Relieved Larsson demands no repeat of Sunderland crisis

Seb Larsson.
Seb Larsson.
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With a hefty dose of modest understatement, Seb Larsson admits he was “struggling a bit” during the closing stages at the Emirates.

Twice in the second half of Wednesday night’s survival-sealing stalemate, Larsson received treatment on his knee, yet soldiered on to the finale; putting a foot in, mopping up the loose balls and on several occasions booting clear when Arsenal looked as if they would pounce.

When the final whistle sounded, Larsson collapsed to the turf in mental and physical exhaustion while his team-mates celebrated the relief stemming from securing their own destiny in the Premier League.

But it’s not a super-human effort that Larsson wants to repeat.

At the end of each of the previous two seasons, Sunderland’s players, staff and board have preached the importance of learning from mistakes and avoiding becoming embroiled in another relegation battle.

However, either the warnings have not been heeded or the same errors in recruitment and managerial instability have been repeated.

Larsson, who has been involved in a relegation scrap for three of his four years at Sunderland, makes no attempt to mask the consequences if the club fail to make the appropriate improvements this summer.

“Relief is the big word,” said the Swedish international after Sunderland extended their top-flight stint to nine years.

“Obviously we’re all very happy, but we’re not celebrating really in that sense.

“It’s relief that we’ve sorted a situation out that we never should have found ourselves in in the first place.

“Once again, everyone has to have a long, hard look at things to make sure we don’t end up in this situation again.

“Because sooner or later you do go down, if you keep balancing on the line like that.”

Sunderland’s hierarchy hope that if they can persuade Dick Advocaat to extend his tenure as head coach, it will usher in a period of greater stability.

The club’s plan is for Advocaat and sporting director Lee Congerton to re-shape the squad with a greater emphasis on quality, rather than quantity, while identifying the long-term successor to the ex-Holland manager.

That is Ellis Short’s objective anyway, although the Sunderland chairman knows it depends on Advocaat and his wife after the 67-year-old had been due to retire this summer in his native Holland.

But Advocaat’s appointment would be a popular one in the Sunderland dressing room, with Larsson the latest to express his hopes for an extended stay.

“I’d be more than happy if he stayed,” said the 29-year-old.

“As a player in this situation, you’ve got to try to stay out of things like that, because all the focus has been on the games.

“I haven’t thought anything about who will be the manager next year.

“That’s for the manager and the people who run the club to decide.

“But clearly he’s done a good job with us and I’m sure if he wants to stay and the club wants him, we’ll be happy to have him.”

Advocaat doesn’t deserve all the credit though. The players also have to take a hefty chunk of praise for their show of commitment in turning around the club’s fortunes, just as it looked like the Championship was on the horizon.

Grinding out the goalless draw at the Emirates which made Sunderland mathematically safe, epitomised the resilience and doggedness which the Black Cats have demonstrated in taking 12 points from Advocaat’s eight games at the helm.

Larsson said: “You have to be together when you’re in the situation we’ve been in.

“We all realise the situation we’d put ourselves in and we were in real trouble.

“The only way to get out of that is by getting together and showing that determination, that fight.

“More often than not, that will to get points, gets you points somehow.

“I bet you 99.99 per cent of people were banking on us losing these last two games (Arsenal and Sunday’s trip to Chelsea).

“But we had that determination to get something.

“Don’t get me wrong, they had a few chances, but I think overall, we deserved a point through our sheer determination.”

Staying up ensures Larsson can now enjoy his well-deserved accolade of being crowned Sunderland Player of the Season after winning the poll held by the club’s supporters association last week.

Larsson has also become the Swedish player to make the most Premier League appearances of all time after his 242nd game against his former club on Wednesday – beating the record set by ex-Arsenal team-mate Freddie Ljungberg.

“When I received that award, my first words were that I was very honoured and happy, but it would mean a hell of a lot more if we stayed in the league,” he added.

“I’m sure that’s how I’ll be looking at it over the summer.

“It will make me even more proud now because it’s something you can celebrate a bit more.

“If you get that award and go down, you can’t really celebrate that much.”