First of all, I am a massive fan of Rafa, was the football the most exciting we have seen? No, of course not! If the football was rubbish why am I such a fan?
Just before Rafa came in I can safely say my love and connection with the club was at its lowest. The cycle of buying cheap and selling for a profit had caught up with us… again, quite clearly demonstrating Ashley hadn’t learned from his previous mistakes, another washed up manager was proving why he hadn’t worked in the premier league in recent times and was representative of how far the club had fallen, the fact that Mclaren was the best we could attract… depressing doesn’t come close! I’m old enough to remember Ardiles (just), but as a young lad very much growing up through the Keegan and Robson eras, seeing other kids and myself pretty much living in our toon tops and the memories of walking up Northumberland street on any day never mind a match day and seeing a sea of black and white still fills me with a sense of pride. We were proud of our club and wanted the world to know, we are Geordies and we play in black and white.
Fast forward to the present day and it feels like a far cry from those days. Rafa’s arrival had the feel of the Keegan era even though the style of football didn’t. To be honest my desire for free flowing attacking football is there, but I lived through it with Keegan and ultimately it won us nothing (except excellent memories), what I want is pride in the club a sense that we are moving forward and progressing.
The last game of the relegation season against Spurs (on a side note I absolutely love beating Spurs!!), with the crowd singing Rafa’s name and the sense of euphoria that was building, you could be forgiven for thinking we’d qualified for the Champions League. He galvanised a very disenfranchised fan base and brought a sense of hope to St. James’ that had been absent for many years.
Rafa’s comments in his interviews clearly shows he gets the club, the region and most importantly the fans. He recognised; the potential of the club, that Mike Ashley wasn’t running the club to it’s potential and most importantly he spoke out about it and challenged Mike Ashley by calling out his running of the club. It was so refreshing to hear a manager speaking his mind and saying what he wanted to see improved. It wasn’t spending £200-300 million on players, it was the little things, a training ground that was to PL standard not just “Our pitches are very good, our gym is perfectly adequate and functional”, as Charnley stated.
This is the main reason I love Rafa, he went head to head with Ashley, something that had never been done before, all the “couldn’t get them over the line” quotes were from managers pushing Ashley’s agenda and supporting his hold on the club. It’s one of the reasons I have no sympathy for Bruce in his current predicament, that no one is speaking to him with regards to the potential takeover. If he didn’t know or was unaware (hard to believe if he is mates with Shearer) of what Ashley was like he couldn’t have been paying that much attention to his boyhood club, at this point I feel it needs to be said that when he joined Sunderland in 2009 he stated;
“Managing Newcastle has never been my dream.
“This opportunity at Sunderland has everything I want – the infrastructure, the fanbase, an ambitious chairman and an ambitious new owner…
“Everything you look for as a manager is here at Sunderland.”
The media need to stop pushing that angle.
Watching Rafa’s football wasn’t always exciting, after the horror shows of previous years, I was delighted to see a well-coached team and an organised defence it was a breath of fresh air from the shambles we had been presented with over the Ashley era. It’s easy to forget, in the rush of winning 2 and drawing 1 league game since the restart and the points on the board, that the football under Bruce hasn’t been earth shattering and for large parts of the season was dire. Praise where it is due for beating Sheffield United and Bournemouth, but one had 10 men and Bournemouth looked like they wanted to be back in lockdown, lets keep the feet on the ground. I initially wrote this prior to the city (league) game and felt the need for an update. There has been much said on Twitter last night and this morning about the result, I fully expected to get beat last night, we were missing several key players and playing the team that is second in the league with players costing a sum of money that dwarves ours.
What is totally unacceptable was the attitudes of the players, there is no excuse for not fighting even when staring at defeat, we had nothing to lose by having a go. 5 at the back has been cited as too negative or not the way play against city, I would strongly argue it has its place and can be effective if it is implemented well. Playing Joelinton up front as a loan striker with 5 at the back is never going to work. With a back 5, wing backs need to utilise the wings (funnily enough) and push up the park on the counter, defence needs to become attack quickly. If the players selected last night can’t implement that formation or are ill suited to it, it should be scrapped and the head coach utilising a different approach.
My main issue last night still remains the lack of fight and commitment, people say we had “nothing to play for” and “the game meant nothing”, every game means something or should mean something, as a player, pride in yourself, in the team performance and in the result, the same applies to the manager they should take pride in how they approached the game and how their plan was implemented. WE DON’T DEMAND A TEAM THAT WINS, WE DEMAND A TEAM THAT TRIES.
I don’t think it’s fair on either manager to draw comparisons against each other. They are different people with different styles and goals, different players and different backroom staff. I have been massively out spoken against Bruce, he represented a return to type under Ashley and showed no ambition. I had us nailed on for relegation at the start of the season and even before the restart I didn’t think it was beyond the realms of possibly to go 10 games without a point, I am delighted to be wrong on that!
The big question of the moment is who do you want as manager next season? Rafa, Bruce, Poch or another choice. For me and this is a massive shift in opinion, there are two scenarios, takeover and no takeover.
In a no takeover situation and starting next season with Ashley at the helm (god forbid), I’d be happy for Bruce to stay despite the football not being the best and I can’t listening to him being interviewed, he still spills Ashley rubbish (Jan window open, “I’m happy with our striker options” Jan window closes, “well we’re a bit light on strikers”), I can’t see who else would come into replace him. We were already scraping the barrel with Bruce not being first choice.
In a scenario where a takeover goes through, you guessed it, I want Rafa. If you’re going to hand over the job to rebuilding the club, not just the team, but the whole club, I’d want Rafa involved, I strongly believe giving more freedom and a bigger budget you’d see a very different style of football. He already knows the areas we need to improve (off the pitch), I think he would be a safe option to secure mid table in the short term and have capability to press on to Europe and UCL positions in the longer term.
If he didn’t win anything by then try a younger manager once we have a structure in place to build on.
Would I want Bruce to be part of the rebuilding….. I think you can guess the answer to that!