instantly. When was the last time that happened? Another irony waiting to be birthed by a relegation.
Then there’s the tiny matter of this Tyne-Wear thing the morra, the purest and rawest derbies of the lot. We all just *know* what’s supposed to be in the script here.
Six consecutive derby wins have kept our morale afloat throughout this whole minging period. The fact not one, two, three, but FOUR of our managers have lost their first game in charge before winning the derby is utterly remarkable.
Benitez replicating that model for them lot is the narrative they they all want, alright, you better believe it. We can’t allow it to happen.
The managers dislike each other, as do the football clubs in general, let’s be honest.
There’s a massive part of me that can’t get over the fact that we threw away two points at Southampton, and there’s an even bigger part of me that wishes McClaren was still around.
But there’s also the part of me that acknowledges that Sunderland balls up when strongly fancied, and thinks perhaps we now have a better chance since the pendulum of popular opinion has swung since last Friday. King Rafa has strolled into the north east and turned the definitions of the frequently used superlatives on their head.
He’s a good manager, I won’t say otherwise, and if they stay up they’re within their rights to be excited up there in NewcastleGateshead. But I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with being the side the rest of the country tipped for survival to be honest, adversity has served us well in recent years and I think it could again.
A defeat would be hard to take and we need the law-of-averages fairy to keep her nose out of our derby-day business one last time.