Smiles and a few handshakes greeted Dick Advocaat as he took a pew for his first press conference of the season yesterday.
Although it was a month after Advocaat’s dramatic U-turn over whether to extend his tenure as Sunderland head coach, this was the first chance to question the 67-year-old over the reasons behind his continued existence in the Black Cats’ dug-out.
I really enjoyed it last season and I feel so comfortable and positive in myselfDick Advocaat
Inevitably, the first question Advocaat fielded was “Why did you change your mind?”
“Money” replied a deadpan Advocaat, before breaking into a grin.
Then came the real reason.
While Advocaat had initially rejected Sunderland’s advances, sporting director Lee Congerton and chairman Ellis Short continued to badger him over returning to Wearside.
Eventually Advocaat relented, but, more importantly, so did his wife, after he had promised to retire from club football at the end of last season.
“She’s happy, I’m happy and that’s what it’s all about,” said Advocaat. “In principle, it was really clear that I would not come back.
“But Lee and the president, especially Lee, kept ringing me and asking me what I’d do.
“The family heard that as well and, at a certain moment, we had a discussion about it and we agreed ‘why not?’
“I was intending to take a national team to be honest, but I really enjoyed it last season and I feel so comfortable and positive in myself.”
Sunderland fans clearly recognised the magnitude of the decision from Advocaat’s wife, raising more than £2,000 to send her flowers, with the remainder of that money going to charity.
It’s a gesture which did not go unnoticed by Advocaat either. “That was something special, also to her – it says everything about the club,” he said.
Advocaat cut an upbeat figure yesterday after almost a week of pre-season training with a squad that responded so emphatically to his appointment last March.
The highly-decorated former Holland manager clearly still has the thirst for the cut and thrust of club football, even though he was interested in a second spell in charge of Belgium after initially deciding to turn Sunderland down.
But the attitude of Sunderland’s players during that relegation run-in has played a part in his thinking.
“If I feel that connection with the players is not there anymore, then I will definitely quit,” he said. “But the connection has been really, really good with the players so the motivation is there.
“If you feel that as a manager, then it is too early to stop.”
Not that Advocaat is content to reminisce about Sunderland’s escape from the jaws of relegation.
He clearly doesn’t want to be in the same perilous situation again or leave his successor a side languishing in the bottom echelons of the top flight.
Advocaat’s remit during his one-year deal is to begin to inject some stability into the club, while Congerton has chance to improve the calibre of the squad.
“It’s a new season, with new ideas and we want to get in some other players as well to make the squad stronger,” added Advocaat. “We’ve already brought in two – (Sebastian) Coates and (Adam) Matthews – which is good.
“Lee did a really great job in buying Coates for £2m from Liverpool because Liverpool paid £7m.
“Matthews has to fight with the other full-backs for the position, in the way I like to play.
“And we have to try to get in some other players as well.”