Chris Young: Manager situation shouldn't even be an issue at Sunderland this summer

Rafa Benitez boasts a win-win situation through the release clause in his Newcastle contract, in case the Magpies are relegated.

Thursday, 31st March 2016, 9:00 am
Sam Allardyce. Picture by FRANK REID

If Benitez keeps Newcastle in the Premier League, then he has the permanent return to English football that he was looking for. If not, then he doesn’t have to face the drudgery of the Championship and can jump ship for a more attractive proposition.

The very public confirmation of the release clause is a dangerous business, albeit there was no downside for Sunderland under Dick Advocaat last season.

But unlike their neighbours, Sunderland’s players know that there is a healthy chance that Sam Allardyce will be at the helm in August, regardless of which division they are in.

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Allardyce penned a deal until the summer of 2017 last October in the knowledge that a full year of that contract could be spent in the Championship.

Tellingly, there have been no whispers raising any doubts over Allardyce remaining at the Stadium of Light if Sunderland are relegated, albeit reports earlier this week suggesting he would stay put were encouraging.

Ever since Allardyce succeeded Advocaat, he has looked at home at Sunderland.

The ex-West Ham boss has been persistently relaxed over the club’s situation and is understood to be on excellent terms with Ellis Short, which wasn’t always the case with his conveyor belt of predecessors.

At 61, will Allardyce really want to up sticks and restart his management career elsewhere either? He had considered moving into a director of football / boardroom role after leaving West Ham last summer, before boredom and the itch to return to the dug-out kicked in.

If Allardyce is happy to stay at Sunderland, then (for once) the manager situation should be the very last item on the agenda next season, regardless of which division the Black Cats are in.

Yes, there have been blemishes during his five-and-a-half month reign.

Several substitutions have back-fired – most notably Jan Kirchhoff’s introduction at Spurs – Sunderland still haven’t discovered the knack of keeping clean sheets and the use of strikers Danny Graham and Dame N’Doye in wide roles has not convinced.

But no manager is perfect, particularly when faced with a club plagued by years of short-term thinking and poor decision-making.

Allardyce has averaged a point per game from his 22 outings and despite the stereotypical views over his playing style, Sunderland are actually operating with a much better tempo and approach than they have done in several years.

Players are enjoying working under him and there is genuinely a confident, harmonious spirit in the Sunderland camp that they can get out of trouble.

For the first time since Steve Bruce was at the helm, the club have even had an excellent transfer window.

The bitter irony will be, of course, if Sunderland are relegated this season after finally bringing some decent additions to the club.

But relegation should not automatically toll the bell on a manager. Peter Reid’s tenure demonstrated that.

Other factors are often behind the drop.

The sacked Remi Garde is far from the principal culprit for Aston Villa’s fate this season.

Likewise, the years of plaster-over-the-wound solutions at Sunderland will be to blame if the Black Cats go down, rather than Allardyce himself.

If they are facing a desperate promotion challenge to return to the riches of the top flight, then is there anyone better than Allardyce to lead Sunderland?

Look at the top of the Championship this season and the successful clubs have done so with a seasoned veteran at the helm; Bruce at Hull, Sean Dyche at Burnley and Chris Hughton at Brighton.

An intense hiring and firing culture exists in the Football League, but those chairman who keep their nerve and maintain some continuity are invariably the ones who succeed.

That buzz-word of ‘continuity’ is the one Sunderland have been craving.

What Allardyce specialises in - as he demonstrated perfectly at now Champions League-chasing West Ham - is laying solid foundations at a club, and Sunderland have so dearly needed that during four years of near misses and bungling transfer policies.

While there will inevitably be more than a handful of players on the move in or out of the club this summer, the manager should not be among them.

After six bosses in the last four-and-a-half years, the mute button needs to be on any speculation over the man in the dug-out.