17 minutes; the time it took for anger and distress to dissipate into a sense of hope.
Sunderland’s decision to ‘release’ Chris Coleman and number two Kit Symons on Sunday afternoon, in the eyes of many, rounded off one of, if not the most depressing campaign in the most fitting way. For the third summer in a row, there would again be no occupier of the Stadium of Light’s manager’s office.
“This is the kind of behaviour that’s landed the club in this position”; “Absolute joke of a club”; “Sacking the only decent thing we actually have at the club”;”Why? A man who actually wants to be at our joke of a club and you do this?! He’s a good bloke who would have turned it round. Honestly done with this club. Idiots man.”
It may be baffling from an outsider’s perspective as to why Coleman; the man who led Sunderland to only its second relegation from the second tier of English football in its 139-year history, was still so adored. Less than one point-per-game claimed since his arrival in November and marginal, if any, improvements on the pitch defensively compared to his predecessor, yet anger towards the club was the overriding reaction.
But then came the reasoning; the release 17 minutes later that gave context to what appeared to be another ‘typically Sunderland’ decision – Ellis Short’s tenure was soon to be over. The American business tycoon who had opted to dip his toe in the north east footballing scene; soon to be submerged and drowned, in 2009 had finally released himself of his most prominent financial and likely psychological burden.
Truthfully, it is a moment many at the Stadium of Light hoped one day would come, but yet, the underlying doubt of the purgatory state of an absent owner and the continuous demise that has encased Wearside this past year was difficult to shake. Although, now, finally, it can be. So, why is there still a seed of sadness in what should be the starting of a new chapter? Simply; Coleman.
No, he did not achieve the goals he set out to when he arrived, gleefully, at the Academy of Light on that cold Sunday afternoon a little over six months ago. At that time, he described himself at the “right man” to take the club back to where, history, at least, suggests it belongs; something he would go on to continue to claim until his final act, maybe even as some sort of self-assurance.
But no matter the adversity, the Welshman’s spirits remained high. On the touchline, as he watched his entrusted XI implode week by week, his character retained its strength; he refused to allow the pressure to break him – unlike many who had been in his shoes before him. Coleman was setting the example any Sunderland supporter wants to see.
Strength in unity was very much his philosophy. During any pre-match press conference, even ahead of Friday night’s trip to Fulham after relegation had already been confirmed, positivity ran through the manager’s words. And during a spell in the club’s history where negativity and disappointment have very much prevailed, the ability to remain focused and ambitious, with the future in mind, deserves credit.
Coleman often described Sunderland as a club with ‘potential’. He wanted to be the one to do what no other had; place stability and construct an outfit that could, eventually, one day adhere to Short’s European aspirations. And while the 47-year-old is unlikely to ever have that opportunity again at the Stadium of Light, it does beg the question: ‘What could have been?’
Despite the sadness, however, this, of course, could, turn out to be a necessary sacrifice for a greater being. Stewart Donald’s consortium, which are the EFL’s approval away from being handed the keys to the door, obviously have their own man in mind; someone they believe can restore Sunderland’s “sense of pride and reconnect it with the local community.”
In truth, what lies ahead is shrouded in unknown. And despite Coleman indeed failing to achieve what he set out to, the foundations of a fruitful relationship were clear to see. No, not every corner of the Stadium of Light believed in him, which he openly accepted only last week. But to take on the challenge of a club on its knees, and to restore a glimmer of faith; that will be his legacy.
The league table and his points-per-game record will tell you the hard truths; however, they do not scratch the surface of the story that could have been told if time was on Coleman’s side.