IN A SPARSE set of programme notes on Saturday, Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne stressed that the “time to reflect” on this sorry campaign had to wait.
Byrne’s message was that while there remains a chance – however slim – of Sunderland remaining in the Premier League, the recriminations have to be put on ice. But Gus Poyet isn’t waiting to conduct the inquest.
Several weeks ago, Poyet began examining where it was going wrong and made his conclusions public after the defeat to Everton by declaring there is something fundamentally flawed at Sunderland.
Poyet’s comments received plenty of attention in yesterday’s papers and understandably so. He could easily have resorted to tired cliches about Sunderland being unlucky – which they were – against Everton. But that would have been ignoring the elephant in the room.
While Poyet’s January transfer business and his selections / strategies since the FA Cup quarter final defeat to Hull have sparked criticism of the Sunderland boss, his conclusions about this club are spot on.
Other than a six-month spell under Steve Bruce and a five-month promotion charge under Roy Keane, nearly every step forwards Sunderland have taken over the last decade has been followed by a couple backwards.
Too many mistakes have been made. Too many opportunities to make long-term progress have been blown. Poyet is not the first Sunderland manager to reach the same conclusion.
In his brief tenure in the dug-out, Niall Quinn identified the “gremlins” at Sunderland.
Steve Bruce put it down to “expectations”. Martin O’Neill riled against the phrase “typical Sunderland”.
And for all his wild pronouncements and appalling man-management, Paolo Di Canio realised there was clearly something amiss for a club with Sunderland’s fanbase and the investment made in the playing squad, to be struggling at the wrong end of the table.
But what is “it” that is holding Sunderland back?
Poyet claims he has a theory, although he will speak to Ellis Short about it, rather than going public.
The likelihood is that he is referring to the losing mentality at Sunderland and the lack of identity or clear approach to the Black Cats’ playing style.
That’s what stems from a conveyor belt of managers and three years of putting temporary Elastoplasts over the clear problems in the squad.
But there are a host of problems that need to be solved at the Stadium of Light, not just one.
At the top, Short privately acknowledges that he has made a series of mistakes and he is right. A succession of the American’s appointments – particularly Di Canio and Roberto De Fanti – have been woeful.
The lack of a “footballing” person on the board since Quinn’s departure has been notable too.
If there had been, would Sunderland really have gone ahead with the Di Canio / De Fanti experiment?
The appointment of Lee Congerton will hopefully be a step in the right direction on that score.
Sunderland’s recruitment and scouting over the last three years has been predominantly awful too.
There have been some notable exceptions – loan signings and goalkeepers – yet Sunderland have generally sold their best or even steady performers and failed to suitably replace them.