Why Chris Coleman's decision to take the Sunderland job is not as crazy as you may think
If Chris Coleman had been in any doubt over the enormity of the task that he faces at Sunderland prior to being appointed as manager, then it will certainly have been made abundantly clear to him on Tuesday night at Villa Park.
The new Black Cats boss took charge of the team for the first time in mid-week but the 2-1 defeat against Aston Villa will only have highlighted the issues that have seen the club slump to the foot of The Championship table.
There were signs of more heart and fight from the players, yet Coleman will have come away from the Midlands knowing that his team are in serious danger of suffering a second consecutive relegation.
The statistics do not make for good reading.
Sunderland currently sit bottom of table and have won just one league contest all season, despite initial hopes that the club would be able to mount a promotion push and bounce straight back into the top-flight at the first time of asking.
The Black Cats have conceded 38 goals in 20 games across all competitions this season, averaging over two per match, and have failed to win in any of their previous 20 fixtures at the Stadium of Light, a run that can be traced back deep into the last campaign.
So when it was reported that Coleman would be appointed as manager last week the news was met with raised eyebrows, scratched heads and confusion across the football world.
The 47-year-old’s stock has never been higher having guided Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and, although he ultimately failed lead the team to qualification for the forthcoming World Cup in Russia, he could undoubtedly have found a much more prestigious job in club football rather than at The Championship’s worst side.
The Sunderland job, on paper at least, is hardly appealing.
The club have been in terminal decline for the best part of half-a-decade and relegation from the Premier League last season was facilitated by a lack of investment in the transfer market, a lack of stability in the dugout and a growing apathy both in the stands and in the boardroom.
Sunderland is now seen something of a poisoned chalice and, despite undoubtedly being a proverbial ‘sleeping giant’, the fact that Coleman will become the club’s ninth manager in six seasons tells its own story.
The Stadium of Light has seen an almost continuous conveyor belt of managerial talent attempt, and ultimately fail, to turn the fortunes of the club around.
A crazy decision by Coleman?
So, from a distance, the idea that Chris Coleman should risk his managerial reputation at Sunderland is, for want of a better world, crazy. However, if you look underneath the surface then the decision actually begins to make sense.
First, Coleman has absolutely nothing to lose at Sunderland. If he can guide the team to safety then he will be lauded as a managerial maestro whilst if he fails then people will shrug their shoulders and just add him to the lengthening list of managers who have failed at the Stadium of Light.
In truth, with the club just five points from safety, over half a season still to play and the January transfer window still to come, Coleman has everything on his side to transform the club’s fortunes.
A little bit of work on the training ground to make the team more solid and a scattering of new faces being introduced in the January transfer window should be more than enough for the club to climb out of the relegation places.
Second, one of the main issues at Sunderland is the apathy around the club. The Black Cats are certainly not a united institution and there is a feeling of frustration, disappointment and lethargy across Wearside.
However, as Roy Keane demonstrated when he was appointed as Sunderland manager in 2006, once the club begins to move in the right direction and gather some momentum then it can be almost impossible to stop. If Coleman can galvanise the players and supporters then the possibilities are endless for a club of Sunderland’s size.
Thirdly, at some point in the near future the club will turn a corner. Much has been made of Sunderland’s gradual decline and the current unwanted record of going 20 home games without a win, but the club’s downward trajectory and home form will not last forever.
Coleman may well have made a calculated gamble that, with the club at arguably its lowest ebb in almost a decade, the only way is up.
So maybe Coleman’s decision to take the Sunderland job is not so crazy after all. If the Welshman can galvanise the club, which he has plenty of time to do, and convince Ellis Short to invest in the January transfer window, then guiding the club to safety will be seen as a masterstroke.
The Black Cats are currently at rock bottom and Coleman is gambling that the only way is up.