Grant Leadbitter has clear message as he opens up on captaincy, Jack Ross and Sunderland's start to the season
It has not been an easy start to the season but the club captain sat down to speak and his message was clear.
Grant Leadbitter wants unity and positivity as Sunderland look to bounce back from the heartbreak of last season’s play-off defeat.
There is a reason, though, that Jack Ross has made this vastly experienced midfielder his captain.
His standards are high, he knows what is required and for 45 minutes, Sunderland did not reach them at Portman Road.
They got a point, and while Leadbitter is eager to stress how long is left in this season, how early it is to be making definitive judgements, he knows improvements are needed.
“My take on the start of the season is that I’ve always said it’s difficult to talk about until you’ve played eight or nine games,” he said.
“That’s when you look at things. People are talking about the performance on Saturday, if the performance was good and we’d come away with a draw, nothing would have been said, but we know as a group we’ve got to improve the performances.
“We wanted to win the first home game of the season, if you win that and then go away to Ipswich and take a point…that’s the fine lines of football. I understand we drew far too many games last year. With losing the play-off final at the end of last season, we know we’re going to have to cut those draws out and get a few extra wins, and then you get across the line.
“I’m not stupid. I know what’s needed. It’s been an okay start, we wanted points on the board, but we’ll go into tomorrow and Saturday is a big game as well.
“We got a point [at Ipswich] but we're not naive.
“We came together [at half-time], a few words were said and we got a point.
“But let's not get away from the fact that the first half performance has got to be better. We need to make sure we're better so that questions like that aren't asked come a Monday.
“You've got to have that commitment for the football club.
“You've got to have a lot of heart [to play here],” he added.
“You've got to do it all the time. Yeah you have off days, I've had them in my career, but you've got to be at it, work hard for the team, be committed.
“You've got to make tackles and run, yes you'll have off days but the fundamentals have got to be in place.
“That's one thing I'm sure we'll do.
“The fans here are brilliant, we're in League One and we've got nearly 34,000 on the first day. Brilliant.
“They're right to demand when the club is as big as this.
“At the same time, there's young players in the group, new players getting to know the club.
“The fans will have a big part to play because there's nothing better than having the Stadium of Light behind you.”
Leadbitter has been back at the club for eight months and he has seen much that he likes.
He knows, though, that results are pivotal. In his own words, he wants to things the right way, be successful and when the time comes down the line, whenever it may be (he has two years left on his current deal), ‘walk away a happy man’.
“The goal is to get promoted,” he said.
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“I don't want to fail and I want to be a successful captain.
“The staff have been here just over a year, what they've done is good because let's remember where it was when they came in.
“The manager and the staff have come in and personally I believe they've done a great job.
“We know where we are, we're building a new group of players to represent Sunderland AFC in the right way.
“The staff are doing that in the right way.
“But ultimately, we know as players we have to get results and we want to do a lot better.”
Some were surprised to see Leadbitter named captain, particularly as he was not named in the starting XI for the opening two league fixtures.
Jack Ross has insisted that the 33-year-old will play a lot of games this year and that is likely to start in the Carabao Cup against Accrington on Tuesday night.
Listening to Leadbitter talk about his approach to football, training and the challenges for young players today, it also seems a very neat fit with a manager who has spoken regularly of his pride in addressing and improving Sunderand’s culture.
Both know results will define their time on Wearside, but their determination to do things in a certain way puts them firmly on the same wavelength.
“It is special [to be captain] but it doesn’t change me as a person or a player,” Leadbitter said.
“I’ve always been the way I am. I captained Middlesbrough for many years, it doesn’t change me as a person. But obviously with it being my football club as I call, it’s very special.
“As a captain you’ve got a major role to play in the dressing room, but not just in the dressing room, also at the whole of the football club and around the area. You’ve got to do things right. I’m not one for ranting, raving, shouting and things like that, I’m a big believer that you let your job do the talking and let people follow you like that. It’s all about building a good dressing room, which I’ve always tried to do.
“I’ve done it all my career. One of my first managers always told me, ‘It’s what you do Monday to Friday that dictates what you can do on a Saturday afternoon’. Saturday becomes second nature, and that’s what’s always stuck with me. If players want to follow that, I want them to follow.
“I believe working hard is good, and doing the right things is good, on and off the pitch. I understand nowadays everyone is different characters, and you have to work with those people, but I’m a big believer that you don’t change who you are. I will never change, I never have done. I’ll always be honest and say what I think.”
Sunderland have a cohort of young players looking to break through and they can do no better than look to his former academy product for inspiration.
“It’s different now, and I understand it’s different,” he said.
“I’m kind of learning that over the last 12 months, I’m learning that things have changed. I’m learning myself that football is going in a different way. People build profiles off the pitch, which I find amazing. I see that in other people, but I’ll always try to do my talking on the pitch. I still believe that’s what you need to do as a football player.
“The rewards are there [if you do].
“You've got to mentally strong, the rewards of playing every week and maybe even at a higher level are massive.
“You've got to make sacrifices in your life, on the pitch and off it.
“You've got to mean things day in, day out, and that's one thing I've always done and hopefully it rubs off on other people.”
As will Ross, and there in a nutshell is why he was handed the captain’s armband.