In the end, after all the speculation, the inevitable came quick with a note left on his desk simply saying “It’s not you, it’s me. All my love, Big Sam.”. And with that, he was gone.
I don’t think any of us can blame Sam for taking the England job. Especially after seeing how happy he was when it was when it was finally announced, there’s no way anyone could possibly deny him that joy.
Generally, managers are very business-like when they are unveiled, stoney-faced, showing the fans how serious they are about the job. Some look wide-eyed and stunned overawed by the enormity of the task in front of them, trying to keep a lid on expectations, but not Sam. He couldn’t contain himself and he stopped just short of telling us we were going to win the next World Cup and it was quite refreshing to see.
With so much at stake and the pressures magnified, too much of the unadulterated joy that makes football so addictive is sucked out of the game these days and Sam’s right for jumping on his surfboard and riding the waves of emotions he was clearly feeling.
These past few weeks have put a big dent in the club’s recruitment drive though. We could have done with a couple of signings to build on the optimism Sam brought to the club, an issue he himself was unhappy with prior to Roy Hodgson’s departure but credit has to go to him and his staff for leaving the club in the best position given the situation.
The squad was definitely in a worse condition this time 12 months ago and despite the speculation and insecurity surrounding the manager’s position, the transition has gone smoothly so far. “Sam The Saviour” has been swiftly replaced by “The Moyes-siah” and now the the season can really get under way.
The recruitment drive may have stalled due to the club’s state of limbo but Sam’s meticulous ways have meant the players already at the club haven’t been allowed to be affected and that’s an important factor.
When anything goes wrong on the pitch, footballers are very quick to look for excuses and the FA’s advances and eventual capture of their manager could have given the Sunderland players the perfect opportunity to point fingers but Robbie Stockade, Paul Bracewell and the rest of the staff have kept the squad focused away from the obvious distraction.
Continuity is key for a football club and job of Ellis Short and Martin Bain was to make sure the ship was kept steady, and that they did. David Moyes’s appointment was the right one in this respect. His swift arrival has been without great fanfare or fuss and even though David and Sam are very much their own men in management terms, there will be no great change in the culture of the club at playing level. So what can we expect?
Well, in the world of football, the theory of six degrees of separation is cut down to just two: if you don’t know someone, you know someone who does. It is a very small world.
In this case, I spoke to an ex-team-mate of mine, Jon Macken, who played with and under Moyes at Preston North End, to ask him about his old gaffer and what he would bring to Sunderland.
“He’ll make Sunderland a better side and improve the players individually,” said Jon. “That’s his big strength, his recruitment and development of players is very good.
“I was actually signed by Gary Peters at Preston whilst David Moyes was still a player. He wasn’t assistant manager as such, he was coming to the end of his career, playing a few games here and there and helping Gary take training but he had a big influence on me.”
It was Moyes who eventually sold Jon to Manchester City for £5million just before he took over at Everton and he attributes much of the credit for his his move to Moyes.
“He’d do a lot of individual work with me and was always on the end of the telephone with a piece of advice. You got the impression he was born to be a manager and as soon as he was appointed his influence was immediate,” Macken added.
“Training was of a higher intensity and he totally turned the club around. There were a few young players like myself, Michael Appleton, Colin Murdoch and David Healy who had come from Manchester United mixed with more experienced players. He then went to Everton and did exactly the same.
“His biggest crime at Manchester United was that he wasn’t Sir Alex and if he was going to be a success there, he needed time to make that team his. Unfortunately he was up against it from the start and wasn’t given enough time to make a difference in either of his last two jobs.
“Personally, I think the Sunderland job is perfect for him. If they give him the time he needs, he’ll do for Sunderland what he did for Everton and keep them away from relegation and put them in the top half of the table. I have no doubt about it.”.
If he can do that, then the “Moyes-siah” tag will stick and he’ll know exactly what adulation is.