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Who is to blame for the mess at Sunderland?

Someone always has to carry the can, regardless of whether the blame is apportioned appropriately or not. There is something sinisterly satisfying in laying the blame squarely at someone else’s feet: it couldn’t possibly have been me who messed something up, or forgot to do something, or actually did something, but did so spectacularly badly. And even if I did (or didn’t), it wasn’t my fault: I wasn’t in possession of the facts, I was under pressure, the voices in my head made me do it. Let the individual who was never resorted to such defensive tactics proudly step forward (unless you’ve used that last excuse; in which case, speak to someone who knows about such things…quickly.)

Of course in football, the fans, journalists and pundits which constitute the ‘blob’ that Michael Gove might well term such an indefinable mass of voices, are constantly on the prowl to dish out the blame – sometimes reasonably, sometimes indiscriminately. Generally speaking, the referee is first in the firing line and if he’s inaccessible, go for the fourth official. After this though, it’s either the players or the manager and where the good ship Sunderland are concerned, Gus Poyet had been playing the blame game for a while before he was told to pack a cardboard box with his desk tidy and pot plant. Ultimately, his relationship with the ‘blob’ around him surely contributed to his downfall. He blamed the fans for having things such as expectations; he blamed the media for…well…reporting on events and he also blamed, naturally, the referee for not giving seemingly obvious penalties. In the last throes of his management, he had a new target in his sights and his setting was not set to stun.

On discovering that his team was bottom of the Premier League Fair Play League Table, he responded thus:

“I don’t care who’s in charge of the fair play rules, but they’re not fair. It’s an invention. Somebody told me we were bottom but I don’t know how they give the points. I don’t know if they’re from Newcastle. It’s so superficial.

“I’ve not seen anything that makes me think we’re dirty so why we’re bottom I don’t know. I’d like someone to explain. But there would be no explanation, just words that don’t make sense. I don’t accept it. I don’t care what they say, it’s not true.”

Perhaps someone needs to sit down with Poyet, make a strong brew, dish out the Custard Creams and explain to him that one of the factors that contributes towards the Fair Play Table is ‘behaviour of team officials’.

It seems that Poyet resorted to a default position of a scattergun approach of blame, most likely in an increasingly futile attempt to deflect attention from his team’s dreadful run of form which achieved previously unattained levels of shoddiness  in rolling over and kindly asking Aston Villa to tickle their tummies. The Black Cats are in a serious state of disarray and with Burnley and Villa both getting their ‘things’ together, Wearsiders are bandying around the ‘R’ word willy-nilly.

So where does the blame lie for this current shambles? The obvious starting point is with Poyet and his continuous tactical and team selection tinkering. He managed to get through a veritable smorgasbord of formations before deploying a kind of 4-1-4-1 line-up against Villa with Steven Fletcher deployed in a wide left position: a contest that turned out to be his Waterloo. He persisted with Jozy Altidore for longer than was necessary and then went out and put all his eggs in a Jermain Defoe shaped-basket. Furthermore, if you’re going to raid your old club for players, it’s imperative that they work out, otherwise your judgment might be rendered a bit wonky. Unfortunately for Poyet, Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley haven’t quite worked out as well as he might have hoped. Ditto re. Jack Rodwell.

But as we all know, once the team is over that white line, it’s reasonable to expect the players to run around, put the effort in and generally perform as if they are professional footballers. In fairness to Poyet, it wasn’t necessarily his fault that John O’Shea decided to redefine the term ‘stinker’ with his performance against Aston Villa. Recent events surrounding Adam Johnson didn’t help his cause either. Those pesky players have lost many a manager his job in the past and then suddenly found their form once the caretaker manger steps in with his long brown coat and huge set of keys.

Ultimately though, the buck stops with the guy who oversees the coaching and picks the team. No doubt Ellis Short and his cost-cutting policies contribute to the current situation and perhaps the loss of Niall Quinn in 2012 may have played a part too (after all, what is a club without a pair of fancy disco pants?). Yet, Poyet’s mission to shift blame away from his own in-tray grated and ultimately, increasingly resembled the policy of a doomed manager.