WHISPERS had flooded football circles for months over Gus Poyet’s precarious stay of execution at the Stadium of Light.
Even those close to Poyet felt it was a matter of ‘if, not when’ he would leave Sunderland due to his worsening relationship with Lee Congerton.
The power at the Stadium of Light rests as much with the director of football, as the man picking the team
Circumstances merely forced the club to act sooner than the original plan of an end-of-season guillotine.
But at the same time as the Poyet rumours were circulating, there was parallel natter over Sam Allardyce’s future at West Ham and the minimal prospects of him signing a new deal at Upton Park.
It’s prompted plenty of two plus two equals ...
Logically, Allardyce is an attractive position to succeed Poyet in the long-term, despite his previous at St James’s Park and the reservations over his style of play (albeit Sunderland can hardly lay claim to any panache over their muddled and losing brand of football in recent seasons.
Allardyce has Sunderland connections, would be tempted by the position after coming within a whisker of taking the job back in 2006, and most crucially of all, has proved again and again his capabilities in avoiding relegation.
But when Dick Advocaat’s SOS contract expires, it would be a major surprise if Allardyce’s name emerges from the hat to succeed the Dutchman.
Three or four years ago, Allardyce would have ticked the boxes for Sunderland’s requirements in the dug-out, yet the club is now operating within a very different framework.
Allardyce is cut from the same cloth as a Steve Bruce or Martin O’Neill; a traditional manager who demands the authority to control the club’s playing set-up.
But that is not Sunderland’s way now.
The power at the Stadium of Light rests as much with the director of football, as the man picking the team.
Yes, Poyet had the final say over who was or wasn’t pursued by Sunderland – testified by the signings of his ex-Brighton pair Will Buckley and Liam Bridcutt, plus fellow South Americans Sebastian Coates and Nacho Scocco.
But wages, how to use the budget, transfer fees and even the length of contracts on offer – all areas that traditionally fall under the remit of the manager and rightly see him judged upon – were not in Poyet’s job description.
The head coach is just that. It’s a far narrower role than a managerial position and one which evidently grated upon Poyet.
Ellis Short clearly believes that this Continental structure offers far more continuity and ultimately more stability, with the recruitment system remaining in place, even if the head coach receives his P45.
Could Allardyce squeeze into that framework?
There have to be question marks. Certainly, Tony Pulis was unwilling to do so when the job became vacant after Paolo Di Canio’s dismissal.
Steve McClaren – one who has been tentatively linked with Sunderland, albeit Newcastle appear to be keener suitors – is more familiar with the Continental structure after his time in Holland.
The ex-England manager is a more viable fit for the role than Allardyce, particularly as he is already working under the title of head coach.
McClaren has repaired his reputation superbly at Derby County and if the Rams fail to secure promotion, there will be plenty of Premier League sides considering a summer move.
But if there is one clear front-runner to succeed Poyet in the long-term, then Real Madrid assistant Paul Clement is the obvious choice.
Clement knows Congerton from their days together at Chelsea, yet first and foremost, he is a coach. The sub-plots and nuances of management won’t necessarily concern him. He may be quite content to back-heel them.
Whether Clement can handle the motivational and man-management demands of leading a team is a question mark next to his name, given he has never previously handled that responsibility.
But this is a guy who has worked with the world’s elite players at both PSG and Real Madrid. That can’t have done him any harm!
Will Clement be as tempted if Advocaat’s mission fails and Sunderland are relegated?
Perhaps not, even though a season moulding a new-look side in the Championship could ultimately prove to be beneficial if Sunderland once again triumphed in the high-risk game of getting back into the Premier League at the first or second attempt.
But if Championship football rules Clement out of the race, that is the kind of candidate which Sunderland are looking for.
The ‘old school’ managers just don’t fit at present.