Everyone knew Gus Poyet was going to be sacked on Monday. The press knew it, they’d broken the story late on Sunday night. The fans knew it too. The players must have read about it, and the staff at the Academy of Light. And yet Poyet was made to complete his final training session regardless, presumably in stony silence with no-one really wanting to make eye contact. As final punishments go, this was a cruel one. And yet not entirely undeserved.
Sunderland were beyond miserable on Saturday. Ellis Short could cite that performance as evidence of gross misconduct, sack everybody involved and there would be no need for the industrial tribunal. Even hardened veterans of Sunderland’s uselessness struggled to think of a worse 45 minute spell than this abject first half. Poyet has had this team for over a year. They were awful when he arrived, they stayed awful for some time, they flickered into life just in time to save their Premier League status, they have been awful ever since and there is absolutely no sign that they will cease to be awful in the future. He had to go.
But which lucky manager will inherit this misbegotten collection of perpetual failures? Sunderland are reported to be in the market for a short term firefighter; someone who can come in, kick bottoms, put smiles on faces and drag the club out of its terminal nosedive. Unfortunately, Tim Sherwood is already employed. While there would be a certain joy in returning Peter Reid to the bright lights of the Premier League, preferably with a fly-on-the-wall camera crew in tow, it seems rather unlikely. Instead, the big name on the short list is Dick Advocaat. Which is a little odd.
Advocaat has not worked since he left the Serbian national team just four months into his tenure on account of it being an absolute disaster. “I had never faced such a difficult position in my entire career,” he said after leaving. Well, he sounds perfect.
Short term firefighters generally sound better in practice than they are in reality. Unless you can grab someone of the highest quality, as Chelsea did with Guus Hiddink in 2009 and, though their fans won’t want to admit it, Rafa Benitez in 2012, it’s not always worth the trouble. Why are they thought of as short term managers? Why hasn’t someone given them a long term role? Are they too old? Are they too volatile? Are they even good enough? With the dramatic rise in TV revenues, this is a really bad season to finish in the relegation zone. And Sunderland want to entrust their future to someone who isn’t generally considered a good option for a proper job? And presumably pay them a fortune for their services?
Who else is in mind? Harry Redknapp? He was supposed to be the firefighter who saved Queen Park Rangers. That didn’t work so well. Billy Davies is 20/1 with most bookmakers. That’s like trying to put out a fire by spraying it with gasoline. Glenn Hoddle? A bold move, given that he hasn’t managed a club since 2006. They would be better off just giving the job to Kevin Ball.
This is a mess, but that’s hardly surprising because Sunderland have been a mess for so long. The decision to hire Paolo di Canio and Roberto de Fanti was a spectacular failure. The decision to replace them with Gus Poyet, when Tony Pulis and Steve McClaren were in the frame, was baffling. If they go down, and given that Burnley bring a brand of professionalism and determination to the party that the Black Cats can’t match, they may very well drop this year, they can only blame themselves.
This is a club in dire need of a Year Dot, a complete overhaul, a cold restart, whatever you want to call it. But they might have to do it in the second flight. It may be too late for firefighters now.