Before Saturday’s game against Swansea it was difficult to conceive how Sunderland, mathematically relegated a fortnight earlier but effectively down for some weeks, could make matters worse. But where there’s a will...
The final four games of the season meant little to Sunderland; so the sensible approach was not to use players who won’t be there next season; giving valuable experience to youngsters, or to raise the sale price of more established players.
Some encouragement was offered when the petulant loanee Adnan Januzaj was not even on the bench.
However, the mystifying persistence with the ordinary-at-best Jason Denayer continued. If Jason is fit – he plays; in goal if necessary. Nobody knows why.
Then there was the decision to omit Bryan Oviedo, the club’s only left-back and one of the few hopes for next season, in favour of the out-of-position Javier Manquillo, who will be off soon too.
We were also left to ponder the merit of using Victor Anichebe under the circumstances.
His contract is up and he surely won’t be offered another one. Aside of that, he is clearly not a wide midfielder.
Both of Sunderland’s substitutions were enforced. When Denayer hobbled off after 20 minutes, Swansea were leading.
It wasn’t obvious how the introduction of the plodding Darron Gibson ahead of Wahbi Khazri was supposed to rectify this, but it was duly tried. Again.
Anichebe’s latest injury shocked no one, but it did mean that Khazri was eventually used and showed why he is habitually left out.
He does ridiculous things like beat opponents and take shots, which could have endangered Sunderland’s record of scoring in only one of their last eight home games.
This was all augmented by the unexplained practice of a losing team having 11 men back to defend a corner.
It was feeble.
The most depressing aspect of all this is that it was exactly as expected.
It was nothing new or different, but said everything. What are the prospects of anything changing; even in a lower league?
I’m afraid that at the heart of Sunderland’s abject 2016-17 is the manager.
He has done little right; even if we have been subjected to incredible drivel recently in his defence.
The four-times relegated, unfeasibly overrated manager Harry Redknapp (always called by his first name by a cringing media), made the following contribution to the claptrap.
He burbled: “I knew Sunderland would get relegated at the start of the year.”
Oh please Mr Redknapp. We can accept “thought” or “predicted.”
After all, many people correctly thought and predicted that you would relegate QPR – twice. But they and you “knew” nothing.
But Redknapp was in full rubbish mode and continued.
He reckoned that no manager could have kept Sunderland in the Premier League, citing Antonio Conte (interestingly, he never mentioned Sam Allardyce).
Conte has won the league from Chelsea’s 10th place last season by getting the most out of his players; a trait he shares with all good managers.
Moyes, on the other hand, was muttering about his side being in a relegation fight after only two games.
This self-fulfilling prophecy smacked of submitting excuses early.
Despite some patronising nonsense about Sunderland-people-appreciate-honesty; he must surely regret this statement.
When a manger in effect makes a public proclamation that he doesn’t rate his players, confidence and belief are all but jettisoned.
This was exactly the opposite of what was required.
Having demotivated his existing squad in August, he described signings he was about to make in January as “limited with a big L,” thereby managing to lower the confidence of players before who hadn’t at that point even joined the club.
If that was his opinion, why were they signed?
The limited time Moyes had to enlist new squad members last summer is a valid reason for not signing better players.
However, this does not mean that he was obliged to sign Donald Love, Paddy McNair, Steven Pienaar, Joleon Lescott, Darron Gibson, Adnan Januzaj and the others; thirty-odd million quid on transfer fees before we torture ourselves by contemplating their salaries.
It got stranger. Before last night’s game at Arsenal Moyes professed worry because Anichebe and Denayer might not be fit, as “they’re both really important.” How? There was nothing to play for and both players are leaving.
Received wisdom is that Sunderland cannot continue replacing managers. It’s what you’re supposed to say.
For example, Garth Crooks said: “Sunderland seem to have recognised that chopping and changing managers is futile, and that David Moyes is the right man to bring the Black Cats back into the big time and I agree.”
Garth is unbothered by trifling issues, such as overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the riposte to his comment is almost too obvious to make. But I’ll make it anyway.
The first season in six when Sunderland did not change managers was the one in which they were relegated – without a fight.
Clearly it is not ideal to have had so many managers since 2007.
Yet it should be said in the club’s defence that only four of the eight bosses from the last 10 years were sacked – the other four resigned without coercion.
SAFC either can’t or won’t dismiss Moyes. So what now?
I do not speak for anyone other than myself in the next paragraph. Not the fans, nor this newspaper; just me.
My opinion, hopefully a considered one, is that David Moyes should resign immediately after the game this Sunday.
It would be the honourable, responsible course and one that even his most ardent critic should respect; admire even.
There are only two possible motives for not quitting. The first is that he feels he can take the team forward next season; in which case I respectfully disagree (although I would love to be proved wrong).
The second is that an already wealthy man does not want to pass up the windfall that would accompany his dismissal.
That would be disappointing because he seems a decent bloke (I have no personal criticism of the man).
I am not trying to be merely antagonistic and do not say, suggest or even imply that Moyes is to blame for everything. That would be absurd.
Also, another manager will not provide a panacea under warranty.
But Moyes retains little goodwill among the fans. The atmosphere at the last home game was poisonous and will be carried over to the next one if, as is widely expected, things go wrong.
A replacement? Before the more viperish suggest “anyone,” they would do well to remember Butcher, Di Canio, McMenemy and Wilkinson.
But that is a problem for the future.
Today’s problem is David William Moyes.