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Should we be worried about the Little General’s Lieutenants?

Article by Jon Guy

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While I, like so many Sunderland fans, have been encouraged and humoured in almost equal measure over the plethora of players the club have been linked with in recent weeks, one announcement has not passed me by.

Given that it has been publicly stated that the club is looking for six quality signings to accompany the exit of those deemed to be surplus to requirements, it remains a case of wait and see given the tens of targets identified by agents and the media.

Therefore, while the first team on the pitch for 2015/16 is still very much undecided, Dick Advocaat has named his backroom team and I really hope he can buck a very disturbing trend.

The man who ended last season as first-team coach, Zelkjo Petrovic, is now assistant head coach. Paul Bracewell, part of the team that took us to the 1992 FA Cup final against all odds, is now the first team coach with Adrian Tucker goalkeeping coach, with the backroom staff completed by sports scientist Scott Pearce.

All well and good but there is one name missing from this backroom collective and that is Advocaat’s long-time lieutenant Bert van Lingen.

It seems van Lingen took the decision to retire alongside his friend Advocaat but has not had the change of heart that would lead him back to the Stadium of Light for one more throw of the dice.

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It brings to an end a partnership that has endured for over a quarter of a century and covered Advocaat’s terms with Holland, Belgium, Russia, Serbia, Glasgow Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg.

Now I have to confess that my wife is and has been for many years an Arsenal season ticket holder and has always shown a great deal of sympathy for my love of Sunderland, although she has always envied the difference in cost between our respective season tickets.

For more years than I care to think about I had always said to her that one day Martin O’Neill would arrive as manager at Sunderland to lead us to the promised land. So when O’Neill was appointed she admitted that she never believed a coach of O’Neill’s reputation, despite his admission as a boy of supporting Sunderland due to his reverence of Charley Hurley, would ever manage my team.

As we all know his time at the SoL was not great. What many fans may have dismissed at the time was the fact that while he arrived his number two, former team mate at Nottingham Forest John Robertson, who has been with him since his days at Wycombe Wanderers decided not to come with him.

This omission it seems was far more important than we may have thought as Robertson was said to be the main man on the training pitch and a vital link between O’Neill and his players. He was a conduit and a link that smoothed communication between the two and more importantly provided certain technical aspects that O’Neill lacked.

Sadly though he never managed Sunderland, it was a similar situation between Brian Clough and Peter Taylor at Derby County and Nottingham Forest.

Clough was the brash man manager, Taylor the introverted technical genius.

There is a tale of how a journalist went with Taylor to see a Tranmere Rovers reserve game and at the moment every player in the pitch had touched the ball once Taylor gave the journalist a complete breakdown on every one of them to a degree that left the sports reporter shocked.

Clough and Taylor were brilliant together, apart they quite simply needed what the other could bring.

Advocaat is now without his right hand man of 25 years and we all have to hope that the loss will not be felt as keenly as those of Robertson and Taylor.

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