If at first you don’t succeed: Sunderland fail with inexperienced manager, and appoint another one
The travails of Sunderland under Paolo di Canio have been well documented, and most of the footballing world (although probably not Newcastle fans) breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Italian was given his marching orders following a disastrously poor start to the season.
There were a lot of reasons why di Canio had to go, and in the end, a serious bust-up with some of the players resulted in the end of the Italian’s tenure at the Stadium of Light. However, one of the main reasons why Sunderland had to let their man go is extremely simple: he wasn’t winning football matches.
Di Canio’s record of three wins in 13 games certainly wasn’t good enough, and once his team started losing, the more unpredictable and temperamental side of his personality really started to shine through. However, it should not be forgotten that it was the results that preempted the bust-up, as if Sunderland were winning (or even drawing), there would have been no reason for the Italian to get so irate with his players. So the question must be asked: why were Sunderland not winning?
I’ll offer a simple explanation for Sunderland’s woes on the pitch: Paolo di Canio is an inexperienced manager and was not yet ready to manage in the Premier League. Following the dismissal of Martin O’Neill, Sunderland were clearly hoping that the energetic di Canio would be able to inject some life into an ailing squad. However, my view is that their wish to bring in a motivational manager clouded their vision in terms of di Canio’s suitability for the post.
Martin O’Neill was sacked last season with Sunderland hovering just above the relegation zone. There were seven games to go and it was clearly crucial that the Wearside club avoided relegation. Common sense would suggest that they appointed someone with previous experience of those sorts of situations; someone who was able to put into practice a proven blueprint for survival. Instead, they gave di Canio the job; a man who had not even managed a Premier League club before, let alone fought for survival in one of the toughest leagues in the world.
Thankfully for Sunderland, the poor appointment didn’t cost them – at least in the short term. The Northeast club stayed up by the skin of their teeth, although it should be noted that di Canio failed to improve upon the position the club had been in when he was appointed, and that Sunderland survived with 39 points; a total that could have easily sent them down in other seasons.
Di Canio’s inexperience reared its head again this season, as the Italian bought no fewer than 14 players in the summer and failed spectacularly to blood them into his team. The Italian’s side failed to win a single game, and with the team rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, a spectacular bust-up gave the Sunderland hierarchy an opportunity to dismiss the former Swindon boss.
One would think that in light of the disastrous di Canio reign, Sunderland would think long and hard before appointing someone as inexperienced again. Given that even now – at the beginning of October – Sunderland face a fight to survive in the Premier League, it would seem sensible to bring in a manager who has been here before, a manager who knows how keep a team in the Premier League. With that in mind, let us consider Sunderland’s latest appointment: Gus Poyet.
The Uruguyan has no doubt been successful, but enthusiasm regarding that success should be tempered somewhat by the fact that he – like di Canio – has never managed in the Premier League. Poyet did well at Brighton, and was very unlucky to lose his job on the South Coast; but success with Brighton is not necessarily enough. The ex-Tottenham player has been thrown into the deep end in a very similar way to di Canio, and the reason why Sunderland have opted for a manager like Poyet is unclear.
It may be that because Poyet has never managed in the Premier League, his wage demands are lower than most other candidates. It may also be that Poyet – eager for his big break – was one of the only managers on the shortlist willing to accept a two-year contract and thus would be relatively easy to dismiss in the event of failure. On the face of it, hiring a man who won’t cost too much to employ or to dismiss seems like a good move, but ultimately the most important thing for Sunderland is to stay in the Premier League. The financial benefits of staying in England’s top flight generally far outweigh any costs associated with management, and that’s why most Premier League teams opt for an experienced man as opposed to a Premier League novice.
By appointing Poyet, Sunderland have pretty much just rolled a dice. It may be that Poyet has what it takes, it may be that – like di Canio – he doesn’t. But when there are millions of pounds at stake, it seems absurd to rely on luck.