Tony Mowbray sacked by Sunderland amid behind-the-scenes disagreement with board

Tony Mowbray during his last game as Sunderland manager at Millwall
Tony Mowbray leaves Sunderland ninth in the Championship three points off the play-offs - PA/Rhianna Chadwick

Sunderland have sacked manager Tony Mowbray as an increasingly tense relationship finally fractured following a dip in results.

Mowbray appeared to fire the starting pistol on his exit at the end of last season when, speaking to reporters in the aftermath of Sunderland’s Championship play-off semi-final defeat to Luton Town, he said he was not sure if he would be asked to return.

Those comments hinted at growing conflict behind the scenes regarding recruitment strategy and a perceived lack of appreciation for the job the 60-year-old had done.

Weeks earlier a report appeared in the media that claimed Sunderland had been actively looking at alternative coaches should they part company with the veteran manager. The comments came when Mowbray’s stock was high with supporters impressed by the fact he had unexpectedly secured a top six finish just a year after Sunderland were promoted from League One under former manager Alex Neil.

The club played down talk they were looking at other managers and a truce held over the summer with Sunderland enjoying a good start to the campaign.

However, they have struggled in recent weeks and with the January transfer window approaching, Mowbray had looked and sounded increasingly downbeat despite being ninth in the Championship.

Telegraph Sport was told by sources last weekend that Mowbray had warned the board that they would not be able to compete for promotion to the Premier League if they continued to focus solely on signing young players with potential, on relatively cheap wages in English football’s second tier, and did not add more proven talent to alongside them.

Mowbray appeared to make those reservations more public when he replied to a question about recruitment after their 1-1 draw with Millwall at the weekend.

“It’s not really my decision,” Mowbray said. “The club wants to develop young players and for them to be given an opportunity. That’s what I do, I give them a chance. My gut inside me tells me we need to change because I want to win.

“That’s the truth, I’m trying to develop young players to create value in them, give them good careers. Sometimes they are not quite ready…”

A few hours later, the club released a statement thanking Mowbray for his services and confirming his departure.

“The Club would like to thank Tony for the positive contribution he has made throughout the past two seasons,” the statement said. “Alongside his assistant Mark Venus, who also departs.

“Both will always be welcome back at the Stadium of Light and we wish them well for the future.”

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman added: “All at SAFC have thoroughly enjoyed working with Tony and he is quite rightly held in high regard by our players and staff, and our supporters.

“After arriving at an uncertain time, he helped guide us to the Sky Bet Championship Play-Offs and played an important role in developing our team. This was a difficult decision to make, but we remain loyal to our ambition and our strategy, and felt that now was the right moment to take this step.

“We are now focused on identifying the right candidate and we will continue to support our coaching team and players throughout the interim period.”

Sunderland’s business model is built on the idea they can sign young players from across Europe, improve them and eventually sell them on for a profit.

Chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus added: “I would like to place on record my gratitude to Tony for his hard work and commitment to Sunderland, a place where he will always be welcome.

“As custodians of our great club, we believe in our long-term strategy that we hope will ensure sustainability and success for SAFC. Central to that approach is a relentless demand for a high performance culture to be implemented throughout the Club and the development of a strong playing identity that you, our loyal supporters, can all be proud of.

“Your continued support will also be fundamental to that progress and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the Stadium of Light throughout the festive period and as we enter 2024.”