Sunderland boss Jack Ross opens up on difficult pre-season and club's recruitment policy
Jack Ross had some big decisions to make when he arrived at Sunderland back in May.
The Scot was taking charge of a club which had just suffered back-to-back relegations, and was about to enter the third tier with many players still on Premier League wage packets.
Many at the club had been held accountable for the Black Cats' plummeting standards, but rather than judge people on reputation, Ross set foot in the Stadium of Light with an open mind.
Whether they were established first-teamers or up-and-coming academy prospects, Ross claims he assessed each player the same way - a gamble which could easily have backfired.
“If I hadn’t come in with a clear head, you can quickly get caught up'¨thinking everyone is the problem but it wasn’t true," Ross told the Daily Record. "There are some really good people here."
“Rightly or wrongly I decided to judge the players as I found them on the training pitch. I didn’t ask opinions of them because I didn’t want to be prejudiced.
“It was a gamble. I remember worrying I was wrong. The first day of pre-season, I sat with Fow (James Fowler) and John Potter in their office, which looks out on the car park. We had no idea who was coming back. We’re giving it ‘OK, he’s in…’ as they got out their motors."
With a lack of first-team players available, Ross had to turn to the club's under-23 squad to make up the numbers during pre-season.
By his own admission, the situation was a little unnerving, even if the end result was rewarding for some.
“We had maybe 11 senior players and we had to take five under-23s with us to Portugal four days later to give us 16 to train with," added Ross.
“I don’t think I’ll ever go through pre-season circumstances like it again.
“But I’m glad I did because the guys who have remained have been brilliant, so'¨ supportive of how we work.
“If I had asked around, I might never have ended up seeing the good things.”
One of the key components behind Sunderland's impressive start is the trust which Ross shares with his backroom staff.
The Scot brought Fowler and Potter – and their families – south with him after leaving St Mirren last summer.
Ross was also bold enough to ask new Black Cats owner Stewart Donald to appoint a new head of recruitment - a request which saw former Sunderland goalkeeper Tony Coton join the team.
“Trust is massive for any manager," explained Ross.
“I left a squad at St Mirren where that was a two-way street.
“So when we were recruiting I had to be able to trust who came in. A lot of work went into it.
“All my work, bar one season as a player at Hartlepool, has been in Scotland and even then I never actually even managed in the '¨top division.
“So Tony came in and we’ve recruited well, considering the circumstances."
Sunderland signed twelve players over the summer, but it was important the new recruits suited the club.
Ross hopes he can create more than just a winning team at the Stadium of Light, and rebuild the club's identify which has been eroded in recent years.
“There were some big players who’d been bought for a lot of money at the club but what I quickly learned from the'¨ support is that the intensity and tempo and desire that players play at is a big thing," said Ross.
"We had to recruit to suit that identity. Read the back story to Dortmund, for example, and when they came out of financial trouble, stripped it all back and asked, ‘What are we?’ They created a team to represent their club.
“Clubs in Scotland have that historically as well.
“I self-evaluate a lot and the '¨realisation that the club is bigger than you was an important one. Have '¨confidence and belief in what you do, sure, but create something that fits the club.
“So if I leave, I hope I leave behind a'¨ Sunderland team, rather than my team.”