Sport Editor Alex Alton examines the recent trials and tribulations of West Ham United both on and off the fieldWritten by alexalton1 on 18th March 2018
Chris Coleman Takes Over As Sunderland Boss
Sports writer James Law assesses the news of Chris Coleman's appointment as Sunderland boss and whether he can save them from relegation
Chris Coleman has been confirmed as the new manager of Sunderland AFC, after the well-loved Wales manager stepped down from his position. Sunderland languished in the doldrums of the Championship relegation zone with just one league win to their name, and felt that the time was right to pull the plug on Simon Grayson after realising that despite the success a manager can have with a club like Preston North End, managing the Black Cats is a poisoned chalice and he should’ve stayed put. He’d taken a club on the brink of relegation to the fourth tier of English football and brought them up to the second, yet when the Premier League ‘giants’ needed to get back to the promised land, he couldn’t deliver in the slightest.
So can Chris Coleman do any better? His managerial career has been a bit up and down, beginning at Fulham as caretaker manager and successfully avoiding relegation in 2003 before taking the club to ninth place in the Premier League in his first full season. This feat was not repeated and he was sacked in 2007 after a number of mediocre, albeit relegation-free, seasons and sales of star players.
His following managerial roles, at Real Sociedad, Coventry City and AEL, were fairly short-lived and mixed, performing very well in Spain before leaving due to disagreements with the powers that be, then guiding Coventry to their lowest league position for decades.
Upon Gary Speed’s tragic passing in 2011, Chris Coleman continued his friend’s vision for Wales’ development as an international side to take seriously. Assisted by the continued development of star players like Aaron Ramsay and Gareth Bale, Coleman’s Wales slowly but surely began to climb the ranks of international football, going from down in the 100s to consistently being in and around the top 10 – the rankings take into account consistency over four years so Coleman’s lengthy tenure along with the kick-start Speed gave the team facilitated this climb. Beating big opposition and getting the best out of the mixture of first- and second-tier talent proved Coleman’s Wales could mix with the big boys.
It culminated with their qualification for Euro 2016 and subsequent humiliation of their jumped-up next-door neighbours England, pulled off by not losing to Iceland and instead being knocked out of the tournament by the eventual winners in the semi-final. A very dignified way to go, and the Welsh were delighted. Plucky underdogs, upsetting the odds and rising up to prove they could do it. Also, Hal Robson-Kanu scored a ridiculous Cruyff turn goal that forced two Belgian defenders to rethink their entire existences on the day after his contract with Reading FC expired. This annoyed and amazed me as a Reading fan, as he always showed up for Wales, but seemed uninterested when at the Madejski.
This actually brings me to my main point about Coleman as a manager: his ability to get the best out of players who may not seem like they belong in a Euro semi-final. The likes of Robson-Kanu, Sam Vokes and Wayne Hennessey really shouldn’t be able to beat a team with players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois at the same positions. This does have to be attributed to Coleman to a significant extent – he can get his players to play hard and give their all when it matters.
However, Sunderland is not Wales. Sunderland is a team in disarray, who upon relegation to the Championship, had only a few players with the ability to truly elevate the team and save them points single-handedly. This being the Premier League, all of these players left. Jermain Defoe, despite having been playing in the top tier of English football for several centuries, was the focal point of everything Sunderland did last season, scoring over half of their total goals – impressive, despite the whole team scoring less than 30. Jordan Pickford, the young English goalkeeper who saved Sunderland from defensive catastrophe numerous times throughout the season, was sold to Everton, and they even decided that it would be a good idea to flog their backup, Vito Mannone, to Reading. Their new stopper, Jason Steele, has been controversially dropped for the unknown Dutchman Robbin Ruiter, and their only fairly consistent goal threat comes from Lewis Grabban, a Bournemouth loanee whose future is by no means certain.
So how can Chris Coleman make this work? Duncan Watmore is out for the rest of the season, and it looks like Coleman will need to carry out damage control more than anything, as he did in his first ever managerial role. Whether he can perform without the luxury of players like Bale and Ramsey remains to be seen. Hopefully for Sunderland, he gets a decent bit of time, can survive this season in this tough league – he should be able to steady the ship if seasoned professionals like Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea lead by example – and can allow players to play to the best of their ability with consistency.
Not every match is a Euro quarter-final. There’s obviously nothing close to a transcendent talent like Bale at Sunderland, and Wales performed measurably worse without him, but Coleman’s ability to get a team to be more than the sum of its parts should be a refreshing change for Sunderland fans who are used to years and years of disappointment and sadness. They’ll hope that Ellis Short’s manager hiring/firing strategy (having no real stability since Roy Keane left, partly because of disagreements with Short) changes, and if it does, maybe they can make the best of it.
Every match is vital when you’re struggling in the second tier, and with Sunderland getting their first victory since the opening day of the season, they may be on the up. For now they are, at least, off the bottom of the table.