There’s no doubt about it – Sunderland are in trouble. In fairness, they perpetually seem on the verge of a calamity. It seems to make no different who their manager is and how much money they spend. The last time Sunderland put together some decent Premier League finishes was in 2000 and 2001 when they finished 7th for two seasons in a row. Since then, they have been relegated and promoted twice and finished no higher than 10th in the EPL.
Since an Irish consortium took control of the club in 2006, Sunderland have been an ambitious club. They have worked hard at getting the attendances up and have given successive managers money to spend. When American businessman Ellis Short took over the club in 2011, even more money was made available, but it seems to have changed nothing.
Current manager: Martin O’Neill has a reputation for making teams greater than the sum of their parts. He is famous for his short and sweet inspirational pre-match talks and for encouraging his teams to run through brick walls. He succeeded at Wycombe, at Leicester (including a 2 League Cups) and at Celtic (where he took them to a UEFA Cup Final). He had less success and time at Aston Villa, where he fell out with a chairman who promised him money that didn’t materialise, but still his stock was very high when he was appointed Sunderland manager. It seemed they got a good manager and he got an ambitious club.
Some new signings were made: Adam Johnson, Carlos Cuellar and Stephen Fletcher were all good buys, albeit a bit expensive – but at least it showed they were willing to spend. Perhaps the warning signs should have gone up when some of the other squad members were looked at – players who never quite made it at other clubs: Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Frazier Campbell, James McFadden etc.
What is clear though, is at the moment it isn’t working. Johnson, Sessegnon and Larsson are players of skill and quality, but they just haven’t fired consistently at all this season. Fletcher has taken most of the chances that have come his way, but seems increasingly isolated and all the backup strikers seem either too old (McFadden & Saha) or too raw (Wickham & Campbell). Most of the rest of the squad looks ok, but just has very little quality. O’Neill’s gift is that normally he can make these individuals into something greater but for whatever reason, this isn’t happening.
O’Neill has never been sacked from a post – he always chooses to walk, not always into a different job – maybe just because he feels the time is right to go. I wonder if that time is coming soon as he is currently the favourite manager to lose his job. The Black Cats have only won 2 of their opening 11 games and have scored a mere 10 goals in doing so. Many people felt that O’Neill would safely guide Sunderland to mid-table safety and perhaps a good cup run, but unless things turn around quickly, he might be out of a job before Christmas.
Mark Cruise is a soccer writer for Rantsports – follow him on Twitter: @chiefhairyman