When it comes to dropping players, the new Sunderland manager talks the talk but can he rock the flock?
As we trudged past Bob Stokoe’s statue and rejoined the hoards of muted home support, a gruff Turkish man turned and asked. . . “So what WAS the gameplan?”
The man was my new flatmate and this Arsenal-inflicted 4-1 drubbing was his first visit to the Stadium of Light. But I had no time to be moved by how football had broken down barriers and united us (albeit in disappointment) – I had a difficult question to answer.
The Black Cats had only managed one shot on target all game – Jermain Defoe’s penalty – and the players just weren’t clicking. After mumbling some explanation about Duncan Watmore acting as a decoy for Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones upping his work rate, it was obvious he wasn’t convinced.
And, to be honest, neither was I.
Even after Defoe found the equaliser, nobody seemed to know what to do with their adrenaline and all momentum seeped away. My flatmate had even pointed out a paper bag drifting around near the dugout, and wondered aloud why it hadn’t been subbed on yet. Sadly, four goals seemed about right.
Fast-forward a year and Chris Coleman has already recognised the need for a gameplan and decided that the team needs clearly defined roles.
“I’m not bothered if they have no international caps...I look at individuals and ask whether they can fit into my gameplan.”
Sure there’s always strategy in these games, but it’s so refreshing to see a well-defined gameplan for each game – it’s a huge source of encouragement for fans to see what the team is trying to do.
Because it proves that someone somewhere is *trying* to do something.
But to imply system and structure are top priority right now is dangerous. Coleman won over fans from day one by highlighting the negative culture within the club, and promising that no one would be safe.
But this for me is where “Cookie” crumbles, because John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole have started every game available to them.
Don’t get me wrong – I think they’re both remarkable players (although I admit I’m in a minority) and Coleman’s only had three games to wrap his head around the squad – but even more optimistic fans have questioned their commitment since August.
And there are no bubbles without water. Or something like that...I’ll get it later.
But say the sceptics aren’t quite bang on and this is just temporary, surely Coleman is contradicting himself by not giving the stalwarts time on the sidelines?
If footballers are noncommittal about their team, then no amount of structure is going to fix that, whether they’re being dismantled by Arsenal or flailing against Reading.
Coleman doesn’t like the word, but for me his “philosophy” in the next game is going to be hugely significant.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have been beyond prolific, and would give even Premier League clubs side pause for thought (Wolves versus Swans will surely go the way of the animal kingdom). Sunderland will need to box clever to even salvage a point.
If Coleman names the same starting XI that were rocked by Reading, he slaps a big metaphorical “this is as good as it gets” sticker on the team sheet and turns his back on being courageous for another week.
Basically, this weekend will answer one question: does Coleman keep his word?
I look forward to finding out.