Sunderland’s managerial churn will continue until their owner sees the light

<span>Mike Dodds is currently presiding as caretaker manager over Sunderland’s young team after taking over from Michael Beale.</span><span>Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/Shutterstock</span>
Mike Dodds is currently presiding as caretaker manager over Sunderland’s young team after taking over from Michael Beale.Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/Shutterstock

When the lights went out, quite literally, on Michael Beale in late January it seemed a metaphor for his impending divorce from Sunderland.

Beale was only minutes into a press conference at the Academy of Light, the Championship club’s training base, when a power cut plunged the complex into darkness. As the manager began talking after guiding reporters to a daylight-flooded atrium, the sense grew that it could well be a matter of time before the board pulled the plug on Tony Mowbray’s successor.

Sure enough, on Monday, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, Sunderland’s 27-year-old majority owner, sacked Beale two months, 12 games and four wins into his two-and-a-half-year contract. Mike Dodds will be in caretaker charge for the remainder of the season, starting with Saturday’s home game against Swansea, where he will aim to start closing the seven-point gap separating 10th-placed Sunderland from the playoff places.

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The 37-year-old coach is much admired at the Stadium of Light, where he has forged close bonds with first-team players, most notably the key attacking midfielder Jobe Bellingham. During a previous stint as caretaker manager after Mowbray’s dismissal he presided over wins against West Brom and Leeds, surprising the latter by switching to a back three.

With hindsight, perhaps Louis-Dreyfus would have been better sticking with Dodds in December. Instead Beale was hired and swiftly floundered, a particular nadir reached in a home defeat by Hull on the weekend preceding that press conference punctuated by the power cut.

The Londoner was clearly feeling the strain involved in replacing the much loved, and judged by most reasonable metrics, rather successful, Mowbray and allowed his emotions to show. “People didn’t want me here in the first place,” said the former Rangers and QPR manager, who made his name as Steven Gerrard’s assistant at Rangers and Aston Villa. “You can say it’s about style or this and that, but, let’s cut to the chase, people didn’t want me.”

Beale compounded his problems by declaring himself “bemused” by supporter criticism he had evidently taken so personally. He rightly pointed out that Sunderland have the youngest team in the division, one of the second tier’s lowest budgets and were ahead of schedule in reaching the playoffs last spring, only a year after escaping League One.

The only problem was that Mowbray performed better than he did with similar resources, not to mention presiding over a more attractive playing style. Accordingly, when Sunderland lost 2-1 at Mowbray’s new club, Birmingham, last Saturday, Beale’s position became untenable.

Rather than travel back to Wearside on Saturday night, the outgoing manager boarded a flight to Glasgow en route to his family home before a scheduled day off. By then many observers suspected Beale would soon be spending a lot more time in Scotland. Such suspicions were duly confirmed on Monday morning.

Dodds swiftly became caretaker and Will Still, the 31-year-old Anglo-Belgian coach managing Reims in Ligue 1, promptly announced he was keen to “come home” to England and stressed that an ambitious Championship club would suit him just fine.

Louis-Dreyfus and his idealistic director of football, Kristjaan Speakman, should count themselves fortunate that Sunderland remain an attractive proposition to a bright young manager. After all, decent coaches could be forgiven for steering clear of a club seeking its 22nd manager in 22 years – and fifth in the three years since the French-Swiss owner became chairman.

Yet with an impressive, Premier League-standard infrastructure featuring the 49,000-capacity Stadium of Light and well-appointed Academy of Light, not to mention this season’s near-41,000 median Championship home attendance, Sunderland still possess considerable pulling power.

In theory they should be fighting off applications from high-calibre managers with points to prove in the Graham Potter mould but the reality is different. Although it is entirely sensible that the billionaire Louis-Dreyfus wants to run Sunderland as a sustainable business, his blueprint for success is flawed.

Like legions of other clubs Sunderland aim to identify exciting young international talent and coach those players so well that they bring the team glory before being sold for huge profits. Unlike other adherents to this model, though, they seem to fail to accept that a certain amount of experience is necessary to provide on-field leadership and consistency.

Beale, like Mowbray, departed not long after he publicly queried Speakman’s failure to provide him with a proven centre-forward. At present the Chelsea loanee Mason Burstow and Ukrainian striker Nazariy Rusyn are not capable of polishing off some fine approach work from, among others, Bellingham and the talented winger Jack Clarke.

Moreover, the team, and Beale, were further undermined by Alex Pritchard’s refusal to continue playing for Sunderland before joining Birmingham last month. The 30-year-old attacking midfielder was their most experienced player.

Louis-Dreyfus remains desperate to oversee promotion but, unless Dodds works miracles, doing so will necessitate a certain amount of speculating to accumulate. In the absence of such investment Sunderland’s managerial churn seems destined to continue at its current, absurd rate.