Sbragia regime could end in tears

IN the dying moments of our St Stephen’s Day encounter with Blackburn, Jason Roberts rounded ‘keeper Marton Fulop to present himself with the seemingly easiest of tap-ins from 12 yards.

Somehow, however, the Rovers forward missed, ensuring a fitting end to a drab afternoon on Wearside.

Had Roberts’ shot drifted just a few inches left and into the net, would Ricky Sbragia have been unveiled as Sunderland’s new manager the following morning?

Prior to Christmas the possibility of appointing the caretaker on a full time basis appeared to enjoy more credence with the media than Sunderland supporters. The consensus among the fans was that any manager worthy of continuing Roy Keane’s good work would need to command the top-level experience our previous gaffer lacked.

Replacing a man like Keane was always going to be a tall order however. He single handedly dragged the club from the precipice of League One oblivion to the riches of the Premier League, transforming the image of SAFC in the process. The plethora of international candidates that were linked with his vacated post provided testament to this work, with the likes of Roberto Mancini, Bernd Schuster, Louis Van Gaal and Slaven Bilic all mentioned.

Perhaps most tantalisingly however Hamburg and former Spurs boss Martin Jol refused to be drawn on the subject, and when Niall Quinn acknowledged that the list of 30 or so applicants included some ‘breathtaking’ names, the expectations of the supporters were cruelly raised.

Quinn however chose to appoint somebody with no managerial experience, seemingly breaking with two of football’s established rules in the process. Firstly, promoting coaches and assistants rarely bears fruit in the top flight; and secondly, a successful honeymoon period is not proof of genius.

Les Reed (Charlton), Chris Hutchings (Bradford and Wigan), Glenn Roeder (Newcastle), Sammy Lee (Bolton) and Stuart Pearce (Man City), all provide recent examples of coaches who have failed miserably following promotion from within.

Time and again when a manager leaves a club his former side experiences a drastic and sudden upturn in form, which is often mistakenly credited to the hidden skills of the new man in charge. In truth however it is generally thanks to the attitude of a bunch of over paid prima donnas who had simply lost faith in the previous regime, and once the honeymoon ends they abruptly return to the familiar doom and drudgery.

To avoid this crash back to earth you need a genuine improvement on the previous manager.

Sunderland have unfortunately not got this in Sbragia, and the performance against Everton last weekend certainly suggested that the bubble of the post Keane era has burst. Granted the new manager was not helped by the sudden illness that struck down Anton Ferdinand and Andy Reid, but the team still appeared disorganised and shy from the fight.

Yet in appointing Sbragia, Quinn has taken a massive gamble, throwing an inexperienced figure into the tightest Premier League relegation scrap for years and passing up a host of more qualified figures in the process.

The new manager will receive the total vocal backing in the hearts of the fans, but it’s our heads that are telling us that this could all end in tears and take supporters’ breath away for all the wrong reasons.


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