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In Pursuit of Excellence

Started on 12 November 2017 by JasonSAFC / First Post
Latest Reply on 19 November 2017 by mgriffin2012 / Last Post
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Chapter one: Times are changing
Monday 13 November 2017
St. George's Park

I stood and applauded an absolutely stunning goal. Marcus Rashford had received the ball on the halfway line and beat one defender, then two and finally a third. He cut inside a little, looked to his right and slid the ball off to club teammate Jesse Lingard before darting back on the outside and screaming for the return. Jesse got the ball out of his feet with his first touch and lined up a shot before realising he was being crowded out - instead, he cut left and played a diagonal ball with the outside of his right boot back to Marcus who didn't break stride, hitting the ball on his instep and finishing deftly over the top of the stranded Angus Gunn.

Those phases of play between United teammates were becoming more common with each training session and beginning to compete with the passing moves constructed by clubmates Harry Kane, Dele Alli and co. If we could find a way to stitch all of the fine movement together between the pockets of clubmates we have, Gareth Southgate would be a national favourite come the end of the World Cup in Russia next year.

"Take a minute's breather lads and get some fluids on board. Then we're back at it for another fifteen before lunch!" I shouted out.

Gareth had asked me to lead the training session this morning as he watched on and took notes. Playing two games against world class opposition in such a short space is physically and mentally demanding for any athlete or sportsperson, but the fact they aren't competitive matches means Gareth has the opportunity to experiment and give the players a good window of recovery. Five players made their international debut against a relatively strong German team on Friday night, although I could say with almost certainty that Joachim Löw had also used the occasion to shuffle his pack.

The minute's breather was over and I was just about to resume play when Gareth intervened.

"We've had a call regarding your availability and I think it's something that we owe you the right to consider." He said.

He signalled for Steve Holland to continue the training session and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, pulling me in the direction of the main building at St. George's Park.

"Come with me," he added, "it's certainly something close to your heart."

***

The call had been made from the mobile of Martin Bain, Chief Executive of Sunderland Association Football Club. It was a club that was close to my heart, a club I had previously been employed by and a club I still loved like no other. I was born and raised in Sunderland so I know how deeply ingrained the club is in the city's life.

I worked as a coach with the first team under Sam Allardyce. When Sam left to take up national duty, he urged me to follow but I initially refused. David Moyes was appointed soon after and our methods were arguably not comparable, least even compatible. The England camp soon caught wind and after a short phone conversation with Sam, I tendered my resignation to my hometown club and moved office to St. George's Park where I've worked for little over a year with both Sam and Gareth.

Martin had called from his car, sitting in a lay-by on the M6 about half an hour away. He stressed that he was eager to get things moving as quick as possible, so we agreed with Gareths blessing to meet at St. George's Park while the players ate lunch.

I freshened up by showering and changing from my training gear into something a little more formal. I opted to go with a shirt and tie combination, leaving my suit jacket off on a mild day like today. I waited patiently in main reeption and greeted Martin, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. We discussed my history with the club - there was a short period last summer when we had both been employed by Sunderland but our paths had never crossed - and the North East while we had a short wait for him to get clearance to enter the rest of the building. Once this was granted, I led him to my office.

"We have quite a lot to get through and not an awful lot of time," Martin said, "so I'm going to be quite direct in how I approach you. As you're well aware, a little over two weeks ago we parted company with Simon Grayson and appointed Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay as joint caretaker managers. I've interviewed a number of candidates since then about taking on the role on a permanent basis but I've not yet interviewed somebody we're excited to enter negotiations with. I've just finished a meeting in London with Ellis Short and we both agreed your name looks the most appealing at the moment so I wanted to come and have a discussion with you as soon as possible. I understand you've had no time to prepare for an interview so think of this as an informal discussion and my aim here is to gauge whether you're at all interested in leading the club forward."

"Let me start by saying that I'm flattered both yourself and Ellis have considered me for the role and as you know, it's a club that is very close to my heart," I paused, "but you have to understand some of my concerns before our talks can progress any further..."
A stunning start, incredibly well written, going to be intriguing, hopefully things are looking up for Sunderland
Chapter two: The most depressing club in football?
Monday 13 November 2017
Academy of Light

After our discussion at St. George's Park, I was given permission by the FA to speak to Sunderland in a more formal capacity and I therefore joined Martin Bain in making the three and a half hour journey back to the North East. I made a minor detour to pick up some things from my home in Staffordshire and arrived at Sunderlands training ground, the Academy of Light, roughly twenty minutes behind the Chief Executive.

Despite leaving Sunderland in the same summer Martin had arrived, I was still in contact with several friends employed by the club and had heard enough to form a basic understanding of how Martin would most likely approach things: directly. My friends weren't far wrong.

I had plenty of concerns about taking on the role - some more pressing than others. How much freedom would I be given to make changes to the squad come January, for a start. A lack of funds, as widely suggested in the media, didn't bother me as much as it maybe would other managers but would I be given the support to potentially turn the squad on it's head? I have no intention of purposely upsetting players or staff but the club needs a strong personality and that is undoubtedly going to cause disruption. Would I be supported through a player 'revolt', for example, much like the one Paolo Di Canio reportedly lost his job to four years ago? Whether those reports were fact or fiction is debatable but there's certainly no smoke without fire.

Despite any concerns I had, I knew deep down that it wasn't going to be a hard sell. I think Martin knew that, too. After all, it was my club. I love it just as much as you love yours. Within three or four hours, a contract was formally drafted and my signature sat at the bottom next to that of the Chief Executive.

***

Tuesday 14 November 2017

I spent all night considering how I should introduce myself to the squad. Stepping into the role of Manager for the first time is a huge moment for me and I need to garner enough respect in the dressing room to make an impact.

I didn't fully decide until this morning. I was still trying to perfect my introduction in my head when I saw what I needed. It would cause a bigger impact than anything I had thought of.

Copa90 produce media in relation with football focusing on the supporters' perspective. Their latest video, uploaded just this morning onto YouTube, titled 'Is This The Most Depressing Club In Football?' centres around Sunderland AFC. I won't explain too much about the content of the video, but instead leave it below.



The players and staff had gathered together in preparation of my introduction. I entered the room, hit play on the video and took a seat without speaking. Five minutes and forty one seconds later, I stood in front of a silent assembly and uttered my first words.

"Training starts in thirty minutes. I'll meet you out there."
2017-11-12 21:04#247206 mgriffin2012 : A stunning start, incredibly well written, going to be intriguing, hopefully things are looking up for Sunderland

Thanks for the positive feedback! Just posted another update, give it a read ;)
Great start here, also welcome to the site. Looking forward to seeing if Sunderland can be saved, the home form is the first thing to sort out!
You're going to be turning Sunderland into one of the most exciting clubs in the footballing world!
You're going to be turning Sunderland into one of the most exciting clubs in the footballing world!

You are reading "In Pursuit of Excellence".

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