WHEN Kevin Ball was asked to take temporary charge of Sunderland in March, 2006, he took the helm of a club already resigned to its fate.
There were still two months of the season to run, but Sunderland were a rudderless, leaderless ship who would ultimately register what was then the lowest points tally in Premier League history.
A solitary win arrived under Ball’s stewardship – the final home game against Fulham – as Sunderland slipped out of the top flight at a whimper.
But his second spell at the helm is a completely different situation.
Ball knows from his own playing days that a caretaker manager does not necessarily equate to a drop in standards.
Sunderland’s players, freed from the shackles of the Paolo Di Canio regime, will want to impress Ball – if he gets the job on a permanent basis – plus any exterior candidates who will inevitably be taking a watching brief.
Ball said: “You play for your own pride. I played under a few caretakers at Portsmouth.
“There was John Gregory for a while, and I got on great with him, Frank Burrows changed things there when he took over, Alan Ball was caretaker before he took over.
“Sub-consciously, some might think, ‘He’s only the caretaker.’ But you would like to think their self-pride would drive them to be the best they can be.
“There may have been an element when I was caretaker last time – when there were only 10 games left and, let’s face it, we were getting relegated irrespective – that the players could have thought of me as a supply teacher.
“But this time, that can’t be the case because the club might say, ‘Right, we want you to take over now.’
“If a player, in this short period, has acted like that, he’s not going to be in the supply teacher’s good books, is he?
“Respect has to be earned and I understand that, but I would like to think that with my history as a player and knowing what I was like, it would be a two-way thing. I have to respect them, too.
“I hate losing. Anybody who plays football should be that way. We all have to lose sometime. Do you lose graciously? I would like to think so.
“But I will get the hump about it because that’s the way I am.
“The performance, first and foremost, is the important thing. People say, ‘I want to climb Everest’. Well, how are you going to do it’?’”
* Don’t miss today’s Football Echo – the biggest and best coverage of SAFC – it’s out this morning.