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Sunderland - Get Roy Keane on the phone!

Article by Ben Mummery @benjiboo_42

We all know what it means to love Sunderland. Every one of you reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about!
I imagine it’s much the same as what supporting any football team feels like - the pride, the hope, that very primal feeling of belonging, setting my tribe against yours etc. etc.

This said, I find it almost impossible to imagine any other group of fans supporting any other team on earth having to deal with the sort of emotions and punishment that we, the long suffering Sunderland supporters have to deal with and with such regularity. Surely not?!

How did it get like this? What happened? When will it change? What’s it going to take? Can anyone actually remember what it’s like to have a feeling of pride in our team, or to leave a Sunderland match on a high?
Seriously, can anyone remember that??

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Football is the most basic game on the face of the earth, however – playing it in a very simple way is extremely difficult. God knows, my team tries every weekend and every Wednesday night in training to do just that; to stop overcomplicating, to make is easy for ourselves, to cut out errors, take it from me or anyone who’s tried, it’s not easy!

For me, the Barcelona team of 2010-2011 were probably the best, most fluid, most ruthless team I’ve ever seen play the game in my own lifetime, yet nothing they did was desperately complicated. They passed the ball incessantly, five and ten yard passes always in straight lines. Players moving constantly into spaces, they moved all the time and with fluidity, then without possession they pressed hard, taking every second of time and every inch of space away from the opposition.

OK so I’ll concede, they also had players who at the flick of a switch could produce a moment of pure magic when required - but for the best part, they won so often because they made 99% of a ninety minute game very, very simple! No Hollywood balls, no forcing it, just patience, faith in their training and ability, and a steadfast belief in what they were doing.

What’s the point of all this, why the pre-amble? Well indulge me a moment…

When it comes to football, I’m fairly old school. Now in my thirties, I still play Sunday league, and from what I know of the game, I believe that from the heights of the Premier League all the way down to the bottom rung of the lowest division of Sunday football, certain aspects of the game remain unaffected by the quality of those playing it. Certain expectations exist, a requirement is there for players to demonstrate certain attributes should they wish to win.

These attributes include among others, desire, belief, concentration, willingness, bravery, but above all other, hard work – there simply is no replacing hard work in football! So often in this game, at any level and barring certain freakish events such as a moment of absolute class or a poor refereeing decision, more often than not the fact remains that the team who wants it most wins the game!

So with this in mind and using the above theory as a basis, after having watched Sunderland at the Riverside last night, I can’t honestly put my hand on my heart and say that Sunderland wanted to win that game more than Middlesbrough did. I can’t honestly say that Sunderland looked like they believed they could score a goal, let alone win the game! I can’t say that, with the exceptions of Lee Cattermole, Victor Anichebe and for all his lack of Premier League quality Billy Jones (God knows the lad isn’t that good but he tries his hardest!), the players had the level of desire expected when you play for Sunderland AFC. I couldn’t see the willingness to give it all for the cause, or to be brave, take a gamble, roll the dice and try something that would break the monotony of defeat.

These are the basic attributes I mentioned that need to be present in any football team, regardless of the standard, and I couldn’t see any of them but in brief spells from one or two players.
This is a sad commentary especially when taken into consideration the league we currently play in, and the expectation of the “super stars” that are paid handsomely to represent our great old club, and I fear that for the foreseeable, this lack of basic qualities will be the undoing of the institution that is Sunderland AFC.

So where do we look to lay blame for this? Where does this apparent utter apathy for the cause come from?

The simple thing to do is to blame the manager, and certainly I think we’d all agree that David Moyes has done little to stop himself from being the lightning rod for supporter’s anger this season!
Team selection and tactics aside, Moyes’ demeanour and body language seem that of a man depressed, down trodden, resigned to apathy and defeat. And without any great surprise, it’d be very easy to describe our team’s performances this season in exactly the same way!

After all, how can supporters get excited about our football when the manager is the most drab, boring, bleak and uninteresting man ever to set foot in Wearside? It makes perfect sense that a negative manager makes for a negative team, and week after week, we’re seeing David Moyes’ nihilistic attitude bleed over into his squad, who approach the game with such apathy that it’s difficult to watch! The very essence seems to have been sucked out of the team, with even the most energetic and positive of individuals like Jermain Defoe, usually abuzz with enthusiasm, looking utterly deflated, completely at his wits end.

And as for tactics? Well….

Victor Anichebe stuck out on the wide left. Need I say more?

Here’s a man, a centre forward if ever you saw one, 6’2 , athletic, strong, probably the better part of thirteen stone, almost impossible to knock off the ball, great in the air and with a tremendous shot – being played out wide where he’s completely unable to affect the game in any way. All the while, Jermain Defoe remains isolated with nobody in the same post code as him, sandwiched between two 6’ plus central defenders and being asked to chase long ball after long ball.

………………..but this is only part of the problem!

It’d be desperately unfair to laden the manager with the entirety of the blame. While certainly it’s clear for all to see that Moyes is the least charismatic and enthusiastic manger we’ve probably ever had, he can’t run out onto the pitch and start making things happen, so let’s address the players.

Age? Yes OK, we’re an old side. O’Shea, Gibson, Anichebe, Defoe, Pienaar, we’ve certainly got our share of old heads.

Quality? Honestly, how many of this current crop are Premier League standard? But, this is a long on-going argument that we’re not going to get into at this time. I think it’s generally agreed that this is a poor squad in terms of ability, at times certainly in recent games, it’s seemed to me that a lot of the players have genuinely given their all but just come up short in terms of quality.

But attitude? Can we say with all sincerity that all of our players want it as much as Lee Cattermole or John O’Shea? Can we say we’ve never seen certain players wandering around the pitch looking like they couldn’t care less? I make no apologies for my belief that no professional footballer should never have a bad attitude, these young men are blessed and privileged to be able to call themselves footballers, they earn excellent money to play sport for a living, something millions would kill to be able to do, there really isn’t any excuse!

Examples? Fabio Borini’s body language is nothing short of appalling for the most part, Adnan Januzaj’s isn’t much better. Khazri gives up when he loses the ball instead of trying to win it back, Manquillo takes for even to track back into position when he’s gone forward, again – Sunday League stuff!

Don’t get me wrong, there are glimmers of hope among our current team! Didier Ndong looks to me like a player full of hard work and energy, although he’s a headless chicken at times. He needs guidance, a good manager to teach him and encourage him to learn as he goes. Khazri for me could still be a good player should be choose to stay with us next season, lack of playing time looks as though it’s taken its toll on his fitness, but he looks like a creative outlet, all be it with limited options around him. There are raw materials there to be worked with, but we have to ask – is the man working with them the right man to do this job? Certainly so far it’s seemed that he is not, given that as things stand, we’re going down with a whimper.

In all, I’ve got to question the mentality of the entire club from top to bottom. What do we want? What is the goal? What is the end game? Saying simply “to win” isn’t enough, there has to be a plan, a strategy. Some kind of pathway laid out to achieve our objectives. I see none of this from Sunderland, from our apparent financial dealings, to our transfer activity, to our player management (don’t ask me what the hell is going on in terms of conditioning or coaching for us to have so many injuries, or we’ll be here all day!). I see little in terms of tactical application of strategy from the manager, I see even less in terms of motivation or man-management. The club stinks of stagnancy, apathy, defeatism. The supporters are the only spark of life seemingly left in the place, and even they aren’t far from utter despair. The old saying “it’s the hope we can’t stand” seems inapplicable now, as there isn’t even any hope left to speak of!

The fact is, the future looks bleak, grey, dour like Scottish weather. What we’d give for a spark, somebody to come in and inject life, energy, some fire into the bellies of the underperforming prima donnas among our ranks. Someone to kick some backsides, tear strips off some sulky superstars, just somebody to light a fire under the club! Somebody with some confidence, some attitude, some “balls”!

Anyone got Roy Keane’s number?

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