Sunderland in crisis? Dick Advocaat avoids the 'R' word but admits Sunderland are struggling ahead of Swansea match

Not ‘relegation’ – the manager says that is a possibility unless ‘quality’ players are signed – but ‘regret’ at having stayed. Michael Walker contrasts a troubled club with Saturday’s opponents Swansea

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The Independent Online

Two games into the season and Dick Advocaat was asked about regret on Friday. This is where Sunderland are.

After comprehensive defeats by Leicester City and Norwich City, Advocaat was questioned about his and Sunderland’s immediate future, and the 67-year-old Dutchman did not take the opportunity to say he will see out his one-year contract.

“I don’t want to discuss that now,” Advocaat said. He was more emphatic on Sunderland’s season and said that if the club does not sign some high quality players in the remainder of the transfer window, it will be a season of toil.

Asked if Sunderland can compete in the Premier League without significant investment, Advocaat replied: “I think not.

“Watching what other teams are doing at the moment, we stay a little bit on the same level as we were before. We still have a week, but financial-wise, at the moment, we can’t compete. No.

“You always get what you pay for,” Advocaat added. “Manchester City get a central defender this week for £32m. Chelsea have one bad game and they buy Pedro for £22m. And we have Duncan Watmore.

“That’s the difference. But I have to be fair to the owner, he never mentioned a figure to me.”

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Sunderland have conceded seven goals in their opening two fixtures

 

The widespread assumption on Wearside is that the owner, Ellis Short, persuaded Advocaat to return to the club by agreeing to recruit in numbers and quality. This seemed to be Advocaat’s incentive. Because this has not happened, the question came about regret.

“I think it is a little bit unfair to our owner, because everybody is jumping on him,” Advocaat said. “I just want to say that we had a meeting and he said: ‘We have to invest to make the team better’, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.

“But he did not mention figures. He said we have to invest to make the team better, but he never said to me £10m, £20m, £30m, £40m, £50m, £60m, like the other teams are doing.”

Advocaat had previously mentioned “five or six quality players” and yesterday he confirmed that:  “Yes, I definitely have said that.”

Jeremain Lens, signed from Dynamo Kiev for around £8m is the one major Sunderland signing this summer. When pushed on the apparent distance between his and Short’s assessment, Advocaat explained: “He says we have four or five players. But I said we need quality players.”

Without that influx, Advocaat added Sunderland’s Premier League aim is: “To stay in it.”

No more? “No.”

So it’s a fight against relegation? “Yes. If we get the players in we are working on it will be easier than last season, but the problem is that all the other teams are spending fortunes, and we cannot.”

 

One opportunity Advocaat did take was to have a nip at Jermain Defoe, who on Thursday made a public request to play in the traditional No 9 role. “Jermain Defoe will play on the left or the right side,” Advocaat responded. “Or on the bench.  Nobody can tell me where he has to play. I decide which player plays where, not players.”

There is fresh focus on Sunderland, recruitment and Defoe as Swansea City are today’s visitors to the Stadium of Light.

Defoe arrived in January as part of the swap deal that saw Jozy Altidore leave Wearside for Toronto. Altidore had been signed by Sunderland in the Paolo Di Canio summer of 2013 for £6.5m. It was the same week that Swansea also signed a striker from the Netherlands: Wilfried Bony.

Bony cost £12m, scored 34 goals in 56 starts and then made Swansea a £16m profit when sold to Manchester City in January.

Altidore scored three in 29 starts for Sunderland and unfortunately for him became a joke figure. The striker is perhaps one of the reasons why Short is reluctant to spend and spend. Altidore also acts as emblem for the lack of football nous at the Stadium of Light.

Huw Cooze is the supporters trust representative on the Swansea board. The trust owns 21 per cent of the club and Cooze said a degree of Swansea’s rise is down to the acumen of their chairman, Huw Jenkins.

Jenkins makes good decisions, especially in terms of recruitment. He replaced Kenny Jackett as manager with Roberto Martinez and when he got one wrong – Paulo Sousa – he brought in Brendan Rodgers. When Brian Laudrup surprisingly departed last year, Jenkins invested in then 34-year-old Garry Monk. There has been turnover at Swansea, but not rupture.

“We’ve had managerial change but ‘the Swansea Way’ continues,” Cooze said. “We’ve a structure and a pattern. Our Under-10s play a certain style.

“It goes back as far as Brian Flynn and Kenny Jackett. Some might say Huw Jenkins is not ‘a football man’ but he had a sniff of professionalism at Bristol Rovers, he’s got common sense and he understands Swansea as a place and as a club.

“Huw is a shareholder, chairman and father figure. He is also the sporting director – effectively.  He just doesn’t want to be called that.”

Sunderland, too, have a sporting director, Lee Congerton. But there is uncertainty as to his power.

If the club had a comparable figure to Jenkins it was Niall Quinn. But Quinn left Sunderland over three years ago – and there had been some poor recruitment during his tenure.

All eyes are now on Short. A Texan billionaire based in London, Short has been popular on Wearside.

Across from the stadium is the fanzine A Love Supreme and Short has been known to pop in. He has laid on bashes to which supporters have been invited. “At that level, he’s been good,” said Martyn McFadden, A Love Supreme’s editor. “And he doesn’t have to be an evangelist like Quinn. But Short needs to communicate better at board level and put out a statement now and again about his plans.”

McFadden, like so many, had assumed Short and Advocaat had an agreement on enhanced summer recruitment. Now McFadden added, if that’s not the case: “I don’t blame Advocaat if he goes.”

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