An ongoing nightmare – Interview
Thursday, 8th Mar 2018 16:39 by Clive Whittingham
There’s always someone worse off than yourself, and in the case of the vast majority of clubs in the country that someone is Sunderland. Pray silence please, for Rory from Roker Report.
Your season looks like it's been a complete disaster, can you sum up why the club hasn't been able to arrest the slide following last season's relegation?
RR: Simply, it's years of mismanagement finally catching up with us. We've been terribly run for years now, spending big money on awful players while giving them very generous contracts. Something I'm sure QPR fans can relate to.
People may point to the fact that we've chopped and changed managers too much but you need to look beyond that. We've had to change managers so often because the people at boardroom level have made terrible appointments and not thought things out. A prime example was David Moyes, who was hired on his past reputation, but in his first interview said he didn't take the job previously because he didn't think he could keep the club up. That set the tone straight away and should have been a red flag to those above him.
It's not just hiring bad managers, we've had two awful directors of football. Roberto Di Fanti signed a bunch of nobodies, most of whom barely made a dent in the first team, while Lee Congerton brokered the baffling Jack Rodwell deal. Credit to Congerton for swapping Jozy Altidore for Jermain Defoe though, I still can't believe we pulled that one off.
This has left us in a dire position. We sold Jordan Pickford for £30m in the summer and while most fans were realistic enough to understand that we wouldn't reinvest all of that, we thought we might spend a bit more than just under £2m. So at a time where we desperately need to rebuild, we don't have the money to do so. Now we have a cobbled together squad which lacks quality and cohesion, meaning opposition teams can simply sit back and wait for the individual errors to kick in.
Simon Grayson did well at Preston but didn't last long with you guys, could he really be blamed for much of this?
RR: Not completely but he hardly covered himself in glory. We only won one game in sixteen under Grayson and never kept a clean sheet. Furthermore, he never settled on a starting eleven or formation, the team was chopped and changed every week.
You could never see what type of football we were trying to play either, we just hoofed the ball up and hoped for the best. Grayson might have been given some grace if we could see what he was trying to implement but there were no signs of that and the results were terrible. It's worth mentioning that he didn't have many injuries to contend with either, so he was working with a far better squad than Chris Coleman. While Coleman hasn't been able to salvage things, he's trying to get the team to play a passing game and we've at least kept a few clean sheets.
For all he seemed like a decent bloke, I think this was too big a task for Grayson. We needed a big personality to try and galvanise things as well, which Grayson certainly wasn't.
We all thought Chris Coleman was mad taking the job on, and results haven't improved much. How's he doing? How are the fans with him?
RR: The fans are still behind him. You've got to respect him for taking the job in the first place and he's managed to stay positive despite how grim the outlook is. Coleman always seems confident and has a good swagger to him, which is most welcome after the constant negativity of David Moyes and the unconvincing Simon Grayson.
The vast majority of the problems aren't Coleman's fault of course and those issues were here long before he arrived but, for the moment at least, he looks determined to turn things around.
Personally, I think he views this as a project that may have to begin in League One. If you look at his previous managerial gigs, he isn't one to go for the more comfortable or conventional jobs. A few of the local press have suggested that being out of the Premier League isn't an issue for him, he just wants to manage a big club and turning Sunderland around is something that really appeals to him.
I still worry that the club being such a basket case will lead to him walking away but I really hope not, he's one of the few positives we have to cling on to.
Any interest in Ellis Short's offer to give the club away for free?
RR: It's all bit quiet. We desperately need some new owners to breathe new life into the club and to clear the debt so we can try and rebuild the squad. There were rumours of a German consortium buying us in the summer but that didn't go through and there were whispers that they didn't have the funds required.
We'll probably face another summer of uncertainty while we wait for someone to emerge. Hopefully it will be someone with good intentions because you look at other Football League clubs who have been in a similar situation and palmed off to even worse owners. For as much as I want Ellis Short to leave, I don't want us to be no better off and any prospective buyers need to be seriously vetted.
Player of the season candidates?
RR: I suppose this has to be framed as "least worst" rather than "best." Bryan Oviedo has been consistent and shown quality where others haven't, including a beauty of a goal last week against Millwall. George Honeyman works hard and has popped up with a few goals but hasn't been spectacular. That tells you just how bad this season has been when someone just doing the basics makes them a player of the season contender.
Joel Asoro deserves a bit of credit as well. A youngster who has come in to a terrible side but never stops running and gives us a genuine threat going forward. Hopefully he fancies a crack at League One.
Weak links in the team?
RR: How long have you got?!
The goalkeepers though, oh my god the goalkeepers. Take a look at all three goals we conceded against Aston Villa, you could easily blame Jason Steele for all three of them and he's been a disaster since his arrival. We signed Lee Camp in January but he hasn't been an improvement with a few calamitous moments. Robbin Ruiter is probably the best of the three but he's had some shockers (look at the highlights of our home game against Millwall back in November) and is out for the rest of the season anyway.
The defence in front of them aren't much better. We ship goals for fun and we're still having to rely on John O'Shea to marshal things even though he can barely run.
We do tend to have a goal in us but given how woeful we were going forward on Tuesday night, you shouldn't be too worried about conceding. Since Lewis Grabban left, there isn't an out and out goalscorer in the team so we always have to rely on someone popping up and doing something but there isn't anyone who you feel will definitely take responsibility.
Will you survive?
RR: I really can't see it. It's crazy that we're not cut adrift but that's purely down to the teams around us being so bad. When we do compete/the opposition has an off day, the best we seem to manage is a draw. We always find a way to concede and that negates any success we may have had going forward.
Time is running out and we would have to turn around our form dramatically to give ourselves a chance. As much as we've loved a last minute escape in recent years, I don't think it will happen this season and we'll have to endure the third tier for the second time in our history.
How does the club turn itself around after a dreadful few years?
RR: Nothing will really change until we get new owners. Unless we can get someone in who can clear the debts and put us on the road to rebuilding the squad, we will keep repeating the same patterns.
Given the amount of loanees at the club and contracts expiring, there is a chance to start fresh on the playing side. This season has shown that the team is lacking two things - strength and pace. The amount of times players, who aren't the best if we're being honest, have bullied us by being quick and strong is staggering. Given the quality of League One, you can only see that being even worse next season if we don't bring in players who are not just up for the fight, but are physically capable of fighting.
I believe Chris Coleman can be the man to lead us through the transition but he needs an owner behind him who is fully on board and is willing to shoulder the responsibility of running the club. If we can, somehow, get ourselves into that position the playing side should sort itself out. We can only hope for now though.
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