When Roy Keane resigned as manager of Sunderland, he left a club that he himself had made fashionable once more, a club that was given great attention by the media, a club in a state of hyperactivity and restlessness. With Keane came the media circus, which was no bad thing when raising the profile of a once mighty club.
Keane had done a tremendous job at in the North East, raising the club from the doldrums of the Championship to establishing them as a Premier League side once more, attracting some high profile players in the process.
It has been some time since Sunderland have been able to attract players of the calibre of Djibril Cisse, Steed Malbranque and Anton Ferdinand. Aside from a healthy wage and the attraction of playing under one of the greatest midfielders the Premier League has seen, these new signings highlighted the ambition of Keane and Chairman Niall Quinn as reasons to sign on the dotted line.
However, when Keane departed, many worried that the big names would soon follow. Now I’m not saying that won’t happen in the summer, who knows what the rest of the season has in store for Sunderland, never mind the rest of the league, but with Kenwyne Jones signing a new deal and Cisse declaring that he wants to stay at the club after his loan spell, Sbragia must be doing something right.
Phil Bardsley, in an interview with the Guardian has praised his new manager, he said: “He's a tremendous coach. But the most important thing is that he's brought in a bit of calm. Everyone was getting a bit heated at the time the manager [Keane] went. Ricky's brought in a bit of unity. The players didn't really know where we were going before.”
And so it appears. Sbragia knows the club well following his time as reserve team coach under Mick Buxton and Peter Reid, working with Quinn in the process. He was entrusted with the reserves at Manchester United and the first team at Bolton, working under Sir Alex Ferguson and Sam Allerdyce, picking-up both vast tactical knowledge from his time at United to the getting to grips with 21st century technology at, what was called, The Reebok.
Sbragia has been quick to clean out with squad with Graham Kavanagh, Ross Wallace and Liam Miller all leaving to find first team football. What is interesting about Bardsley’s comments about bring “calm” to the dressing room are the subsequent departures of Pascal Chimbonda and El Hadji Diouf.
Both have reputations a being mercenary’s of the football world, who on their day can be class acts, but more often than not, frustrate and disrupt. Chimbonda had a public spat with Nyron Nosworthy following the 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough and more recently, Diouf allegedly criticised his teammates after the 1-0 win over Fulham, for which he was dropped to the bench.
Few Sunderland fans will rue the loss of the two after neither made a real impression on the first team, especially after a tidy profit was made on Diouf.
It will be interesting to see how Sbragia copes with the loss of a defender having already highlighted his lack of options in that area. With only days left in the transfer window, Wearside waits to see who comes through those much-used front doors at the Stadium of Light.