Can Dick Advocaat save Sunderland after Serbia struggles?
Sunderland, 11/8 chances for Premier League relegation with Coral, have appointed former Rangers and PSV Eindhoven boss Dick Advocaat as their new boss until the end of the season.
Although the 67-year-old, who has managed extensively at international level as well, has never coached an English side, he does have experience of British football.
During two-and-a-half years as boss at Ibrox, Advocaat won five trophies, a domestic treble and SPL and cup double, with Glasgow giants Gers. A UEFA Cup and Russian top-flight triumph at Zenit St Petersburg apart, those Scottish accolades were the last competitive honours the Dutchman has tasted in club coaching.
On Wearside, silverware is not the target, however, as Black Cats chairman Ellis Short said: “We have one aim only now – to climb the table – and everyone is fully focused on the task ahead of us.”
Sunderland are one point and place above the bottom three, winning once in a dozen Premier League outings, and Advocaat will need all his experience to reverse the slide on Wearside.
If the adage that a manager is only as good as his last job is true, then this is a terrible appointment for Mackems.
Advocaat had four difficult months in charge of Serbia until November 2014, winning just one of four international fixtures, and that by UEFA awarding victory in the home game with Albania, which was abandoned after inevitable crowd trouble and on-field fighting.
Given a relatively kind Euro 2016 qualifying draw, including far from vintage Denmark and Portugal sides, Serbia struggled under Advocaat despite the presence of six Premier League players and five from Serie A squads.
Notoriously outspoken during his time with Rangers, this opportunity to take on an English top-flight side does come late in his coaching career.
“Sunderland is a big club and I am very much looking forward to the challenge ahead,” Advocaat said upon his appointment. “We must now concentrate on Saturday as a priority.”
That’s an away game at West Ham, where out of contract boss Sam Allardyce may be a longer term target for the Black Cats. Odds of 10/3 say Advocaat can have an immediate impact, and steer his new side to victory at Upton Park.
During the Easter weekend, Advocaat will get an almost immediate taste of the Tyne-Wear derby in what will be his first home game in charge. Whatever Mackems think of Poyet, he won all three of his matches against bitter rivals Newcastle United, and Sunderland now need a similar story to save themselves.
Much has been made of Advocaat’s predecessor making veiling swipes about Black Cats recruitment. Pundits and commentators followed that en masse with unequivocal assertions that the winter window swap of American flop Jozy Altidore for proven Premier League performer Jermain Defoe was a coup, but it’s about ensuring the right service goes into the diminutive ex-England frontman.
Emanuele Giaccherini’s absence through injury and Adam Johnson being unavailable because of off-field allegations leaves Sunderland with little natural width. A midfield diamond may make them tough to break down, and leave that shaky defence with proper protection.
Advocaat also has to consider who to pair Defoe with in attack. Danny Graham has laboured up there with no end product in recent matches, so it looks to be a straight choice between injury-prone Scotland frontman Steven Fletcher or Connor Wickham.
This time last term when Poyet pulled of a great escape with the Black Cats, it was the latter who stepped up. Wickham and Defoe is like that classic big man/little man partnership that evokes Mackems memories of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips.
It’s no coincidence when they started up front together in a home game with Burnley that both scored, which was the last Premier League victory Sunderland savoured. If Advocaat can get some more wins, then the odds-on 1/2 price for them to stay up shall be justified.