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Tuesday, 01 October 2013

Sunderland: Playing the Blame Game - Can anyone turn the Black Cats around?

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Sqf Sarshar H general
At the time of writing this Basel coach Murat Yakin is 9/2 odds-on favorite to be the new manager of struggling Sunderland. Earlier my co-worker asked about the chance of Harry Redknapp taking over the reigns at the Stadium of Light. I told him Harry Houdini would have an impossible task, let alone Redknapp.

Is it really that bad in the North East that names such as Di Matteo and Neil Lennon have distanced themselves from speculation regarding the vacant manager’s position? If so, what’s gone wrong? And who’s to blame for all of it?

Di canio sackedWhen Texas billionaire Ellis Short arrived on Wearside in 2008, a new optimism arose amongst the much-suffering fans, who had to sit through Sir Bob Murray torturing them during his final years as chairman. Here was this figurehead who had the finances to match an impressive stadium and passionate fan base. Someone who could get us a team who would compete against the Arsenal’s and Liverpool’s – and for a short time we did, beating both teams in 2009 and 2012, as well as defeating Man City in 2010 and twice in 2012, including being the only Premier League team to take points off them at the Etihad.

We even had names like Ghanaian World Cup star Asamoah Gyan, prolific striker Darren Bent and tricky winger Stephane Sessegnon at our disposal. We were a club on the rise, and 2013 was supposed to be the season that we were propelled into a top six team. Well, so was 2012 for that matter but that ended with the sacking of Martin O’Neill and the team barely surviving relegation.

It can be argued that the problem lies with the same man who was to save us from mediocrity, Ellis Short. He allowed messes Bruce, Keane, O’Neil and Di Canio to splash the cash wildly and bring in average players. Let’s face it; Michael Chopra should never have cost £6m, likewise the £5m paid for Danny Graham now appears to be awful business while one has to wonder if Connor Wickham will ever live-up to his £8m (+add-ons) transfer fee. Players like Anton Ferdinand (£8m) and Steed Malbranque (£7m), while consistent in their appearances can also be considered consistently average. Lorik Cana cost £5m, and left after one season. El-Hadji Diouf cost £3m, Greg Halford was £2.5m and played eight games, Rade Prica was £2m, scored on his debut then in true Sunderland fashion, disappeared.

Fair enough, we picked up Simon Mignolet for £2m and made a handsome profit but since Short bought into the club he’s spent a whopping £178m and has little to show for it, except for the constant back-page headlines ridiculing the club. No wonder he claims there’s no money left!

But while one can blame Short for throwing his money around willy-nilly and trusting the four now-departed individuals a portion of the burden has to go on the managers who brought in certain players, then either never played them or played them out of position. Craig Gardner’s been playing at right-back for over a season, did Di Canio and O’Neill discover that the Brummie isn’t the creative midfielder they were hoping he was and are just getting their money’s worth out of him because, quite frankly he’s a liability as a full back and dangerously reckless at times.

When the club brought in Cabral, Di Canio lauded him so much that he took Lee Cattermole’s number six shirt. The Cape Verde midfielder was fantastic on his debut against Fulham but then vanished, with the mercurial Italian claiming he wasn’t ready for the rigours of the English top-flight, even choosing David Vaughan ahead of him! But then again the latest casualty of the managerial circus on Wearside wasn’t the one who brought in the player from Basel, newly appointed club director Roberto Di Fanti was. And this is where things get interesting because Di Canio merely gave the club a list of attributes he wanted specific players to have … it was up to Di Fanti and his partner and club scout Valentino Angeloni to find those suitable.

After spending what seemed an age deliberating over the likes of Gino Peruzzi, the Argentinian who marked Neymar out of the game during Velez Sarsfield’s Copa Libertadores clash with Santos, allegedly failing a medical twice before being snapped up by Serie A club Catania, and teenager Benjamin Mendy (who eventually chose to sign with Marseille) the club was forced to look elsewhere, ultimately bringing in Andrea Dossena and Ondrezj Celustka. Both appeared to be desperate acquisitions with Dossena’s in-particular looking suspect.

Whoever you think is the main culprit the fact remains that we have a squad of players, many of whom have been left over from previous regimes, many of whom aren’t Premier League quality anymore in my opinion (see Cuellar, Ji, Larsson, O’Shea, Vaughan) and many of whom are still unproven in the top flight (see Altidore, Diakite, Cabral, Wickham). We have no manager, and according to Ellis Short we have no money. Whoever is appointed faces a huge uphill struggle to maintain our top-flight status.

If you ask me what the club should do you would laugh at my suggestion but here goes: Ellis Short is a multi-billionaire who’s seen most of his money squandered on inept signings and a host of managers come and go. Appoint a big name coach (as of writing it looks like Roberto Mancini’s gone to Galatasaray) but I would have loved to have him on Wearside, especially as he had previously shown interest in the position. If not Mancini then a Frank Rijkaard or a Guus Hiddink. Buy two top class players (I suggest Juan Mata and Radamel Falcao as the Spaniard is unsettled and Falcao’s club Monaco seem to be having financial trouble). Build the club around them and continue with their investment in youth (Charis Mavrias, David Moberg-Karlsson, Duncan Watmore, El-Hadji Ba all look very promising). This would bring instant results and ensure the club would make their money back on the two signings. But this is just one journalist’s opinion and many will probably scoff at the idea.

Whatever happens between now and the day the new man steps in (or woman if Hope Powell takes charge) the club will continue to dominate the headlines for the wrong reasons and will more than likely keep losing games. C’EST la vie.

Calling all Sunderland fans: Do you agree with Sarshar? Who is to blame for the debacle at the Stadium of Light? Can the Black Cats beat the drop? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Antony Melvin



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