It’s sad to see Advocaat go after falling in love with Sunderland

The now former Sunderland manager Dick AdvocaatThe now former Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat
The now former Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat
A brainstorming session was held between Lee Congerton and his staff two months ago over short-term solutions to replace Gus Poyet in the Sunderland hotseat.

It was ex-Dutch international Hans Gillhaus, Sunderland’s head of European scouting, who broached the left-field suggestion of Dick Advocaat.

It raised a few eyebrows.

Hadn’t Advocaat effectively retired after leaving his post in charge of Serbia last November?

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More importantly, would Advocaat be willing to risk the glorious reputation he had built for himself during a hugely-decorated career by potentially being relegated with Sunderland?

Gillhaus had an inkling that he might and Congerton began to take soundings from elsewhere, including Sir Alex Ferguson who rubbished suggestions that Advocaat was past his prime and heartily encouraged the Sunderland sporting director to proceed.

Congerton’s ex-Hamburg colleague Frank Arnesen – a close friend of Advocaat – then began to make overtures to the 67-year-old about the possibility of moving to Sunderland.

Former Aberdeen winger Gillhaus was right. The prospect of managing in the Premier League for the first time before his career had concluded appealed to Advocaat. But after the two parties quickly reached a lucrative deal after Poyet’s sacking, it was taken as given that this was a short-term gig.

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Advocaat had made up his mind to retire with his wife to their newly-built luxury home in the Dutch countryside.

Sunderland, meanwhile, were ready to make a long-term appointment in the summer, with the highly-rated Paul Clement on the club’s radar.

But as Advocaat began to make an impact during his nine-game spell, those resolutions began to blur and there was a feeling on both sides that this might not be quite the stop-gap measure it had originally promised to be.

It wasn’t necessarily derby-day which saw Advocaat instantly converted into a red-and-white fanatic, even though he began to show a much warmer side to his character in his briefings with the press after that win over the Magpies.

No, this was more of a gradual love-affair.

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During the five-game unbeaten run which saw Sunderland secure top flight survival, Advocaat saw a dogged commitment to beat the drop from his players, as they clearly responded to his methods.

He saw players giving absolutely everything to the cause.

The supporters caught his eye too. The ex-Rangers boss began to appreciate the sleeping giant of a club hiding underneath the mess of transfer blunders and constant managerial changes.

Gradually, he began to express ideas to Congerton over beneficial changes and potential transfer targets too.

The tears which formed in the eyes of this battle-hardened veteran of the dug-out were not just because his club career was coming to an end. Sunderland had genuinely got under his skin.

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Perhaps it was inevitable that when Advocaat registered the points needed to keep Sunderland in the Premier League, the club’s hierarchy would be keen to retain his services.

But it wasn’t just results which saw Advocaat impress Sunderland’s power-brokers.

The former Holland manager had a calm air of authority which was a stark contrast to the volatile characters of his two predecessors.

Most importantly, he knew how to deal with people. For all Poyet was rated as a good coach, his disputes with Sunderland’s hierarchy clearly didn’t buy him any patience with the ejector button.

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Ellis Short was impressed and saw this as the opportunity to appoint a manager who wouldn’t squander his millions, or lead the club into yet another relegation battle.

Advocaat was the overwhelmingly appealing option for stability. Short made it crystal clear to him he was his number one option and held talks with him.

Advocaat was tempted. In an ideal world, he would have extended his tenure for at least another year.

But his wife and those retirement plans were always the big stumbling block and at the age of 67, it is understandable that he has shied away from the physical and emotional demands of a full Premier League campaign.

Where does that leave Sunderland?

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Bitterly disappointed in the first instance after putting all of their efforts over the last fortnight into keeping Dick at the helm. But there is no time to mope.

Congerton has just a month to bring someone in for the start of pre-season, yet he probably has even less time than that, given the pressing need to make an appointment in time for the summer recruitment to begin.

Clement is now Derby-bound, but the impact made by Advocaat is thought to have persuaded Sunderland that they need someone at the helm with a splash of experience anyway, rather than a managerial rookie.

But that puts Sunderland in a difficult position.

They want someone with experience, yet one who is prepared to work in a director of football system, which appears to rule out the likes of Sam Allardyce.

There are no obvious solutions.

Congerton will need another brain-storming session to land upon another crack candidate.