On a bitterly cold November morning in 2017 I felt a sense of optimism I had not felt since Sam Allardyce left the club just under a year and a half previously.
On the morning in question I was sitting in the ALS store surrounded by Sunderland t-shirts, old magazine issues, scarves, books and general paraphernalia; in between serving customers and making endless cups of tea I was watching our new manager Chris Coleman giving an Oxford Union Address.
After the dour Yorkshire realism of Simon Grayson, the charismatic Welshman seemed the perfect antidote to the general apathy that had spread around the club in the wake of our relegation from the Premier League.
Coleman spoke with authority and captivated an audience of highly educated students throughout, he talked eloquently about inheriting a side who had been rocked by the death of Gary Speed and taking them to the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championships.
After watching this, I tuned in to his first press conference as Sunderland manager where he talked about getting the city rocking and rolling and expressed his pride at getting the opportunity to manage a club of our size.
In that moment is seemed a timely reminder that we were still a force to be reckoned with, we may have sat bottom of the Championship, but we had attracted a manager who had recently won the hearts of football fans all over the world.
During the day, as fans were booking their buses for forthcoming away games, my sense of optimism increased as people seemed genuinely excited about the club’s future. Of course, there were cynics (who unfortunately were correct) pointed out that we didn’t have a Gareth Bale in our ranks and questioned his club managerial record, but on the whole, there was hope for better times ahead. Ultimately, we all know how the rest of the campaign turned out, to what extent Coleman was to blame is a moot point, but the excitement surrounding his appointment forms part of a cautionary tale about getting carried away one way or the other over a managerial appointment.
Until the past 10 to 15 years when you appointed a new manager, apart from looking at stats from their previous clubs and reading reports in the media there was very little information about them in the public domain, especially at the level Sunderland are currently operating at.
But in the modern age of podcasts, YouTube channels, blogs etc we have almost unprecedented access to a manager’s inner thoughts, their track record, opinions on the manager by the fans of their previous clubs, their tactical identity and their fan engagement record.
In the past 24 hours I’ve read comments on a Lincoln forum suggesting that Danny Cowley would be a disaster, he spent a lot of money and played an awful brand of football.
I’ve also watched an interview with ‘The Coaches’ Voice’ about reconnecting fans with the community and how he went about it, which has excited certain fans.
I remember listening to the Big Interview with Graham Hunter podcast where David Moyes spoke really well about his time at Real Sociedad and I was reassured of his credentials by the end of the show.
In the excellent, ‘Nowhere Men’ by Michael Calvin I read a whole chapter about Moyes’ methodical attention to detail when it came to recruitment; in reality his transfer policy amounted to loading up Football Manager 2011 and saying, “oh aye, I remember him, let’s get the band back together.”
Aside from Cowley, there has been similar differences of opinion amongst Sunderland supporters, Daniel Stendel is either a top bloke who got drunk with Barnsley fans and whose attacking football got them promoted to the Championship, or the fraud who got Hearts relegated.
No matter who we appoint you will find a podcast, or an interview either heaping praise on a manager or slagging them off.
Of course, I’m not saying to people that they shouldn’t have opinions on potential new gaffers, it’s great to have so much research material to hand and we should always be wary or optimistic depending on their CV.
I was very anti-Parkinson from almost day one because I didn’t see the long term vision behind appointing a man who’s highest ever finish is 21st in the Championship.
Given the brief excitement over a return of Gus Poyet, it is understandable that fans will feel slightly underwhelmed no matter who we appoint and unless there is a radical change in ownership and direction behind the scenes the new man will carry the stigma of being the owner’s man.
However, there is no doubt in mind that the new boss will receive the baking of the fans, as they always do but in terms of their suitability for Sunderland it is important to not get drawn into all the white noise surrounding potential candidates and judge them on what they bring to the table once they are appointed.
It’s easy to get drawn into confirmation bias regarding managers, but remember when we appointed Big Sam and we were told by West Ham fans and Mags that he’d play eye bleeding football?
A manager can talk the best game in the world, but ultimately they will be judged by how they perform in the Sunderland dugout and we should try and avoid getting carried away one way or the other until they’ve had that opportunity.