David Preece: Sunderland still lack identity but Jack Ross can take inspiration from Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp and Man City's Pep Guardiola
The aim of this week’s column is to see if I can go 600-ish words without mentioning VAR but damn I just did it so we’ll have to wait another week to play that particular game again.
Talking of weeks, what a difference seven days make in football, eh? Three wins in as many games puts the wheels precisely back on the track we want to be on and still unbeaten five games in to the season.
But still the doubts persist.
Much of the moans that remain seem to centre around Sunderland’s style of play and the lack of dominance in terms of the convincing scorelines others seem to rack up and there are many ways which to look at it.
The first point about the style of play is there doesn’t seem to be one and from the coverage of the games I see, I can understand the concerns. That isn’t a criticism of Jack Ross’s approach per se. I have played in a few sides where I have sat in team meetings wondering what type of team we were exactly and Sunderland seem to be a side still searching for their identity.
I get that after more than a year at the helm fans will have certain expectations about how they think the side should be evolving but what they shouldn’t forget is there is an evolution occurring on the bench too.
If we look at the club as a work in progress on the pitch, in the dugout and in the offices behind the scenes, it becomes easier to assess the process. I thought Jack handled his first season at the Stadium of Light very well and is now under immense pressure to be promoted back up to the Championship.
I’ve no doubts that Jack has very clear ideas about how he wants his teams to play but that is something you find at the end of a rainbow and getting to that point is an incremental exercise, especially for him. Mistakes will be made along the way, in recruitment especially, making it feel like two steps forward, one step back kind of progress.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the standard of football can be poor at times though and it would be disrespectful just to dismiss that with “Well, what do you expect? It is League 1.”. That said, when I click on the highlights of the game on scouting tool Wyscout, invariably each clip begins with a goal kick hit high up the pitch and the football begins once the attacking third is reached. That’s not just Sunderland by the way, it’s the opposition too.
Even if you have the best laid plans, there is another team out there trying to dismantle them. It’s difficult to play football against a team that doesn’t. Throw in the immediacy of needing results and compromises tend to be made within those 90 minutes.
Success will come, I’m sure of it. And I’m sorry to continually keep being the prophet of doom here but whether that comes this season or next, it will come. And if you don’t think it will under Jack Ross, start asking yourself a few questions.
Forget about the football for a moment and ask if we have the right person in charge. Jack is clearly an intelligent, principled guy but in terms of football management is still in the first phase of his education. Coaching and management is like driving a car. It doesn’t matter what licence you hold, the real education starts in the job.
After his success in his first two jobs, Sunderland was a whole new proportion and I believe last season was a success in terms of his progress and should be given the time to keep building his side and evolving as a manager. I still believe promotion last season would have lead to a struggle in this one and we would be better equipped to go up this year or next.
There’s a starting point from which to build something here and it’s foolish to think we aren’t in a better state of health now than we were just prior to him coming in.
I hate to do this and compare Jack to Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola but in both of their first seasons, steps were made backwards before they managed to build up their head of steam forwards and from the look of things already this year, we’re building one of our own right now.