Sunderland might well be furious with the Football Association for poaching Sam Allardyce, fearful of upheaval close to a Premier League season and dreading another round of instability with a seventh manager in five years.
But, in David Moyes and in time, they might also be grateful for the unplanned disruption visited upon them. Both parties may have finally found the right fit.
Ellis Short has secured the services on a four-year contract of “my No1 managerial target for the last five appointments”. It is no stretch to imagine the turbulence of the Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat eras would never have hit the Stadium of Light had Sunderland’s owner found his target from the start.
Short sounded out the Scot when Dick Advocaat planned to retire in May 2015. Moyes resisted out of a debt of loyalty to Jokin Aperribay, the Real Sociedad president who went to great lengths to convince him to start anew in Spain after the misery of Manchester United.
The American called again last October when Advocaat, having abandoned the retirement plans, offered to resign. Again Moyes said no. He was anxious to correct a faltering start to the season with Sociedad and avoid a second successive failure on his CV. Within a fortnight, with Short having turned to Allardyce for salvation from another relegation scrap, Moyes’s 17-year managerial career was blemished by a second dismissal, 19 months after the first.
It is worth revisiting the reasons Sunderland struggled to land Moyes previously as that sense of duty and desire to redress the failure of Old Trafford can now work to their advantage. Both club and manager desperately need stability and to reassert their Premier League credentials.
The 53-year-old’s stock has fallen dramatically since that day in May 2013 when Goodison Park said farewell to Everton’s manager of 11 years with a standing ovation despite him leaving for United and without compensation. Damaging mistakes in Manchester and San Sebastián cost a conscientious and decent man two lifelong ambitions – to succeed with unlimited resources at the highest level in England and develop his coaching skills abroad. Accepting the United ordeal cannot be pinned entirely on Ed Woodward’s inexperience in the transfer market may help Moyes start afresh at the Stadium of Light.
Just as Moyes appeared a comfortable fit for Everton for most of his Goodison reign, so he was a strange choice by a supposedly well-prepared United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Style of play – better than he was given credit for at Everton but too conservative in comparison with Ferguson – lack of silverware and unease under an intense media spotlight were in evidence before his Old Trafford coronation. But that is not to deny the Glaswegian is a manager of Premier League substance. In many respects, he is precisely what Sunderland require even though the timing of their latest managerial change presents problems for the start of the season.
Everton flirted with relegation several times – an all too familiar theme at the Stadium of Light – before Moyes replaced Walter Smith in 2002. His first act was to jettison Paul Gascoigne from the Everton dressing room, showing the squad their new young manager would not cower to ageing big names, and he turned the club into regular European contenders despite operating on one of the smallest transfer budgets in the Premier League. Everton’s average net spend over Moyes’ 11 years was a mere £803,000 per season yet they finished sixth, seventh, seventh, eighth, fifth, fifth and sixth in his final seven years in charge.
Moyes will need to repeat the trick at Sunderland given Allardyce was supposedly unhappy the transfer budget was 50% less than he believed necessary. The club has yet to make a signing so far this summer and activating the £5m release clause in Micah Richards’ contract with Aston Villa is unlikely to bring reassurance to Wearside. Their new manager should, however.
A fundamental difference between Moyes’ accomplishments at Everton and failures with United and Real Sociedad is that he had time to identify and develop his own players at Goodison, while he did not at Old Trafford or Anoeta Stadium. Tim Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Joleon Lescott and Seamus Coleman can all testify to Moyes’ ability to turn a bargain into an international. The support and trust he received from Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has been absent from the manager’s career since May 2013 and Short will need to provide both in the months ahead. The Sunderland owner is looking long-term with the appointment of Moyes. “That David has committed to a four-year deal is a clear demonstration of his belief in what he can achieve here,” said Short.
For all the irritation at Allardyce’s departure, the new England manager had only 12 months left on his Sunderland contract and uncertainty would have reigned throughout next season without the switch. Short-term, no additions to a squad that just survived relegation last season plus fresh managerial upheaval does not bode well, yet Sunderland have replaced a manager adept at constructing a resilient defence with another. Their defensive foundation may not necessarily be rebuilt.
“I look forward to continuing the good work done by Sam,” said Moyes on Saturday.
In many respects Moyes is back where he started in the Premier League in 2002, needing to restore stability, security and pride to a historic but struggling club. He may be forever tainted by the experience of Old Trafford, when the Scot aged visibly under the pressure, but the FA may just have done Sunderland a favour.
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