Can Advocaat save Sunderland?

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Can Dick Advocaat save Sunderland? The question itself is virtually rhetorical, because the answer is almost certainly in the negative. It is, of course, far too early to be talking about teams in trouble given that the season is less than a month old. Yet a slow start in the Premier League these days is horrendously difficult to get away from, and that is what has happened to Sunderland.

Yet countless words have been written about their plight – one thing that has disturbed many a casual observer is the behaviour of manager Dick Advocaat. The Dutchman was brought to the club last March, with many fearing the worst following a home drubbing at the hands of Aston Villa.

Somehow, Advocaat contrived to save them, and he left on the final day of the season, sobbing his way into the managerial sunset, and announcing that his days in the dug out were over. Yet within days, the former Rangers boss ‘did a Delph’ and U-turned back to Tyne and Wear.

Now Advocaat is clearly no mug. The divisive issue of Scottish football (and the relative strengths of it or otherwise) mean that many will be all too happy to dismiss his time in charge of Rangers, where he had a near 68% win ratio. But this man has also took charge of his native Holland, South Korea, Belgium, Russia and Serbia to name but a few. So why has his time so far this season been spent making the most foolish of statements week after week, game after game?

After Sunderland’s opening day drubbing at the hands of Leicester, he claimed that he ‘didn’t know what his defenders were doing’. He also went on to state that there was a degree of intensity missing from the Black Cats’ level of performance, as there had been in pre-season.

Now I am in no way qualified to take issue with Advocaat the coach, but if the manager of a Premier League club doesn’t know what his defenders are doing during a game, surely that is what he has been hired to do? He also went public on some unrest with star striker Jermain Defoe. Defoe had allegedly reacted somewhat moodily to being asked to play on the wing a week later, with his manager then saying he would be ‘on the left wing, the right wing or the bench’ the following week. Again, I am no coach but even the most blinkered of armchair football fans knows that Defoe is a striker through and through.

Advocaat then continued his eccentric start of the season, bringing Dutch slogans to press conferences with him, and berating owner Ellis Short for not only a lack of transfer activity, but imploring him to buy extensive, quality players.

The problem for Sunderland though, is that through Advocaat’s various comments since the start of the campaign, he has already turned the club into a floating, deserted ship. Who will want to come and play for them given the controversies already started? And what of the existing players – who will have read in the media that they are not good enough.

In the short term, rival clubs will be licking their lips at the prospect of playing the red and whites because Advocaat has created the opposite of a fortress. Yes, the 0-0 draw against Swansea at least gave them a valuable point in the context of their season, but the flaws were there for all to see with a dramatic, but hardly convincing 6-3 win over little Exeter.

For all the less than subtle criticisms leveled at Short by his manager, there can be no doubt that Advocaat’s clumsy, blundering start to the season has been just as big a component in the early woes of the historic club. Yet the man in the dugout seems to be blissfully unaware – so far – of his part in their current free fall.

Regrettably or otherwise, I cannot see Advocaat lasting much longer. In fact, given the volatile world of football management, he may even be clearing his desk by the time you reach the end of this sentence