Next Sunderland manager: The story so far, where the process stands now and what happens next

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The latest as Sunderland continue their search for a new head coach

Might the end finally be in sight?

Sunderland's search for Michael Beale's permanent replacement had comfortably passed the 100-day mark when Kyril Louis-Dreyfus finally broke the silence of the club hierarchy, at which point emotions amongst supporters understandably ranged from anger to disillusionment and outright apathy. Louis-Dreyfus said the process was now in its 'final stages', and that an appointment would hopefully be made 'imminently'. To which the obvious question from fans was, well, how imminent is imminent? The weekend came and went without an announcement, though there was a significant development as Pascal Jansen was ruled out of the process. So what do we know about where the process stands and when it might actually reach a conclusion?

The process began all the way back in February, with Sunderland initially taking time to reflect on what had gone wrong under Beale and the decisions that had led to his appointment. They then began the work of building a shortlist of potential candidates, with the process then stepping up after the conclusion of the Championship campaign. There had been numerous candidates who had been of interest to Sunderland following Tony Mowbray's departure, but who had been unwilling to leave their roles during the campaign or who Sunderland were unable to extract. Still was one of those, and the club's long-standing interest in the young Belgian then accelerated rapidly after his surprise departure from Stade de Reims before the end of the Ligue 1 campaign. A huge compensation fee had looked like being a major stumbling block, but that particular hurdle was now cleared.

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Extensive talks between the two parties followed, and Sunderland believed they were on the brink of making an appointment when RC Lens stepped up their interest. The Ligue 1 club had found themselves as part of a complex managerial chain, with their popular boss Franck Heisse being eyed by OGC Nice. Nice had just lost their head coach, one-time Sunderland target Francesco Farioli, to Ajax. Sources close to Still cited concerns over investment and the coaching structure as key to his eventual decision to turn down the Black Cats vacancy, while Sunderland countered that this had all been agreed in principle before Lens stepped in.

Either way, it was hugely damaging to Sunderland - a club that has spoken often of their succession planning. Twice now they had failed to land a key target, further calling into question both their decision to part company with Tony Mowbray in December and their decision not to immediately appoint a successor to Beale in February. Still was officially announced as the new RC Lens head coach on Monday morning, but he had been out of contention for the vacancy on Wearside for well over a week. His appointment at Lens had long been a formality and there was no realistic proposition of a u-turn once news of his decision had so acrimoniously become public.

Sunderland had last week moved on from Still, returning to the other candidates who had made their final shortlist. Jansen was one of those, appealing for his strong record at AZ Alkmaar and his attacking playing style. Talks were held over the course of the last week but the Dutch coach has not made the final stages of the process, which are thought to be happening now.

Liam Rosenior is thought to be a strong contender, having emerged as a candidate following his shock (or at least to the neutral observer) departure from Hull City at the end of the campaign. Over 18 months Rosenior took Hull from relegation candidates to within one place of a play-off berth, albeit with heavy investment from the club's owner Acun Ilıcalı. Ilıcalı insisted that the decision to part company was not due to results but due to differences over playing style. Rosenior is known for a modern, possession-based style but Ilıcalı is known to want a more full-throttle approach - and has since appointed Tim Walter. That creates an interesting dynamic in Sunderland's search, given the focus on restoring the club's aggressive playing style in the aftermath of Beale's troubled tenure.

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Sunderland are also believed to have a long-standing interest in QPR boss Marti Cifuentes, which predates his appointment at the Championship club. His outstanding achievement in keeping the side up despite a wretched start to the campaign has only strengthened his credentials. Cifuentes remains under contract at QPR, which of course means that the process will be significantly more complex and has a lot more sensitivities should Sunderland ultimately wish to pursue his appointment. It is thought that the search is not at this stage limited just to these two candidates, though it is clearly not a long list at this stage as the Black Cats prepare to make a final decision and press on with the finer points of getting a deal over the line.

While the exact timeframe of an appointment is impossible to ascertain, the slimming of the field and Louis-Dreyfus' public statement on Friday mean it would be a surprise if we didn't have at the very least a significantly clearer picture by the end of this week.

It has been a fraught process, with the delay raising more concerns for fans about the club's decision making and structure. Still's decision now over a week ago also crystallised fears many have about attracting a high-calibre candidate within the current model, where so much power is vested in the sporting director and much of the coaching staff is set in place. The pressure is on for Sunderland to deliver at the end of what at times has been a brutal six months or so following the club, and decision time is now approaching.

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