Phil Smith: Harry Redknapp's bizzare comments show no understanding of Sunderland's issues this season
There have been some particularly tedious comments made about Sunderland in national discussion this season.
A parculiar obsession with fans leaving early is top of the list, a borderline ecstasy on some platforms as Jermain Defoe was linked to the parculiarly adored West Ham United in January another.
Yet Harry Redknapp perhaps trumped them all yesterday when he claimed that even Antonio Conte would not have kept the Black Cats up this season.
It is true that Conte once in his career took over a poor squad and was not able to keep them up. Even, then, however, the Italian showed signs of something special.
Sacked early in the season, Conte was reinstated by Serie B side Arezzo when results did not improve without him, and he landed 19 points from seven games to almost land a great escape far eclispsing any of Sunderland’s recent efforts.
Since then he has won seven titles in seven years of league management, with another cup conquest on the horizon.
The idea that he would have failed to keep this Sunderland side up is ludicrous.
Lacking in some areas they may be, certainly when it comes to pace and creativity, but what they do possess is a goalscorer the envy of every side in the division bar the elite few. They also have a goalkeeper of frightening raw talent.
A crop of players, too, who have looked poor this season, but were significantly better under Sam Allardyce. They will have to look at themselves for the decline in their form as much as the manager, but it is a stretch to suggest Conte would have failed to get more out of them, particularly given the way he has united a dressing room in dizzying disorder only a season ago.
The way Conte has rebuilt his defence, extracted quite sensational performances from hitherto unheralded players (Moses, Cahill, to name a couple) tells you he would quite certainly have won more than the paltry 24 currently on the board.
Redknapp’s point, that it is not all about the manager, clearly holds true to an extent and it is a statement that no Sunderland fan would disagree with. Recruitment has been too poor for too long to lay it all at the door of what has happened this season. It is true, too, that managers are reliant on the quality of players at their disposal. David Moyes himself has certainly hinted at that himself a number of times this season when his recent struggles have been alluded too.
Yet Moyes cannot say he has not had a key role in recruitment this season, the number of his former players signed an obvious indiciation of that, and indeed only or two of Sunderland’s recent managers can honestly push the blame onto others entirely for poor signings.
It isn’t all about the manager, but too many have hidden behind notions of ‘curses’ and such like, and comments such as those from Redknapp have strengthened their hold in the wider game.
It is true that Moyes had, until recently at least, been largely supported right across those looking on in the media, but there is certainly a difference between a pining for stability and an unwilligness to acknowledge any failings. The manager himself has on occasions given the impression that he has seen the scenario much the same as Birmingham City’s new saviour.
Redknapp’s point, that British managers are rarely given a chance by foreign owners, is largely true, though of course David Moyes is by far the most high profile repudiation of that at Manchester United.
It is difficult to imagine any current British manager landing a job at a top six role any time in the near future. Birmingham City, where Redknapp was recently parachuted in, were the clearest recent example of new owners seduced by the glamour of a big name. The excellent, astute Gary Rowett replaced by Gianfranco Zola with disastrous results.
The notion of a battery of British managers not getting a chance is far fetched, however. Sean Dyche has done well, certainly, but has only one away win all season. The sense of entitlement from Dyche and Redknapp does little to bolster their claims.
As for Moyes, the gap between the way his situation has been presented and the reality is stark, even if it is not right to pin all the club’s failings at his door.
Perhaps Sunderland’s relegation will at least lead to less inane discussion of the club on Talksport, Match of the Day and the like, where the debate has often been painfully cliched. That, even in times of great turbulence and distress, would be something to savour.