Chris Coleman: Sunderland manager confident in face of daunting task
Sunderland manager Chris Coleman has faith his side will soon “turn the corner”, despite defeat by Aston Villa in his first game in charge on Tuesday.
Coleman was forced to play a number of players out of position as a result of injuries, with his depleted squad falling to a 2-1 loss at Villa Park.
“When you see players doing that and trying their best you know you have something to work with. There has to be consistency and there has to be an offering from all of us every time we take to the pitch,” he told BBC Newcastle.
“You’re going to win, you’re going to lose, you’re going to draw, and when you’re down there it seems like you’re losing more.
“But again, who else is going to come and get a result, who else is going to come and perform?”
So just how big is the challenge that lies ahead for the former Wales boss and will his confidence be proved right?
The money problem – can he work with what he’s got?
The gaps in Coleman’s squad are only increasing, with forward Duncan Watmore likely to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury and midfielder Jonny Williams out for up to three months with a shoulder problem.
But the 47-year-old may have to rely on young talent or bargain buys, as Sunderland are unlikely to be able to compete with the financial muscle of teams like Wolves and Villa.
This season’s recruitment under Simon Grayson saw an overall spend of around £1.75m, compared to a net outlay of just over £11m in the 2015-16 campaign when Sam Allardyce guided the Black Cats to Premier League survival with the division’s 11th largest wage bill of £83.9m, £3.5m more than that of champions Leicester.
Part of the reason for the decline in spending is down to relegation and uncertainty around the long-term future of owner Ellis Short, who has been in negotiations with potential investors.
“I spoke with chief executive Martin Bain who impressed me a great deal, he gave me a full run down – warts and all – so I’m under no illusions,” Coleman told BBC Newcastle.
“We’ve got to find a footing and consistency in performances – build on that and results start coming.”
A ‘brittle’ squad
The Black Cats spent between 77% and 82% of their revenues on player wages between the 2008-09 and 2015-16 seasons according to statistics from Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, and Coleman will have far lower revenues to work with outside the Premier League.
The Welshman has already said any players who lack commitment will have to leave.
“The squad is brittle, clearly fractured by the fall-out from relegation but also a distinct lack of confidence,” BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland commentator Nick Barnes said.
“Injuries haven’t helped but since the early part of the season it has drifted with numerous changes and no consistency. The goalkeeping position has been a major weakness and the potential of some of its so called ‘stars’ such as Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman has not been fulfilled.”
There is experience to work with though, as Coleman inherits the Championship’s seventh oldest squad with an average age of 27 years, 227 days.
Former Sunderland midfielder Lee Clark believes his ex-Fulham team-mate will get the best out of whatever squad he has.
“His man-management skills are second to none,” Clark said.
“He gets the best out of everybody, he creates a terrific atmosphere around the training ground which comes through on to the pitch and gets results.”
In search of home comforts
Since their last home win, against Watford in last season’s Premier League, Sunderland fans have seen 20 games without a victory, from a creditable 2-2 draw against Liverpool on 2 January to a 2-2 tie with Millwall on 18 November.
They have earned just 0.42 points per game at the Stadium of Light in 2017, by far the worst record in the top four divisions, with Crawley next on the list with 0.82 points per game.
The Black Cats average less than a goal a game and they are converting only 7.01% of their shots, and have seen a decline in league attendances to an average 20,221 in 2017-18 from 35,815 last season a predictable consequence.
“Before news of his impending arrival, there was an air of apathy, frustration and resentment fuelled by results, the lack of money and a feeling that Sunderland’s stock had fallen so low it would take a miracle to rebuild,” Barnes said.
“While they will acknowledge there is still a lot of work to be done, the appointment of Coleman has restored some faith.”
Clark added: “He’s experienced a lot for someone so young, these forthcoming fixtures won’t be a problem.
“He’ll be concerned with getting confidence back in the team, but he’ll have it from the terraces. That’s what looks to have been restored [with the appointment].”
‘The infrastructure is in place’
Though the challenges facing Sunderland are immense, so is the potential of the club to rebound, as evidenced by Coleman’s willingness to give up managing his country to move to the north east.
While his last British club post ended at Coventry in May 2010 after a 19th place Championship finish, Coleman enjoyed more success with Wales and has brought experienced assistant Kit Symons with him for support.
The infrastructure at the club, most notably the Academy of Light, which opened in 2003, is also in place to help get them back on the right track.
“He’s seen the size of Sunderland, the stadium, the facilities, the academy,” former Birmingham, Blackpool and Huddersfield boss Clark said.
“Chris himself said someone will turn it around and get the positivity back, why shouldn’t it be him?
“Whoever does will be in charge of a magnificent football club.”